Behgjet Pacolli is the deputy prime minister of Kosovo, but he also holds Swiss nationality. His family lives in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino, where he also owns a five-star hotel on the shores of Lake Lugano.
It was in this hotel that he spoke to swissinfo.ch about his hopes for Kosovo, and about his fury at the treatment of top Kosovan politicians by Swiss war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte, and calls for investigations into alleged organ trafficking made by del Ponte and former Swiss parliamentarian Dick Marty, which he described as an insult to the people of Kosovo. (Contacted by swissinfo.ch, del Ponte declined to comment, while Marty did not respond.)
swissinfo.ch: How would you sum up your first 20 months in charge of your government’s relations with the rest of the world? How are things going as far as the recognition of Kosovo is concerned?
Behgjet Pacolli: So far the Republic of Kosovo has been officially recognised by 98 states, including 25 in Africa alone. I am personally involved in relations with Africa. In 18 months I have visited 48 countries there. I have fallen in love with the continent. That is where the future lies.
In Europe Spain has refused to recognise us – because of Catalonia’s aspiration for independence – but otherwise only Slovakia, Romania, Greece and Cyprus, plus of course Serbia and Russia. But in Asia our independence is recognised by Malaysia, East Timor, Brunei, Japan, South Korea, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, Australia and other countries in Oceania. We are awaiting decisions from Indonesia and Thailand, where we have already opened missions.
swissinfo.ch: In an interview with swissinfo.ch in February 2011, shortly after you were elected president, you said you wanted to strengthen relations with Switzerland. After all, Switzerland is your second homeland and you have been a citizen since the 1980s. How would you define these relations today?
B.P.: Relations are very solid. Cooperation is excellent in “my” two countries, not least thanks to the excellent work of the Swiss ambassador in Pristina, Krystyna Marty Lang. Switzerland now understands us better, and for our part, we should take Switzerland as a model. For example, I’d like to see an expansion of the service sector, along the Swiss pattern.
Despite huge economic difficulties, and an unemployment rate of between 30 and 40 per cent, we can count on our well educated young people who are committed to the future of our country.
There remains a lot to be done. I won’t deny that. The main thing is to get the economy going and create 35,000 jobs per year.
But we have already made a lot of progress. My government is working on a law to encourage investment in mining through tax breaks and reductions in customs duties. We are a country rich in mineral resources. There is a lot of potential there.
Investigation of the organ trade
In 2008 Carla Del Ponte, the former former chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, published an autobiography entitled “The Hunt: Me and War Criminals”, in which she presented comprehensive material about alleged organ-smuggling.
She wrote of her suspicion that criminals belonging to the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) had been involved in the selling of the organs of Serbs who had been taken to northern Albania and killed.
She claimed that the tribunal had been given enough evidence for an investigation, but that this had been “stifled”.
Instead, the tribunal had concentrated on prosecuting Serbian war criminals.
The book attracted international attention. The Council of Europe asked Dick Marty, a Swiss member of the European Parliament, to investigate further, which he did in Belgrade, Tirana and Pristina.
Marty’s report concluded that there were many indications that del Ponte’s suspicions were well founded. In particular he suggested that the current prime minister of Kosovo, Hashim Thaci, was one of those behind the trade.
In September 2012 the Serbian public prosecutor said he had found a witness, a former KLA member, who claimed to have been present when organs were removed.
No proofs have been found in support of Marty’s report. Marty himself has said his conclusions are based mainly on claims and reports by western secret services.
He himself was able to visit only two of the six places said to be KLA prisons in Albania.
Eulex, the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo, has not yet completed its investigations.
Contacted by swissinfo.ch, del Ponte did not wish to react to Pacolli’s accusations about the organ trade investigations. Marty did not respond to swissinfo’s request for comment.
swissinfo.ch: Your government has called for an investigation into Carla del Ponte, the former chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, over her handling of the case against former Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, who has since been found not guilty. Are we going to have another Pacolli - Del Ponte clash?
B.P.: As a member of the government I can’t say anything more about this request. I suspect that Carla Del Ponte has some kind of immunity in connection with her work as chief investigator at the Hague Tribunal. So it may be that our demand will not get any further.
The acquittal of Haradinaj was no more than justice. Our former prime minister spent nine years defending himself against these accusations. During those years he was detained, although he was innocent. [see info box]
Our government thinks it is important for the public to learn what really happened.
My personal dispute with Carla Del Ponte goes back 15 years, when at the request of the Russian public prosecutor, Yuri Skuratov, she opened an investigation against me for alleged money laundering. This was in connection with a case against former [Russian] president Boris Yeltsin.
I would be very happy to speak to Ms Del Ponte about this in private, and to ask her how she could ever have thought of accusing our prime minister, Hashim Thaçi, of involvement in the trade in body organs, an accusation repeated in a Council of Europe report by Dick Marty, which is a scandalous insult against my people.
I repeat once again: for the people of Kosovo, the very idea that there could be such a traffic is a huge insult. Carla Del Ponte should have checked her sources better, before making such an assertion. Investigations carried out on the spot show that these allegations are totally improbable.
The investigation launched at the request of the European Parliament has not yet been concluded. But I am convinced that both Dick Marty and Carla Del Ponte will have to apologise to the people of Kosovo.
swissinfo.ch: Serbian nationalists recently demonstrated at the border crossing point with Kosovo. How do you see relations between the two neighbours?
B.P.: These demonstrations were organised by extremists. The situation at the border is nothing like as dramatic as media reports suggest. Our government has made immense progress. Serbia must normalise its position towards Kosovo. We have already signed eight bilateral agreements.
I would also like to stress that not all the 20,000 Serbs living in northern Kosovo are against autonomy. Kosovars must open up to the outside, and that means to Serbia as well. We are working in just this direction, for example by improving transport connections. The motorway linking us not only with Albania but also with Serbia was opened recently.
swissinfo.ch: How do you see the political future of Kosovo?
B.P.: Under our constitution, President Atifete Jahjaga could remain in office for five years. But when she was elected she reached an agreement with the Democratic Party of Kosovo, the Democratic League of Kosovo and my own party, the New Kosovo Alliance, that once changes to the constitution had been completed, she would step down.
It is up to parliament whether the president should present her resignation. In any case, once the reforms have been completed, she has no other choice. Then there will be new elections. And I will be there.
Behgjet Pacolli was born in in Marec (Kosovo) on August 30 1951.
He holds dual Kosovar-Swiss nationality.
After studying economics, he emigrated in 1973, first to Austria, then to Germany.
He moved to Switzerland‘s Italian-speaking canton of Ticino in 1979.
In 1991 Pacolli founded the construction company Mabetex SA, which currently employs about 8,000 people around the world. The business is now managed by one of his brothers.
Prestigious Mabetex contracts include renovation of both the Kremlin and White House in Moscow.
In 1998 Pacolli was investigated for complicity in money laundering by former Russian president Boris Yeltsin.
In Switzerland the investigations were headed by the then federal prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte. Pacolli was cleared of any blame.
As founder of the New Kosovo Alliance Pacolli was elected president of Kosovo on February 22 2011, but on March 30 the country’s constitutional court ruled his election unconstitutional and he stepped down.
He was replaced by the lawyer Atifete Jahjaga, the current holder of the post.
Born in 1968, Haradinaj is a former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army, and served as Kosovo prime minister from December 2004 and March 2005.
He was indicted for war crimes in 2005, prompting him to step down from the premiership.
He earned much international praise for going voluntarily to the Hague, and after being held provisionally for two months he was released pending trial.
His trial started in February 2007, and he was acquitted in April 2008.
A partial retrial in 2010, on the basis of witness intimidation, again acquitted him in November 2012.
The judges commented that many witnesses had refused to testify in the first trial because of fear.
(adapted by Julia Slater)