Reuters International

PRISTINA (Reuters) - A European Union prosecutor in Kosovo has filed indictments against 20 people over the sale of visas to the EU's passport-free Schengen zone for thousands of euros, the prosecutor's office said on Thursday.

Those charged include the son of Kosovo's late independence leader Ibrahim Rugova.

The case started in February 2014 when police arrested 10 people for selling visas obtained from the Italian Embassy in Pristina. Officials say some embassy officials may have been involved and police were cooperating with authorities in Rome.

"The alleged criminal offending spans a period from 2011 - 2014 and concerns the sale of EU Schengen visas obtained through corruption and misrepresentation," the prosecutor's office said in a statement.

Charges include organised crime and migrant smuggling.

In 2014, police found hundreds of photocopied passports, visa applications, copies of IDs, photographs and other documents at Uke Rugova's home, formerly the residence of his father, who led the Kosovo Albanian struggle to break away from Serbia through the 1990s.

Kosovars will be allowed to travel to EU countries without visa by July or August this year but until now getting a Schengen visa was often beyond the means of many in Kosovo.

Police investigators said clients paid 2,700 to 3,500 euros for a visa that should normally have cost 60 euros.

The EU police and justice mission in Kosovo arrived in 2008 when the country declared independence from Serbia. They deal mainly with sensitive cases such as organised crime, corruption and war crimes.

Kosovo has a population of 1.8 million and about 800,000 Kosovars live abroad, mainly in western Europe, some of them illegally.

(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Giles Elgood and Alison Williams)

reuters_tickers

 Reuters International