Members of Switzerland’s large Kosovo community say proof is needed over allegations that the Kosovo leader was involved in organised crime and organ trafficking.
The claims are made in a report by Swiss senator and Council of Europe investigator Dick Marty, who led a two-year effort to uncover alleged crimes by Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci.
Marty’s draft report – which he justified at a news conference on Thursday after its contents were made public earlier this week - accuses Thaci of being the boss of a mafia-style unit during the Kosovo Liberation Army’s guerrilla war against Serbia in the late 1990s.
It is said to have assassinated opponents and trafficked drugs as well as harvested organs from murdered Serbs – among other crimes.
Thaci has denied the allegations and says he will use all political and legal means to bring the truth to light.
“These allegations are not new. I can’t say if they’re true or not. For me it’s important that it’s proven. I condemn any criminal activities whether they come from a person from my country of origin or any other person,” said Ylfete Fanaj, a local councillor in Lucerne, who is of Kosovan origin.
For her, the timing is noteworthy, coming straight after elections which are expected to confirm Thaci in office. Why were they not aired sooner if they were known about, she asks.
Hilmi Gashi, a member of Switzerland’s 200,000 strong Kosovan diaspora, also questions the lack of facts.
Gashi said the Kosovo community was “a little bit annoyed” about the report, especially coming shortly after a survey showing the unpopularity of Albanians in Switzerland and the vote on deporting foreign criminals.
“It’s not really easy on people and they are concerned about Kosovo’s reputation,” Gashi explained.
“They say [the report] is trying to change the roles of victim and perpetrator. The reactions of Serbia and the Serbian ambassador to Switzerland show they are clearly satisfied by the report even if it is not proven,” Gashi added, referring to crimes committed by the former Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic against ethnic Albanians during the 1998-99 war.
For some, Marty’s report appears to have political undertones. Bashkim Iseni, a political scientist at Neuchâtel University and head of the independent web platform albinfo.ch, says it is known that Marty opposed Kosovo’s independence from Serbia, which happened in 2008.
Thaci is preparing to head Kosovo’s negotiations on normalising relations with Belgrade.
“Belgrade will be in a strong position with this report and on the other hand, it will put pressure on the Serb minorities who should enter into a coalition government with Thaci,” he told swissinfo.ch.
Shemi, another community member who did not want to be fully named, went further. “I think the Serbs are behind it. I don’t have any proof of course, but I think there is an important influence of Serbian diplomacy on Dick Marty,” he said.
Iseni says the report gives grist to the mill to opponents to Kosovo’s independence in the international community.
The Thaci allegations were first made by the former Swiss United Nations war crimes tribunal prosecutor Carla del Ponte in a book. Several Kosovars questioned why she had not followed up on the claims while in office.
There are also concerns about the Swiss position and the fact that some politicians have been calling for the country to retract recognition for Kosovo – after being one of the first to recognise it. Several members expressed their disappointment at this.
Marty acknowledged the scarcity of physical evidence on Thursday but said that it would be the task of judicial investigators to unearth this. He has denied any Serbian political influence on his work.
The Council of Europe human rights panel, for whom Marty conducted the investigation, has voted to recommend international and national probes into the report.
Support for Marty has come from Ueli Leuenberger, the head of the Green Party, who for six years headed the Albanian People’s University integration project in Geneva.
“Mr Marty is an excellent and upright politician and former public prosecutor. There are certain weaknesses in the report and it has to be proven. All those who can should make efforts to help the truth come to light,” he told swissinfo.ch.
The international community, and Switzerland, can play a role, he said. There was support in the Kosovo diaspora for finding the truth and punishing any guilty parties if found.
Fanaj also points to the need for change in troubled Kosovo itself. “It needs democracy and the rule of law and people who are interested in serving the interests of society,” she said.
Kosovo’s turbulent week
On Sunday elections took place in Kosovo – the first since independence - which seem to have returned the incumbent Hashim Thaci to office. Questions have been raised about the legitimacy of the poll in two regions.
On Tuesday allegations surfaced that Thaci had led a "mafia-like" network. Marty’s report claimed that civilian detainees of KLA rebels were shot dead to sell their kidneys on the black market.
Thaci was the rebel army’s political head during the 1998-9 war with Serbia, Nato bombed Serbia in 1999 to make it stop its brutal crackdown of separatist ethnic Albanians.
Marty said on Thursday that western police and intelligence officers in the area knew the Kosovo Liberation Army was trafficking human kidneys but remained silent for fear of causing political instability. He has called for a prompt probe into the report’s claims.
Thaci and Switzerland
Thaci received asylum in Switzerland in 1995 and then studied politics and southeastern European history at Zurich University. He is said to have built up the Kosovo Liberation Army during this time. In 1998 he returned to Kosovo.
In 2008 he was present when Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey - a long-term supporter of Kosovo’s independence - opened the Swiss embassy in Kosovo, thanking Switzerland for its support. Not all countries have recognised Kosovo’s independence.
Ethnic Albanians make up 92 per cent of the population of 2.2 million in Kosovo, but Serbs still dominate the north of the country. It is one of Europe’s poorest territories.