Kosovo ex-minister goes on trial on corruption charges

Former Kosovo transport minister and six other defendants went on trial Monday on charges of involvement in organised crime and corruption that cost the state budget of two million euros ($2.6 mn).

European prosecutor Johannes Pickert said that Fatmir Limaj and the other defendants had manipulated tender procedures, gave and received bribes and tampered with evidence in three tenders held by the transport and telecommunications ministry.

Pickert said that Limaj led between 2008 and 2010 an organised criminal group that awarded public tenders to companies willing to pay bribes.

Among the defendants were Limaj's two brothers, three low-ranking officials from his former ministry and a businessman.

The trial will resume on Wednesday, when the defendants should enter their pleas.

Limaj has been investigated since April 2010 when European police raided his ministry and properties in Pristina as part of a corruption probe.

As a former high-ranking member of the ruling Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) of prime minister Hashim Thaci, Limaj is also charged for not declaring campaign money received when running for Pristina's local elections in 2007.

Limaj was also a commander in the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) that fought the security forces loyal to than Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic during the 1998-1999 conflict.

In 2003, he was charged for war crimes by The Hague-based UN Tribunal, but the international court acquitted him after a trial that lasted four years.

But a local court in Kosovo is expected to open a trial against him later this month on alleged war crimes committed during the conflict between pro-independence ethnic Albanian guerrillas and Belgrade security forces.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and just months afterwards, the European Union launched its biggest civilian mission ever to help local authorities in strengthening the rule of law.