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Part I: Prime Minister Thaci, friend of world leaders and suspect in crime.
Beyond intelligence reports and mounting allegations, several criminal investigations of Thaci’s allies were known to U.S. officials — and three are a matter of public record.
GlobalPost has obtained a case report from the now-defunct U.N. mission in Kosovo’s War Crimes Unit, dated May 20, 2008. The case report describes how, shortly after the war, German NATO soldiers found and released 14 people who were being illegally detained by the KLA in the city of Prizren in southern Kosovo. They also found the body of an elderly Kosovo Albanian man who was still handcuffed. He “showed signs of having been beaten,” the reports reads.
Among those named as suspects in the report is Kadri Veseli, who is considered by many in Kosovo to be Thaci’s closest ally. Veseli was chief of SHIK, the KLA’s intelligence service, an organization that continued to exist and operate without legal sanction until 2008, and possibly exists to this day. In addition to Veseli, other senior KLA commanders and Thaci allies, including Azem Syla, Sabit Geci and Fatmir Limaj, are also named as suspects in the report.
None have ever been charged in relation to the alleged crime in Prizren. But Syla, Geci and Limaj have also been subject to other criminal investigations.
Syla was arrested by police in late 2009 and questioned about whether he was involved in ordering SHIK hitmen to kill a political opponent. Syla has not been charged in the case, whose star defendant is likely to be a self-professed SHIK assassin named Nazim Bllaca.
Limaj, another senior former KLA leader and Thaci’s former minister of transporation, was charged with war crimes in mid-March by EULEX, a mission of the European Union that works with Kosovo officials on enforcing the rule of law.
Last year EULEX investigators raided and searched Limaj’s homes and places of work. He has not been indicted but many observers in Kosovo believe he is, or was, under investigation for massive corruption related to road construction contracts as well as war crimes. (Limaj was acquitted of war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.)
Geci is currently on trial, charged with war crimes by EULEX prosecutors. The EULEX investigation into Geci features Thaci in a cameo, GlobalPost has learned. Prosecutors and witnesses allege the during the war Geci ran a prison in the KLA headquarters in the town of Kukes. In the prison, prosecutors and witnesses say, Geci tortured numerous Albanian prisoners suspected of being collaborators or political opponents of the KLA.
In an interview, one of the estimated 20 survivors of the prison said that he saw Thaci present at the prison. The man, who says Geci tortured him and murdered his brother, has agreed to testify in Geci’s trial but requested anonymity before agreeing to an interview.
“I saw Hashim Thaci with my own eyes,” said the man, acknowledging that it was possible that Thaci did not know the prisoners were being tortured at the KLA base. But, the man said, the prisoners were held in a room with a large window and “he could see us.”
The man said he has told EULEX prosecutors about seeing Thaci at the prison camp. EULEX prosecutors declined to discuss the case.
If a reckoning of some senior KLA leaders is perhaps beginning with Geci’s trial, it has been too long in coming, critics say. Among those critics are people whose job it was to investigate and prosecute criminals in Kosovo after the war.