European investigators today disclosed chilling new details of organ trafficking in Kosovo and Albania, corroborating allegations raised in a 2009 investigation by the Center for Investigative Reporting, the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network and the BBC.
A draft report released by the Council of Europe alleges that a criminal network linked to Kosovo's current prime minister summarily executed prisoners and harvested their kidneys to sell for illicit organ transplant operations abroad.
The 27-page draft report will be submitted on Thursday to the Council of Europe's legal affairs committee by Dick Marty, a respected former Swiss prosecutor who spent more than two years leading the investigation.
Among the victims referred to in the report were Kosovo Serb civilians who disappeared from areas administered by NATO troops and United Nations officials following their arrival in Kosovo in June 1999.
The report alleges the organ trafficking was part of a broader web of organized criminal activity including assassinations and drug dealing. The "boss" of the criminal network, according to the report, was Hashim Thaci, Kosovo's current prime minister and the former political director of the Kosovo Liberation Army.
Kosovo enjoys strong diplomatic and financial support from the United States, and Thaci has visited with Vice President Biden in the White House. Thaci has repeatedly denied links to organized crime. In a 2009 interview he dismissed reports that Kosovo Liberation Army operatives ran secret detention camps and engaged in organ trafficking in Albania.
"It just didn't happen," Thaci said. "At any time, in any case, in any place, any space — this has nothing to do with the Kosovo Liberation Army."
The Council of Europe report alleges that the executions and organ extractions occurred at two locations north of the Albanian capital, Tirana. Medical personnel who conducted the operations in a makeshift clinic arranged to ship the organs abroad for what's known as "cadaver transplantations."
A source interviewed by American Radio Works in 2003 described transporting captives to a makeshift clinic near Tirana. The source said in one case the victims — a Serbian man and woman — seemed to be aware of what would happen to them.
"The Serbs were frantic. At one point the man asked us to kill them immediately. 'We don't want to be cut into pieces,'" he said.
The Council of Europe report alleges the organ harvesting may have continued until 2000. However, some operatives in the criminal network remained involved in organ trafficking for a decade after the Kosovo war.
A recent case involves illicit kidney transplants conducted at a clinic in Pristina, which is now the focus of a criminal investigation. European prosecutors today filed charges in the case in a Kosovo courtroom.
The Council of Europe report also substantiates allegations made in a 2008 memoir by Carla del Ponte, the former prosecutor of the Hague war crimes tribunal. Author Marty credits Del Ponte for spurring the investigation. He says Western governments must seek justice in the case.
"The signs of collusion between the criminal class and the highest political and institutional office holders are too numerous and too serious to be ignored," the report states.
"It is a fundamental right of Kosovo's citizens to know the truth, the whole truth, and also an indispensable condition for reconciliation between the communities and the country's prosperous future."
The report also criticizes Western countries, including the United States, for failing to take action to combat organized crime in Kosovo in spite of extensive intelligence reports documenting high levels of corruption.
Among the report's findings:
- An organized crime network that engaged in illegal trafficking, including organ harvesting, was controlled by the "Drenica group." The group included prominent Kosovo Albanian guerrilla figures. Kosovo Liberation Army medical chief and current Thaci advisor Shaip Muja was also named as member of the group. Muja denied the allegations.
- The Drenica group evolved from a guerrilla unit into a band of 'criminal entrepreneurs' involved in illegal detention, torture and murder of ethnic Albanians and other people suspected of collaborating with Yugoslav authorities and political adversaries in Albania during the escalation of the conflict in 1998 and 1999.
- Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci is named as the "boss" of the Drenica group. But he "owed his elevation to having secured political and diplomatic endorsement from the United States and other Western powers as the preferred domestic partner in their foreign policy project in Kosovo."
- Albanian intelligence and military officials took part in interrogating people detained by the Kosovo Liberation Army in Albania.
- Albanian authorities have refused to cooperate with EU inquiries into war crimes and other abuses which allegedly took place in Albania.
- Investigations from the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo into organ harvesting in Albania were not followed up, and evidence collected by investigators was destroyed by ICTY staff in The Hague without conducting an analysis. "We must permit ourselves to express astonishment that such a step was taken," the report states.
- Investigations into organized crime in Kosovo are often unsuccessful because of tightly-knit clan relations among Albanians, according to the report, but it also describes the situation with organized crime as "state capture."
- The recent case of illegal transplants conducted at the Medicus clinic in Pristina is not an isolated episode. "We believe that there are sufficiently serious and substantial indications to demonstrate that this form of trafficking long pre-dates the Medicus case, and that certain KLA leaders and affiliates have been implicated in it previously," the report states.