An ally of Kosovan President Hashim Thaci has been charged with leading a criminal network that allegedly masterminded a land scam. Sixty-five-year-old Azem Syla was charged along with 38 others.
Syla, a former member of parliament representing Thaci's ruling Democratic Part of Kosovo (PDK) was charged with leading an "organized criminal group," according to a statement from Kosovo's state prosecutor.
The MP and 38 associates "have collaborated with each other, each with a specific role, to deprive Kosovo of public property through criminal activities, including forged official documents, fraud and corrupt practices," the statement said.
A substantial portion of the land parcels involved have since been temporarily confiscated and managed by government authorities aiming at restoring the land to its legitimate public ownership.
The group of Kosovo Albanians and Serbs were charged with money laundering, bribery, fraud, abuse of power and tax evasion.
Six months to charge suspects
In April, the European Union's police mission in Kosovo held a major operation against the alleged ring, believed to have illegally owned properties worth 30 million euros ($34 million). Prosecutors said the criminal gang has been operating since 2006.
Syla was placed under house arrest and subsequently quit his job. He has labeled the investigation "unfair."
The 65-year-old politician is a close associate of Thaci and was a top commander in the independence-seeking Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which fought Serbian forces in the late 1990s. Kosovo unilaterally declared independence in 2008.
Both Thaci and Syla were named in a 2011 Council of Europe report which said they were leading members of a mafia-style network involved in assassinations, unlawful detentions and even trafficking captives' organs during and after the war.
A special tribunal is being set up in The Hague to investigate and eventually prosecute the allegations in the explosive report. It is expected to be fully operational within the first half of 2017. Thaci strongly denies the allegations against him.
mm/rc (AFP, AP)