An operation against crime or political action?

Krešnik Gaši
Photo: Kallxo

By Kreshnik Gashi

More than a week after the operation in the north, the main question that remains unanswered is who was the initiator of the action: local Serbs or politicians in Prishtina and Belgrade?

Since the beginning of 2018, active resistance of truck owners had begun in Leposavic, who have filed complaints of high level corruption among the police officers.

The alleged offences were carried out earlier but the cases remained hidden for years.

Faced with the situation that there was no action as a result of their allegations, local smugglers decided to address this issue to the media.

Personally, I was lucky enough to meet four of the Serbs who were consistently involved in smuggling or illegal transport and who were willing to give anything but to see these bribed officers facing justice.

Based on their testimonies, since July last year, our team has conducted extensive research on police ties with smuggling activity. The main complaint of local Serbs in our TV show was that the Kosovo Police Inspectorate and the Special Prosecution Office are not addressing their complaints and allegations of corruption at the police.

In a TV show that was aired in January this year, whistleblowers within the Serbian smuggling groups have alleged police corruption and the connection of politics with the police chain of command. The locations where money is provided to police officers and the operation of the payment network, has been proven as well.

According to the whistleblowers, around 1,000 vehicles are active within the smuggling network within the northern municipalities of Kosovo carrying out daily smuggling activities. The amounts received as bribes by these drivers are huge. The main dilemma that needs to be raised today is where does this money go?

Based on investigations conducted so far and according to smugglers that have confessed their stories in a „Justice in Kosovo“ TV show, the exact destination where the money goes, is still unknown. What is known so far, is that these amounts of money do not end up in the pockets of ordinary policemen.

What the smugglers have said in their testimonies is the fact that they had collected amounts of money several times and its destination was senior police structures in Pristina.

An action against the Serbs or against the crime?

The incorrect information distributed to the Serbian community has raised fears that such operations are intended to drive them out of their homes and that special units act violently. Surprisingly, I saw a similar situation in Pristina in one of the neighborhoods where one of Pristina’s most wanted criminals was living.

There, too, the children were used to see police as enemies and to make public each of their moves. The aim was clear: „The boss“ should be informed when a policeman enters the neighborhood.

The sirens that someone is attacking the Boss in the north are switched on always when there is a police operation carried out against the crime.

The dilemma is whether local Serbs should trust these sirens and the calls to defend themselves. For those living in Mitrovica, the sirens were also switched on when the police attempted to arrest a suspect, involved in murdering of Kosovo Serb leader, Oliver Ivanovic.

Local Serbs can pose the question on who is starting the sirens when police attempt to enlighten Oliver Ivanovic’s murder and also arrest police officers who take bribes for any amount of food they can smuggle from Serbia? The answer to who controls the alarms can be implied by the questions themselves.

I already mentioned that smugglers had not found an address of police and prosecutors in order to report what was happening in the north of Mitrovica

At this point, there is also the argument that criminal groups are interested in keeping people away from the money they cannot buy.

Raising the fears of the community that police raids are being carried out against citizens, criminal groups have managed to defend themselves by slowing down the raids and avoiding justice by providing an important element, intimidating potential witnesses.

Earlier, when talking about organizing the police raid, political and criminal groups were silent. For those that are out of the investigation course, the first interview was conducted with police officers and witnesses in September, in Pristina and Mitrovica.

Why back then, no reaction, no public statement and no tendency was made to link the raids to ethnic problems?

The facts indicate that, until a month ago, no one was interested in the evidence gathered about the smuggling operation. We can find the answer to this lack of interest within the smuggler’s statement. They have repeatedly reported the corruption in Pristina, yet there was no one was dealing with it, presumably creating the feeling that Pristina tolerates a crime zone in the north.

But everything started to change when, within the community and investigation groups, the likelihood that some of the arrested could become cooperative witnesses of the Prosecution began to be whispered. Even the reaction of the Serbian President, Aleksandar Vucic, just after the names of policemen and bosses in the north were indicted in the criminal report that was filed two months earlier by the Special Prosecution Office.

Facing the situation of having a verdict of up to 15 years of imprisonment, members of the smuggling group, may also reveal where the money ends up for the sake of avoiding a long-term punishment.

Evidence from people involved in taking bribes would open the „Pandora’s Box“ by showing where the money ends up and who from the north is funded by criminal money.

Fear of discovering something like this, alerted the Serbian politicians who took care of transforming the police raid into an ethnic related police raid in order to spread fear among the witnesses that in case they are willing to cooperate with the Police Inspectorate and the Prosecution they will be declared as traitors of the Serbian nation. We are witnessing a similar situation almost every day when dealing with major corruption cases in Kosovo having intimidated those witnesses that would potentially testify against high profile individuals.

The fact that the President of Serbia publicized the information on what is happening at the Special Prosecution, tells enough that they want to inform the witnesses that in any circumstance they will be identified by the Serbian authorities.

The messages addressed by politicians are aimed to proclaim these witnesses as traitors of the nation and at the same time, pressure them not to reveal the truth, even threatening them with imprisonment in Serbia. Today’s reactions are meant to put pressure on family members of the arrested and on the arrested themself, that they shall remain silent on who is the boss of smuggling activities in the north.

The messages are clear and well-documented, even by the media itself. Prime Minister Haradinaj’s Advisers were detained and questioned at the border by the Serbian secret services and this action was interpreted as an installation of fear for witnesses of the recent police operation in the north.

A violent or a provoked operation

The main question that has long been raised, leaving aside the above-mentioned issues, is the intervention of special units in Zubin Potok.

As far as we know, Tuesday’s action aimed at arresting suspected police officers as well as local Albanians and Serbs involved in smuggling activities

The evidence revealed that the police operation was conducted in eight municipalities, four of which were in southern Kosovo with 14 Albanians, 11 Serbs, and 4 Bosniaks having been arrested as suspects in smuggling activities.

The evidence also reveals that the first raid was carried out in the home of an Albanian policeman living in the Bosniak Mahala.

It is important to note that our data indicates that the operation was planned to be carried out without the use of special units, which the authorities in Serbia always refer to with the old pre-independence name as ROSU.

The plan, which was introduced in an early morning briefing, where the operation taking place was meant to be conducted by police officers, members of the region’s rapid response squad and border police officers. (The law enforcement officers were seen by the inhabitants as a special police unit because of the fact that a few months ago this unit was also equipped with long arms, due to an increased armed robbery in the cities).

The plan was carried properly in the municipalities of Leposavic and North Mitrovica without any incident.

Who dispatched the specials for police operation?

The arguments reveal that the raid of the special units was provoked by the criminal groups of Zubin Potok and the facts are obvious.

Considering the moment of intervention, it can be seen that the special units reacted only when the police officers were injured and their action began ten minutes after the moment that the police officer was injured, indicating that there was no extreme expectation for police officers to intervene in the north.

However, the violence displayed in Zubin Potok requires a detailed investigation if there was a police competence over-reaction. Institutions, too, should, in any case, identify the property damage belonging to the citizens and compensate the same.

The TV screen showed some complaints from local citizens claiming that they were not part of the protests but were casual passers-by. Each allegation of violence in these cases should be analyzed and investigated by the Police Inspectorate and the State Prosecution. Even Serbian prosecutors working in the Mitrovica Prosecutor’s Office may be competent to investigate the case.

Leaving aside small collateral damage (I call it small because there are no casualties and/ or severely injured), it is very important that the investigation of this case reaches its epilogue and reveals which politician or which police superior is the exact address where the money from the smuggling activity in this area ends up to.

In their testimonies so far, the witnesses that are part of the police investigation have said something about the ties of politics with smuggling activities. We hope further on, that the investigation shall continue to enlighten the entire network.

Kreshnik Gashi is the managing editor of platform and the author of the investigative TV Show Justice in Kosovo.

In his career Kreshnik Gashi  has received more than 10 awards from local and international institutions for investigative journalism, especially reporting on corruption cases.


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