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Balkan Report: June 6, 2000


6 June 2000, Volume 4, Number 42

Plans For The Balkans... Several prominent political figures have recently made proposals to help bring all or part of the former Yugoslavia into the 21st century. It remains to be seen whether resources will be available to match the visions.

Accepting the Charlemagne Prize in Aachen, Germany on 2 June, U.S. President Bill Clinton called on Europe to bring the Balkans into the mainstream, "creating a bigger Europe than Charlemagne ever dared to dream." He stressed that "that is the only way to make peace last in that bitterly divided region. Our goal must be to debalkanize the Balkans."

French President Jacques Chirac, for one, needs no encouragement. He said in Paris already on 30 May that the EU must adopt a "decisive strategy for the Balkans." He added that this will be one of the main themes of the French EU presidency that begins on 1 July.

The French leader stressed the need to make Europe "a key player in the world." He argued that "a summit between the European Union and the countries of ex-Yugoslavia that are most advanced in their democratic evolution would allow us to clarify objectives and revive a stalling process.... The aim would be to support recent developments in Croatia, welcome the efforts taken by Macedonia, note progress made in Bosnia, to encourage them to go further...and to remind Yugoslavia that the door will be open to it as well as soon as it joins this movement" toward democracy and international integration. The president concluded that "we should tell these countries more clearly what we expect of them and what we are ready to do to help them."

Unnamed aides to the French president told Reuters in Paris on 30 May that Montenegrin representatives will be welcome at the summit if a suitable diplomatic formula can be found to describe their status there. It is not clear whether Slovenia will be included or who will represent Kosova.

Bernard Kouchner, who is the UN's chief civilian administrator in Kosova and a former French cabinet member, has criticized France and several other countries to failing to supply promised police and other personnel for the troubled province. More recently, moderate Serbian leader Father Sava added urgency to the issue by calling for a revamped armed international presence that will emphasize police rather than troops. He called for specialized anti-terror units for Kosova. Where they might come from is anyone's guess.

It is, moreover, not clear whether non-EU European states or the U.S. will have a role in Chirac's plans. The "Berliner Zeitung" noted that his ideas for joint EU defense projects, including a rapid reaction force that could be used in the Balkans, "could easily lead to a stronger distancing" of EU member states from the U.S.

It is thus likely that the French EU presidency will see at least one major EU-Balkan meeting with the showmanship and anti-American flourishes for which French diplomacy is well known. Whether it will lead to additional police or other trained specialists for Kouchner and to a fresh impetus for concrete projects within the Stabilization Pact remains, however, an open question. (Patrick Moore)

...And For Some Specific Regions. Clinton and Chirac attracted much media attention for their statements on the future of the Balkans, but two other recent contributions to the discussion on particular problem areas also merit a hearing.

Wolfgang Petritsch, who is the international community's high representative in Bosnia, wrote in the "Wall Street Journal" on 22 May that Bosnians must take their future into their own hands and introduce serious reforms before foreigners run out of patience with the place. He warned Bosnians that they are "drinking in the last chance saloon."

He noted that "donor fatigue" has set in. He also recognized that pressures are growing in Western countries to scale down or even eliminate a NATO military presence in Bosnia. That, he charged, would be a "disaster" that would leave the republic "split into petty fiefdoms governed by tribal politics, as internally unstable as ever, and defensive and narrow-minded in their external relations. What a waste that would be of the billions of aid dollars already invested," Petritsch argued.

The Austrian Balkan specialist proposed a three-step plan "which, if fully implemented, should banish ethnic nationalism from Bosnia-Herzegovina forever." This is a tall order, indeed.

The first step is refugee return. Then comes building joint governmental institutions. Petritsch notes that both of these stages are, in fact, "works in progress." Both of these measures have been regularly obstructed by nationalists in the past and both will now require the full support of the international community.

His new "centerpiece" is the third step, namely economic reform. Petritsch intends to use his powers to eliminate some remnants of communist economic structures that have become bastions of corrupt nationalists. These include the payment bureaus and the state-run enterprises.

Privatization is, in fact, the key to long-term change in a country that must rid itself of the dual legacies of communism and a vicious war. It will be up to the Bosnians themselves, he concludes, to show they are serious about this and produce change "from within." They must recognize that "Western taxpayers simply will not" foot the bill for Bosnia's peace and security forever.

Whether this self-directed change will materialize remains to be seen. As several observers have pointed out, many Bosnians are quite content to blame others for their own problems while at the same time expecting that the foreigners will stay indefinitely and keep the money flowing. This line of reasoning is based on a well-established way of thinking in much of the Balkans that holds that the foreigners covet one or another part of the peninsula, play out their rivalries there, and constantly meddle in the region's affairs for their own respective benefits.

This view overlooks, among other things, the extreme reluctance of most outside states to get involved in the Wars of the Yugoslav Succession to begin with. If anyone in Bosnia or elsewhere in the Balkans now expects foreign support to continue indefinitely without serious efforts by local people to put their house in order, they may be in for a very rude awakening.

A few days before Petritsch's article, namely on 16 May, UN Balkans envoy Carl Bildt gave a pessimistic speech in Tokyo. He said that stability in the region is a long way off, and that the international community's efforts have brought precious few results.

He added, moreover, that "as long as different parts of the international community cannot agree on the structures of stability in the region, it is futile at best and foolish at worst to expect the different political forces in the region to be able to agree among themselves," Reuters reported.

For starts, Bildt argued that the international community needs a plan for Serbia. He noted that the situation there is volatile and that Montenegro may find itself forced to go its own way. That, Bildt added, might not be the most desirable outcome, but it would be the logical conclusion to the continuing, decade-long process of the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia. (It is not clear if he would extend this same logic to the independence of Kosova, as virtually all Kosovar spokesmen do.)

Bildt stressed that the international community must be prepared in case Serbia implodes or the current "unsustainable" Yugoslav federation collapses. The solution is "to substitute autonomy and integration [into European structures] for the 19th century concepts of nation state and sovereignty still prevalent in the Balkans."

As with Chirac's proposal, Bildt argues on the basis of hard evidence that outsiders must do more to ensure long-term as well as short-term stability in the Balkans. Whether the EU's member states or the broader international community will be able to develop a common policy and see it through is another matter. (Patrick Moore)

Albania's Pharaoh And His Pyramids. One of Albania's most famous criminals may soon find himself a free man. And that is not likely to be the end of his saga by any means.

A Tirana court sentenced the founder of the VEFA Pyramid investment scheme, Vehbi Alimucaj, to five years in prison on 31 May, "Klan" reported on 4 June. The court found Alimucaj guilty of stealing over $325 million from 68,857 citizens through fraud. Judge Gjin Gjoni also ruled that Alimucaj was involved in arms trafficking and illegally transferring money outside Albania.

Alimucaj, who was arrested in 1997 after the collapse of his pyramid scheme, still has 23 months of his sentence to serve. But he can stay under house arrest in his comfortable villa outside Tirana. Observers also noted that he is likely to be released before the end of his term. VEFA was the first and largest of six pyramid schemes to collapse in Albania. All of them paid unusually high interest rates to creditors by using the capital supplied by new investors.

Alimucaj started his business career in 1993 by selling soap in a rundown building in the center of Tirana. The communist-era army officer had registered himself as a businessman in 1992 with capital of about $700 in the bank. Already one year later, his VEFA company had six employees, fixed capital of $542,000 and a annual profit of $639,000. Alimucaj had managed to increase his turnover by attracting large numbers of investors and paying monthly interest rates between 6 and 12 percent.

Alimucaj claimed he was investing the money in numerous business activities--and thus was able to attract still more customers, while in reality his productive businesses were very limited. On 1 January 1997, the balance of accounts showed that VEFA had debts of $458 million. At the same time, the proper business activities of VEFA generated revenues of only $ 2.12 million.

Alimucaj relied on an extended network of friends, who helped him transfer and launder money throughout the world. While trying to convince his creditors that his business activities were solid, he mentioned in the spring of 1997 that VEFA has "branches" in the U.S., Turkey, Russia, Macedonia, Greece, Italy, Bulgaria, and Canada. But investigators have only been able to discover parts of his networks.

When the creditors began to demand their money back at the beginning of 1997, Alimucaj began to transfer the money out of the country in earnest. In January and February, he loaded helicopters belonging to VEFA with packages of money and brought them to a factory in the port city of Vlora. Prosecutor Ajaz Gjata said that the authorities have not yet found much of that money.

VEFA pilots recalled that during the unrest, which started in Vlora in March, Alimucaj ordered them to fly an Italian citizen to Bari. He was carrying a bag, possibly containing money. Alimucaj claims that he does not recall the name of that Italian. But the judges believe that the flights were part of an effort to smuggle money out of Albania. They also proved that Alimucaj opened several bank accounts under the names of some of his employees in order to be able to withdraw more money per day than allowed by law at the time.

Between 19 February and 26 June, Alimucaj transferred $2.28 million to the account of a company with the name of Velad. The only business activity of that company ever recorded was to receive that sum of money. Then the registered owners of that company handed the money to Dionis Bulukos, a Greek lawyer, who ran a bank account for Alimucaj in Greece. At that time, Bulukos was negotiating a draft contract between Alimucaj and another Greek businessman about the possible sale of VEFA.

Others involved in smuggling money out of Albania included the Albanian Astrit Mece. In one incident, Austrian police caught Italian citizen Nikola Rokira with $500,000 at the Vienna airport and could verify that the numbers of the dollar bills he was carrying were identical with those that Mece had previously withdrawn from the Savings Bank in Tirana. Rokira maintained, however, that he received the money from a person whom he did not know in Skopje and that he was told to hand it to a friend of his in the U.S., Vincenco Kartelino. Elsewhere, Swiss investigators discovered that Alimucaj's son, Edmont, has a bank account at the Union Bank of Switzerland, which contains about $1.1 million.

Meanwhile, the Greek authorities have launched investigations against Alimucaj's brother-in-law Dhimiter Cico for "keeping, hiding, and accepting money of criminal origin." Another man who received VEFA money was Alfredo de Giuseppe, an Italian businessman, who put a total of $875,000 from Alimucaj into his own company--Gestione Investimenti--as Alimucaj's share.

Prosecutor Gjata maintains that Alimucaj cooperated with organized criminals in many countries, especially in Switzerland, including the dubious Kosovar Hajdin Sejdia. Sejdia was the first man--before Alimucaj--to launch a pyramid scheme following the end of communism in Albania. Swiss-based Sejdia attracted investments from Kosovars for his company Illiria Holding. He promised to build a large hotel complex in the center of Tirana, but construction never got beyond the stage of digging a huge hole in the ground. To this date, it is a well-known eyesore just off central Skanderbeg Square. Albania subsequently extradited Sejdia to Switzerland, where he faced trial for fraud.

Alimucaj's cooperation with Sejdia apparently began in 1992, when the two intended to cooperate in building the hotel. In 1996 Alimucaj and Sejdia met in Budapest for the last time, but the details of their cooperation remain fragmentary.

"Klan" asked rhetorically why Alimucaj did not get a longer sentence and stressed: "After less than two years Vehbi [Alimucaj] will be free again. If we believe the testimony of the witnesses, he and his family will then be able to live like real pharaohs, with the money that they took out of Albania." (Fabian Schmidt)

Muslim Party To Boycott Elections? Leaders of the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) agreed in Sarajevo on 1 June to consider not taking part in the local elections slated for November if people are allowed to vote in municipalities where they did not live prior to 1992. The SDA charged that allowing people to vote in areas where they settled during and after the 1992-1995 war would "legalize [the results of] ethnic cleansing," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. (Patrick Moore)

Del Ponte Closes Door On Milosevic's Propaganda Ploy. Carla Del Ponte, who is the Hague-based war crimes tribunal's chief prosecutor, said on 2 June that there are no grounds for investigating the Atlantic alliance for possible war crimes during its 1999 campaign against Serbian forces. The Serbian government and a Russian parliamentary commission recently called for such an investigation. After Del Ponte's statement, hard-line Yugoslav Information Minister Goran Matic said in Belgrade that her decision "proved" that the tribunal is politically biased and should be disbanded, Reuters reported. In Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Del Ponte's ruling "demonstrated political bias," AP reported.

Since the start of NATO's intervention in 1999 to halt genocide in Kosova, the Milosevic regime has repeatedly accused NATO of war crimes (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 16 May 2000). Belgrade and its friends have recently helped organize "citizens' tribunals" in Moscow, Berlin, and elsewhere to condemn the alliance.

For example, ITAR-TASS ran the following report from Moscow on 2 June: "The international community has not given a worthy assessment to the gross violation of international laws on the part of NATO member-countries who [committed] aggression against Yugoslavia, said speakers at the Moscow public hearings with the theme: 'NATO Aggression: Why Justice is Silent?' on 2 June.

"The hearings were attended by deputies of the State Duma, experts in international law, and members of public organizations. The [Hague-based] International Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia 'has turned into an instrument of persecution of Serbs and Yugoslav leaders,'" they said. (Patrick Moore)

Quotations Of The Week. "What kind of life is this when I need to have a soldier standing next to me so that I can buy my groceries?" -- Serbian middle-class woman in Prishtina, to Reuters on 4 June.

"It is not only my impression but the impression of the general public in Montenegro that this was a political murder. This [killing], and not only this, leads us to conclude that the repertory of destructive measures against Montenegro will not only go on, but will become enhanced." -- Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, on the killing of his aide Goran Zugic. Quoted by Reuters in Lisbon on 5 June.

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