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Prosecutors Indict 11 Kosovo Ruling Party Members On Corruption Charges

Kosovar President Hashim Thaci
Kosovar President Hashim Thaci

Kosovo authorities have indicted 11 people from President Hashim Thaci's ruling Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) for allegedly handing out state jobs to people based on their political affiliation.

"The indictment has to do with the criminal activities of hiring, sharing official positions based on party affiliations and friendly connections," a special prosecutor's office said in a statement on April 6.

The accused "worked in co-perpetration...granting unlawful privileges and advantages" to people seeking posts in government agencies and public firms, it said.

The case is based on wiretaps made in 2011 during an anticorruption operation by the European Union police and justice mission (EULEX), set up after Kosovo's 1998-99 independence war to foster rule of law in the former Serbian province.

EU officials say Kosovo's government, led by ex-guerrillas, has not done enough to purge ingrained corruption and organized crime, which is often cited as an obstacle to foreign investment in the impoverished Balkan nation of 1.8 million people.

The PDK party has been in power since 2007. PDK party members indicted on April 6 include a former government minister, a former member of parliament, a current lawmaker, and one current government official -- Besim Beqaj, Kosovo's minister for innovation and entrepreneurship.

Prosecutors said that defendants could be heard in wiretapped conversations offering party supporters jobs at state-financed agencies, among them the rail network, courts and universities, water, energy, and health companies.

Leaks from the wiretaps led to a public scandal in 2016 involving high-ranking PDK officials, including Thaci, who was prime minister at the time.

The scandal was dubbed the "Pronto Affair" by media because Thaci could be heard on a leaked recording answering his phone using the Italian word "pronto" when he received a call from a senior PDK official, Adem Grabovci, who frequently demanded that government officials direct jobs to PDK members.

Grabovci was identified as one of the principle targets of the EULEX investigation.

Kosovo, which has applied to become a member of the EU, must demonstrate a track record of convictions in high-level organized crime and corruption cases to obtain membership as well as visa-free travel in the bloc, EU officials have said.

Last year, Kosovo was ranked 85th out of 180 countries in the corruption perceptions index of Transparency International.

Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters
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