Kosovo leader was mafia boss, trafficked organs: report

Prime Minister Hashim Thaci headed a mafia-style organised crime ring that engaged in assassinations, organ trafficking and other crimes, according to a draft report.

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BELGRADE // Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci headed a mafia-style organised crime ring in the late 1990s that engaged in assassinations, beatings, organ trafficking and other crimes, according to a draft report released on Tuesday.

In Pristina, the Kosovo government denounced the draft Council of Europe report as baseless and defamatory, and threatened to take legal and political action in response.

The report to the Council's Parliamentary Assembly, released a day after Kosovo's election commission said Thaci's party won the first post-independence election on Sunday, also accused Western powers of complicity in ignoring crimes dating back to the late 1990s.

"Thaci and these other 'Drenica Group' members are consistently named as 'key players' in intelligence reports on Kosovo's mafia-like structures of organised crime," said the report by Dick Marty, the rapporteur for the Council's committee on legal affairs and human rights.

"We found that the 'Drenica Group' had as its chief -- or, to use the terminology of organised crime networks, its 'boss' -- the renowned political operator and perhaps most internationally recognised personality of the KLA, Hashim Thaci."

The Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) led a guerrilla insurgency against Serbia in a 1998-99 war in which Belgrade lost control of the territory it considers the home of its Orthodox Christianity. Belgrade does not recognise independence of its former province.

Kosovo threatened legal action. "The government of Kosovo and Prime Minister Hashim Thaci will undertake all the necessary steps and actions to dismiss the slanders of Dick Marty, including legal and political means," it said in a statement.

"It is clear someone wants to hurt Prime Minister Hashim Thaci after the citizens of Kosovo gave him clearly their trust to continue the development programme and the country's governance."

Agim Ceku, a KLA commander during the 1998-99 war and a former Kosovo prime minister, blamed Belgrade for the allegations.

"Every accusation against the KLA comes from Serbia or its helpers," he said.

"I don't believe that such things happen. It's just an attempt to blacken our war and our victory. I don't believe that there were such people in the KLA; it is not in our tradition to do such things."

The Council of Europe human rights watchdog, based in Strasbourg, France, was created in 1949 to promote democracy and the rule of law among its member states.