Politico: EU courts trouble with Kosovo scandal

It aims to bring international standards of justice to a corner of the Balkans. But some members of the EU’s biggest foreign policy mission stand accused of corruption, malpractice and skulduggery.

The European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo, known as EULEX, was shaken Thursday after its chief judge, British national Malcolm Simmons, resigned and unleashed a string of accusations against the organization. But EULEX then revealed that Simmons himself was the subject of several investigations into alleged serious wrongdoing.

The barrage of claims and counter-claims was the latest scandal to hit the organization, which has an annual budget of €50 million and employs some 800 staff. Since its launch in 2008, its performance has been widely seen as a test of the EU’s ability to turn its much-vaunted common foreign and security policy into concrete action.

“I don’t want to be part of this farce anymore” — Malcolm Simmons

Among Simmons’ accusations in an interview with Le Monde: a fellow judge hacked his private email account and shared his emails with other judges; the mission was subject to political interference; an international judge who held a seat on Kosovo’s supreme court was almost never in the country yet continued to receive his salary and daily allowances; another judge held down a lucrative second job even while meant to be working full-time for the mission.

“And this is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “I don’t want to be part of this farce anymore.”

Simmons said he had faced pressure from a senior official to convict Fatmir Limaj, a politician and former guerrilla commander, because the mission did not want him to take part in an upcoming election. On trial in another case on Thursday, Limaj cited Simmons’ comments in his defense statement to the court.

Former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) commander Fatmir Limaj | Armend Nimani/AFP via Getty Images

Simmons said he had brought his allegations to the attention of top international officials but little or nothing had been done about them.

EULEX said multiple investigations had been launched into “serious allegations” against Simmons. It did not reveal details of the allegations — but they are sufficiently grave that a team chaired by a former judge at the European Court of Justice has been examining them. Some have already gone to a disciplinary board.

“Today Kosovo has enormous problems with rule of law, corruption is widespread, and there’s still impunity for high officials and political leaders, and EULEX is also to be blamed for that,” said Agron Bajrami, the editor in chief of Koha Ditore, a daily newspaper in Kosovo. “Instead of Europeanizing Kosovo, we have Balkanized EULEX.”

This week’s revelations are not the first time EULEX has been the subject of serious allegations of bad practice and corruption.

“They are committed to the rule of law. But… there is concern once in a while on the quality and standards being used” — Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj

In 2012, the European Court of Auditors found that EULEX was ineffective and hampered by delays and human resources problems. The report noted that 11 member countries put forward unqualified candidates for jobs.

In 2014, former EULEX prosecutor Maria Bamieh, seconded by the U.K. government, accused the mission of not thoroughly investigating allegations in wiretaps that an Italian judge had received a €300,000 bribe — claims the judge adamantly denies. Bamieh is suing for wrongful termination over her dismissal by EULEX.

An investigation commissioned by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini concluded in 2015 that the mission was not guilty of a cover-up regarding Bamieh’s claims, but its findings aligned with the 2012 audit report that “corruption is omnipresent” in Kosovo.

Asked about Simmons’ allegations, Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj said EULEX had good professionals among its staff.  “They are committed to the rule of law. But … there is concern once in a while on the quality and standards being used,” he told POLITICO in an interview in Brussels on Thursday.

Read the original article here: https://www.politico.eu/article/malcolm-simmons-eulex-eu-courts-chaos-with-kosovo-scandal/