Ambassador O’Connell speaks at the launch of the latest Kosovo Legal Institute report on the justice sector, a project supported by the British Embassy.
[Original speech delivered in Albanian language]
Dear Mr. Idrizi, Dear Ms. Milic, Dear Ms. Hoxha, Ambassador Delawie, Dear Mr. Musliu,
Dear judges, prosecutors, representatives of public institutions, independent agencies, representatives of the media and civil society, and all of you present here.
It is with pleasure that we have gathered again today around this table, attended yet again by the main stakeholders in the justice system and international friends, to discuss the fight against corruption. We already stand witness to how much this phenomenon threatens Kosovo.
I am a British Ambassador. My job is to look after the interests of my country in Kosovo. However, we have common interests. It is in Britain’s interest for Kosovo to be powerful, safe, and prosperous. This is the only way to combat crime and corruption damaging Kosovo as well as us. And the only way to do so is by having a strong judiciary.
From my personal perspective, I know that Kosovo and its people deserve to live in a country where rule of law prevails, where corrupt people are investigated, prosecuted, and tried for their illegal behaviours and activities. We share the same interest: To not let Kosovo go down in ruins because of the appetites of corrupt people.
I have already said several times; corruption is the cancer of this new state.
Now, let us be blunt. This very professional KDI report shows a lack of concrete results. This indicates that Kosovo citizens are extremely dissatisfied with the work of the judicial and prosecutorial system. This is also confirmed by the findings of the UNDP Public Pulse, which indicate that citizen’s satisfaction has marked almost the biggest decline in history, dropping to 18.4% for the judiciary and 16.9% for the prosecution.
As we all know, combating corruption is one of the outstanding visa liberalisation criteria. Justice authorities, at all levels, should demonstrate the fight against corruption, in general and high profile corruption in particular.
In this direction, let us commend work when done well. Justice authorities have done a great job in creating an electronic database, which will reflect and track all the phases of criminal procedure, from prosecution up to the final judgement and confiscation of assets, in high profile corruption cases. This is an important step and we recognize it as an achievement of bodies within the justice system.
Nevertheless, the time has come for concrete results in fighting corruption. The time has come for justice bodies to prove that they dare to prosecute and sentence high profile corrupt individuals. It is time for justice bodies to sequestrate and confiscate criminal proceeds.
The findings of the report, unfortunately, show that the majority persons charged as defendants belong to the low-profile level, medium level, and high profile cases are seldom formalised into indictments. Even when indictments are filed, either the courts dismiss them, or if sentenced, they get issued with suspended sentences though it is found that the damages are worth millions of Euros.
However, the report also shows that some prosecutors have found the courage to fight corruption by filing high profile indictments. We hope we will have unimpeachable and professional indictments, and that these cases will be tried with priority in order to see concrete results.
I recall several cases where even when the sentences were issued, certain individuals found various ways to evade justice, by leaving Kosovo, and ever found the time to take part in different ceremonies and events.
Another example could be the one of two main convicted defendants of the “Medicus” case, Lutfi Dervishi and Arben Dervishi, who were sentenced to eight years of imprisonment for criminal offences, however they are not serving the terms as they have found ways to escape justice in Kosovo.
The current judicial system in Kosovo creates loopholes, which enable certain individuals to escape justice. This is shocking and unacceptable.
The culture of impunity should come to an end. It cannot be applied in any state that shares European values. A system where those who violate the law are powerfully confronted by the justice authorities prevails in the European family. When senior public officials are investigated, or when charges are brought against them, or they are sentenced for criminal offences, they should be suspended and terminated as stipulated in the local legislation.
One recent example that we commended was that of Minister Hoxha, who acted without hesitation and in compliance with the Law on civil servants.
What I want to stress is that the success of the judicial system does not depend only on prosecutors, or judges, or police officers. The prosecutorial and judicial systems are a chain that connects different stakeholders and makes them accountable for both failures and successes. The functioning of all the separate parts of the justice system is essential for success, not only in the fight against corruption, but in all other fields as well.
The report proves that more than 70% of criminal reports made by Kosovo citizens, Kosovo Police, the Anti-Corruption Agency, and other institutions are closed out by prosecutors, who dismiss them or terminate the investigations. It is worrisome that the findings of this report prove that prosecutors dismiss the reports without reference to the legal provisions and by violating legal deadlines. The violation of legal deadlines is a constitutional violation of the right of citizens of the Republic of Kosovo for a fair trial within a reasonable timeframe.
Lately, we have the case of Mr. Nuhi Uka; it has been proven that the violation of legal deadlines made it possible for him to not be sentenced or investigated due to the expiration of the limitation period for corruption criminal offences. In another case against Mr. Uka, the Court proved that the caused damage was 60,000,000 Euro. In this case, Mr. Uka was issued a suspended sentence and not a single cent was confiscated.
How is it possible that prosecutors file charges, then they remain in their offices for months or years until they are submitted to the court? How is it possible that corruption indictments filed by the prosecution are idling for months in courts and hearings are not scheduled? How is it possible for this justice system to act within one day against a common citizen, who breaks the law but overlooks individuals that have caused millions of Euros worth of damages? I commend any case where the courts and prosecution act efficiently, but we cannot stay silent when we note the application of double standards.
We are aware that the justice system in Kosovo is functioning with only 1.7% of the total of the budget of the Republic of Kosovo. This fact is very telling. If the goal is to combat corruption, the justice system needs maximum budget support from the Government and Assembly.
This is something that is up to Kosovo institutions, doing their homework. We can support them, but we cannot do the work of the institutions.
But we will always be close to Kosovo in the fight against corruption, we will be particularly close to the courageous judges and prosecutors that take measures, even when this is challenging.
But why do we continue to invest in a system with so many problems?
Because I strongly believe that there are still prosecutors and judges, not only a few, that have demonstrated tangible results through courage and professional work.
Hope could be brought by a special prosecutor like Admir Shala, who has indicted even fellow prosecutors when caught in corruption criminal offences. I am not prejudging concrete cases, because the judges will issue the final verdict. However, Prosecutor Shala has proven so far the courage in the fight against corrupted persons by taking them to court.
Another example is prosecutor Armend Hamiti, who has brought about half million Euros to the state’s budget by prosecuting forgers of vehicle documents. Prosecutor Hamiti has also restored usurped property in Pristina Region, by indicting people who used to be considered as untouchable by the law.
These are the heroes of this country that should be followed in fighting crime and corruption.