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Koha Ditore Interview, Johannes Vreeswijk, EULEX Prosecutor

06 may 2010 Full transcript of the conversation with the Koha Ditore journalist

Q: Mr. Johaness, has EULEX made a spectacle a week ago?

A: No, this was an operation executed under the normal parameters. So when you conduct an operation like that, you make sure you can secure the  premises, you stop [inaudible] The carabinieri you saw there [inaudible] external security, then all the staff went to do the search. This is standard staff to secure premises. When you have a court trial, with a high-profile defendant, then you also see big guys with guns outside and inside. But this is a normal measure to protect the quality of the investigation. And anybody can come in and out, including press, etc. You can not search although you would like to be there, of course, but that’s not really useful.  This is standard staff. You can ask the question: “Do you need all those weapons, because this is not war situation whatsoever”, but this is standard equipment of the carabinieri. That’s it. So it looks impressive, macho, but the main [inaudible] is securing the external parameter [inaudible]. This is standard procedure.

Q: And are you happy with the result of the search that you made?

A: I can not yet say that, because we see a lot of staff, documents, important information. That’s all for now, all going for investigation. We are going through the files, and forensic experts are going through the staff also. It takes time because of the volume we go through. The estimation is that it will take at least some weeks. When we have done that, we have reached some conclusions on that, we are going to start interviewing the defendants and witnesses.

Q: But actually the Kosovo Government officials said that it would have been an easy way if you had asked them for the material that you took there. Actually with a simple request they would deliver them to you.

A: Well, I have to explain something here. We have the law on disclosure of government documents. When the citizens want to know something about the government budget, you can file a request and they say “Well this is in books, this is how we spend your money.”  That’s for civilian. But we are not a civilian force, we are a prosecution service. And when we investigate crime, we normally do not knock on the door and say: “Good morning! Can we have your bank account and whatever.” That’s normal under lawful measures, but not in any investigation like these. And I should read you the charges: money laundering, organized crime, misappropriation office, fraud in office, soliciting bribes. That’s not something you knock on the door and say “Could we have a talk?” First you should go to the evidence. Then you start talking. We will start talking, but not now. You know what the reason is if u do this way you suggest what is going to happen if someone really is [inaudible] active? He will destroy the evidence. We can’t allow this. So first it is hit and take, secure the evidence, then we will talk. We are not the audits office of the Government. “Give us these financial papers, to see the budget spending [inaudible]. We check crime and we have difficult procedure for that. And sometimes it gets harder, yes that’s true. There is a misunderstanding in the government, but not the way the prosecution usually operates. Where we can do the least interference level we will do. If we can get some to the police station by telephone call, we will do and not smash the door at 6 in the morning and arrest someone. It’s only a matter of proportion. So the question is what we did proportional to the seriousness of the crimes. The crimes total amount of 55 years imprisonment.

Q: 55?

A: Yes. For these five charges, for two defendants – the minister and his head of procurement. Everybody talks about the minister, but there are more people involved. These are the two big guys.

Q: Who are more people involved?

A: Well, informally we have two defendants here. But of course they are surrounded by people who render services, accomplish whatsoever. We focus on the big actors, but it is clear that in such a big operation and organization it is not only done simply by two people. Someone is to assist.

Q: Prime Minister said yesterday that EULEX has no facts. Do you have facts?

A: Well, is the prime minister a prosecutor? Does he have knowledge of our facts? Does he have access to the file? So, what is he talking about?

Q: No, that’s what I am asking you: Do you have facts?

A: Yes, and the facts are such that the trial judge inspecting those facts said  ”there is grounded suspicion and I allow you to raid these premises, including the personal premises”. Before you are allowed to do that, you need a strong [inaudible]. So they’ve been checked by a judge. What is the prime minister trying to say? That he knows better than the judge how to apply the law? [inaudible]. We are not pleased with his remarks, because he forgets one thing: he is member of the executive branch. The parliament is the legislative. We [inaudible] the judiciary. There’s a strict division here. We would like to see some more respect also in the media from the government’s part to our job. Minister Limaj himself said that they do their job, we do our job. OK, let’s keep it this way for the moment. But when prime minister says ”I do not know”. A lot of people do not know about the facts. We are now investigating and collecting and once we have established those facts we will qualify them to the charges we have here and proceed. The witnesses, defendants will be heard, all according to the law, and then we will proceed.

Q: But the prime minister even said yesterday that actually somehow EULEX is used for political issues here.

A: Now, real prosecutors get a bit angry. That’s me. EULEX prosecution never prosecutes for a political reason. We are not a political prosecution organization, as it has been in these countries maybe for some time. The fact that this minister is member of a political party is completely irrelevant. I can also say, if that’s an assurance for the prime minister, that we also have suspects in other parties, if that’s re-assurance for him. So that’s not the point. It’s not a political attack to his party. It’s a criminal investigation into a ministry who happens to be member of a political party. That can be, but we give [inaudible] about that. That’s not relevant for us. We assured, we said only in this party where we detect a few things that we should investigate. So, when it comes to equality all will have [inaudible].

Q: If you said that you have also from other political parties, can we say that this country is really corrupt?

A: My [inaudible] observation is that the majority of Albanians is totally non-corrupt and they hate it. That’s the good thing. It’s the few that selected themselves that are abusing the state coffers for private use. Those who think that the government money is kind of a private business to exploit.  For that we have elections.

Q: Is there any other suspicious guy who is in Thaci’s cabinet?

A: I can not comment on that. You will understand that. We have quite a list with government officials suspected of corruption and organized crime. And we are going through the list and this is the first hit. There will be more.

Q: So the prime minister should be ready for other actions of EULEX?

A: Well, the prime minister should simply be ready to govern his country good. This is his business and I don’t interfere. It’s his business, he is executive. I do my part. And if the country is ran well, is not ran in a criminal, he will never see me and I would have clear desk, which is the best job I can have.

Q: Minister Limaj has a kind of immunity as an Assembly member. Is it a problem for EULEX?

A: No, it’s not a problem.

Q: Why not? You can arrest somebody even if he has an immunity in Kosovo?

A: It depends on what capacity he is arrested.

Q: So, EULEX will not ask the Kosovo Government or Assembly to do any procedure before …

A: We see no immunity problems here. Let me put it this way. And it’s hard to imagine that [inaudible] if it is necessary the Parliament would refuse it.

Q: Was there any political process before? Did you have consultations? We as Koha Ditore reported on Sunday on issues with Mr. Feith, Mr. De Kermabon, some meetings. Was there a political process to resolve these problems?

A: To a certain extent, we consult with our stakeholders about the impact of what we are going to do. So a raid of the ministry is something that is not put on the table for approval, because we don’t need approval as [inaudible] prosecution. But it is communicated that something will come up and that one should not be surprised if there will be some [inaudible]. So the sensitive cases with high profile that might somehow lead to political destabilization are discussed at the appropriate level and appropriate time.

Q:  So, prime minister was away.

A: Brussels or none blocks [inaudible] prosecution. When it comes to the rule of law, and this is a rule of law mission, there is none who can say: “You can not do that or you shall not do that.” You can have a thought on  which case should we start first.  That’s a different thing. The strategic approach of trial scheduling, investigation, etc. This is the biggest thing to start with. [inaudible] Our prosecutors and judges are autonomous and independent. It’s guaranteed by the mission’s regulations.

Q: Is that a long time since you started to suspect on Limaj, to investigate the Limaj case?

A: This started in May 2009.

Q: So, it’s about a year.

A: Yes, as an indication how complicated things are, because we’re in 2010. It takes a year. This is a serious case to have properly placed, because you are investigating a complaint, you will do some background information. You check this, this, this and you build the case. When you have an office you file a ruling against defendants, put charges, just quote it, and then the question is “How to proceed, what is [inaudible] to close the net. Many people asked me: “Why don’t you arrest the guy?” In cases like this, the arrest is usually the last thing you do. First, you should have evidence. Mr. Limaj is a citizen. He also has his rights to move freely and speak freely. We only can apply a measure like that and will apply a measure like that when it is necessary to take his liberty [inaudible] or prior to trial. I have no indication that he is going to escape the country tomorrow morning.

Q: Do you have an indication?

A: I have no indication that he is doing that. So that’s a matter of balance and proportion. Don’t simply put someone in jail or in detention when you don’t have strict grounds for that. This is also the law. You can only take someone’s liberty when you have really strict ground for it. We are still in investigative phase. After this things may change. And the other thing is that prosecutors are not in charge of punishing people. We are in charge of investigating the prosecutor [the defendant] and the judges are the ones who say “Well, considering what the law says, he is punishable to 20 years. There you go sir.” That is the judge’s business. We only have to do proper investigation, proper prosecution, and ensure the presence of the defendant at trial, and that’s it. The rest is up to the judges. But you can [inaudible] bad guy, lock him up.” But the decision, the final conclusion, decision is up to the judge, not to the prosecutor. We are not here to punish, but to investigate and prosecute. We present the case. And then independent judge says “this is our work, defend what is yours, I will judge later”. There’s also balance. It’s not the case that automatically any prosecution leads to confession. There  can also be an acquittal. So what we will do is that will be tested in an independent court of law, all possibilities for the defense that these defendants may desire. No problem.

Q: So, Mr. Limaj cannot move from the country in this period of time?

A: He can move. He has no restrictions yet. I was talking about strategy and that means there is no need, but I must say if it is applicable [inaudible] Or if we don’t know where the car is moving. Little talking is being done. We can not tell always everything, but you should be aware that the fact that somebody is free does not mean we are observing something.  We can have a reason to [inaudible] because we want know a few other things.

Q: This is where I wanted to get to. There were rumors that Limaj’s phone was wiretapped for a long time.

A: I can neither deny nor confirm. Because if that would be the case or not, those are protective, covered measures and we never discuss in media which measures are being applied against the defendant. But generally speaking the operations [inaudible].

Q: So, I can take it as yes.

A: No, I did not deny nor confirm, but generally speaking the strategy in big cases is get to communication network of the defendant and chart it: with whom is he talking, when, how, [inaudible]. That’s all part of the network especially when it comes to organized crime. That’s normal charting the case.

Q: Taking into consideration the context that I have and talks I had with different parties, there is an impression that however this will not end only with Limaj, taking in consideration that maybe Limaj knows something that he should tell you. Where does this take us to? There is Pandora box here opening.

A: Well, what we intend to do as a prosecution also chief state prosecutor, who is our close ally here, Mr. Kabashi, we agree we should eradicate corruption at high level. And the plan is to start with this and continue a minimum for a year at all levels, not only ministerial level but municipal level. And not only the government, but also businesses. Whoever steals money from the people should be chased. And we are going to do that for one year with all the force we have. So we leave a little bit aside the robbery and [inaudible] and simply concentrate on the ones who steal from their own people unlawfully all over the country at all levels. That’s how we are going to direct our force. So, yes a few more officials  sooner or later will be taken [inaudible]. That’s our plan. And we are going to stop it [inaudible] We have at least six more equivalents.

Q: Six more?

A: Yes.

Q: And they are senior officials?

A: Yes.

Q: That sounds great.

A: Well the point is, the government official is [inaudible], he is elected because  he is supposed to be good, to serve his people. Minister is from Latin and it means servant, serving the people. And a public prosecutor, which means I serve the public, not the state. The state prosecutors, I don’t really like that word. I’m public prosecutor, I am here to secure the safety of citizens.

Q: When you say six more cases, are they from this period time or also from UNMIK time? Corruption? When were the things done?

A: I will have more information when I come back from leave, because I am going on leave this afternoon. I just have [inaudible] I cant go into detail. There are different backgrounds, different histories, but we will be happy when we have things in place to provide you with more information. That’s the other thing. None should think that we have to hide anything. Sometimes we have to protect something because it is the right of the citizen to be protected,  and we have to [inaudible] investigation sometimes and not to have [inaudible] starting to destroy evidence. in this case is Limaj NOT TO BE QUOTED We do have the list of potential suspects, things to investigate and prioritize [inaudible]And wow long are we going to do this? We want to chase any big guy in this country for the coming year. This is the simplest statement. Because people are fed up with it, it ruins the state coffers. Now about two billion people have [inaudible] by the European Union and this mission costs 250 million a year. This money is provided by European workers and their taxes. And they would not like to see their taxes go this way.

Q: Let me be clear. Among those six officials, is there anyone from ex-governments?

A: I cannot comment on that. It’s not relevant in a way. They are suspects with high profile. That I can say. Regardless parties, we are not political prosecution office, I say it again, we always check on crime. Regardless

Q: Let me be clear. Form those six persons, is there anybody from the ex Government?

A: I can not comment on that. Is not relevant in a way. We worked with suspect of the high profile. Regardless the parties we can say once again very clearly that we only checked on crime regardless.. Well its all in constitution.

Q: Let me take an example. The statement that you issued for Limaj’s case the statement was that you were investigating the tenders from 2007 until 2009. In 2007 the Minister of transports was somebody else. Does the investigation includes the ex minister of transports?

A: We usually check the whole thing where everything started and where did it come from and how developed. So it makes sometimes be that someone gets however implied and falls off because that no this is a clear thing, no involvement here, we have to go through the whole thing. We have two defendants in this case officially; if there will be more – possibly! This type of corruption as such is a hidden and hideous crime. It is hard to detect because everybody keeps silent. It is nature of it, if you kill someone in a street with a gun, you have three witnesses who saying that he is there went to the car, there is the guy who is dead now and there is a Kalashnikov that’s it. This is all is being done by the people in secret, that it makes it harder to detect of course, the goal is to keep it silent otherwise, as I said it always also few thefts are coming from these people – yes, and people around them. It’s intimidation or more sometimes, and I can excluded that the way they intimidate it is also such a crime.

Q: Let me be clear. This is the first serious action that EULEX is taking in Kosovo and it was a huge action with the “big guy”. Do you think that you are risking to much if the results.. What if the results in the ned will be that Limaj is clean guy? I mean are you risking all the reputation of EULEX in Kosovo?

A: Should this case failed we have something to explain?

Q: Yes …

A: But you know that this is a professional organization with classified prosecutors with the years of the experience, knowing about the job, are going to proceed against high profile individuals without having a good case? We are not stupid, and the judge also redefined all the things. So that is already checked. We are not here to make a media show, or to destabilize political scene. So no, when we proceed, we proceed cautious, that’s why we also need time to be clear on a few things. So where some people are asking why you are not acting a little bit in a rush order, some people are saying you are late in acting, you are here already two years and we did see and now you see we have started it takes time, we are cautious but we are also determent. This is the first one, more to follow. Everybody who is involved in organized crime and corruption it should be start sweating, that’s my answer

Q: And those who did two years or three years ago, should they start sweating?

A: Well in this case if we realize that there were serious cases of steeling and fraud of state money we have to act, doesn’t matter how important is, no one is exempted from the prosecution, why because they are equal before the law isn’t it?!

Q: Sir do you know that PDK party will start giving you a lot of documents for the other political parties for the ex governments. Do you have a …

A: Now you said PDK but we have not included political parties. We have to do with individuals and organizations. And those people who want to provide us with these documents, clearly relevant we will be able to accept them, regardless the source. But if the only reason to provide us with documents is to take the opponent down for the political reasons we aren’t to that game. We know how this game is played, and we are not part of it, this should also be clear, don’t try it.

Q: If EULEX has the capacities to cover everything?

A: Good question can we deal with all the wrong things. The answer is no, we don’t have enough money, we don’t have enough people and we don’t have enough time. War comes with a prize, peace comes with a prize, nation will be come with a prize. So sometimes we have to say it is serious, but it is not serious enough to start completing files for all the course of time, so we have to select – yes. There is not such thing as perfect as justice, but what we can do which is our goal is cleaning the pipes and we are going to start an operation called “Cleaning the pipes,” nationwide and only focused on corruption - guys stop if you don’t we will stop you.

The choice is still at people; prosecution only intervenes when people, free citizens, chose to behave criminal, and they need us, if not enjoy your life; you won’t see us, no problem.

Q: So we can imagine that some of the problems in Kosovo are more than EULEX has capacities?

A: EULEX is here to assist and support, also in the SPRK has eleven local prosecutors, the majority of them are locals, the capacity of the processing system, the operational system, […] there are local judges and prosecutors. And I would like to say something on the newly appointed prosecutors. Those judges and prosecutors have been re-vetted through the IJPC and appointed by the President. Each of them has a file of 300 pages form the international and national in depth investigations in anything that might be wrong, from bank accounts, to cars, to houses, including the family etc. They have gone through one of the toughest procedures for selection. Those people now appointed, are powerful because prosecutors under the new law are powerful, before they were investigated judges now all these powers are being transferred to the prosecutors, you should trust to the newly appointed prosecutors, and let them do their job.

Q: Are they are satisfied with their job?

A: The only thing that I would like to add and that would suit the government is that they would pay these people also with more decent.

Q: There was a kind of a special task force, anticorruption…

A: We are all now that the Prime Minister was quite happy to allocate resources also the money and to empower the prosecution, and what he sees here is a consequence of his own willingness to fight the crime. This is that the Prime Minister wants from us to fight crime, we do not do this alone we do this with him of course, I guess he is with us and he is ready to help us, but this assistance from the government of course can not mean that there can be chased only who are not Government’s members. There are no conditions, and of course it is unacceptable for us. So it might hurt few of his own but certainly, but only the few of his own, because this is not a political prosecution as I am saying again and again.

Q: Actually we are talking, just imaging what if all the talks send to the Prime Minister actually. The investigations send us to the Prime Minister, what will happen at that moment?

A: Well this is speculative. I can only say that regardless to the position of a person involved, if we have a reason to act we will act. And if it is a normal unemployed poor citizen, selling cigarettes in the street, like it or not like it to be arrested at that level, that’s no political corruption. But if you need to clean the pipes it means that people at the top that are honest, reliable and competent. Do we need clean? And if we find out that there is not a case we have to act. The rule is simple no one is exempted from the prosecution.

Q: I still have to insist why Limaj was the first one. As you told me that there are six people involved?

A: There is a lot of money involved there in the infrastructure.

Q: How much?

A: Well I am talking about the budget of the ministry of Transports and not about the embezzled money; it was around 160 million I think this year. But we are talking about millions of fraud, not hundred thousands.

Q: The misused money are the numbers of millions?

A: Only in this case there are around two millions misused.

Q: And you think that for two millions they should go to jail for fifty five years…

A: When you look at the law and you have those five charges then the law says that for money laundry the maximum is ten years, for the organized crime it can be 20 years, for the misappropriation in office it can be ten years, for bribes is five years, when you are totally count is 65. It is up to the judge to say , considering the position of the person involved, the authority, responsibility, the amount of the money involved, to say well it should be 10, 20, 30 whatever, it is up to the judge, but the law simply says, you done this and the punishment is this.

Q: Because I have to explain this to my readers, if everything is proved, every evidence that you have is proved, we can say that Mr. Limaj will go to jail for two millions of misuse?

A: No, because there are more charges. This is part of the case.