Azem Syla. | Photo: Atdhe Mulla.

How Azem Syla “led the largest criminal group” in Kosovo

A special prosecution indictment reveals the inner workings of a criminal group allegedly led by Azem Syla, a former Kosovo MP and KLA commander. It is thought to be the largest gang in Kosovo’s recent history.

Azem Syla, nicknamed Daja (Uncle), is accused of being the leader of a well-structured criminal group which falsified documents, appropriated lands, bribed officials, and laundered money, according to an indictment submitted by the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo, EULEX, prosecutor and obtained by Prishtina Insight.

The 264-page indictment, drafted by Italian Prosecutor Danilo Ceccarelli, which will be published by Prishtina Insight and BIRN Kosovo’s Albanian-language portal Kallxo in several installments, reveals how Syla’s pension from Switzerland was allegedly used to finance the criminal group and sponsor group meetings in a Prishtina restaurant. The indictment also reveals the involvement of Kosovo Serbs in the group led by the former commander of Kosovo Liberation Army’s, KLA, Headquarters.

From a corner of a restaurant in Prishtina’s Sunny Hill neighborhood, Azem Syla’s “HQ” gave out orders, instructions, and guidelines for the other members of the group between 2006-2016, according to the indictment. The prosecution alleges that Azem Syla would sit at a table in the restaurant while his interlocutors would come and go, receiving various orders.

The indictment, filed on October 24, accuses tens of individuals of misuse and appropriation of land in Prishtina’s suburbs.

Azem Syla, who was a member of the Kosovo Assembly during the 2010-2014 legislature, is on the top of the list of the accused.  In the indictment obtained by Prishtina Insight, another 21 are accused of being members a group described by the indictment as one of the most active, well organized and long-lasting in Kosovo’s history.

In April 2016, criminal investigations resulted in a massive police raid by EULEX and Kosovo Police. On the morning of April 27, police raided Syla’s personal compound but failed to apprehend him. A couple of days later, Syla surrendered to police. The prosecution filed two indictments, accusing two groups consisting of 22 and 17 people respectively, on various charges including organized crime, falsifying documents, bribery, fraud and money laundering.

Kosovo crime group led by former former KLA commander & politician indicted

The first count of organized crime accuses Syla and 12 others of having knowingly and intentionally committed serious crimes as part of a structured organized group, with the aim of obtaining financial and material benefits.

In the indictment, Syla is described as the “organizer, supervisor, manager and director” of the criminal group. The indictment also accuses him of: “coordinating” and “supervising” the entire operation; assigning other members their roles within a well-structured hierarchy; and approving or refusing operational proposals by the other members. Syla is accused of giving orders and instructions to the other members and asking for reports about the continuous criminal activities. He is also accused of  participating in the “underlying criminal offenses” described by the indictment by giving instructions, guidance and approval, and receiving most of the profits from criminal activities.

Shaban Syla, who, like Azem Syla, was born in Kishnareke, played an almost identical role to the former MP. Syla, who in 2012 was found guilty for attempted murder of a member of the Kosovo Democratic League, LDK, as part of ‘the Bllaca 2’ case, is also described as an organizer, supervisor, manager and director of the criminal group. According to the indictment, Shaban and Azem Syla were constantly in touch with regards to strategic decision-making and planning.

“Specifically, he [Shaban Syla] organized and managed all the actions aimed at identifying Serbian individuals who had verdicts and documents useful for the criminal activities, liaised with them and involved them in the organized criminal group; organized and coordinated the falsification of verdicts and of the related documents; identified the socially owned land parcels to acquire illegally; liaised with, and corrupted, officials in the Municipal Court, at the Cadastral Office and in other public offices in order to obtain the original documents to falsify, to receive favorable decision and to speed up the procedure,” the 2016 indictment says.

A similar role was played by Shpresim Uka, another defendant from the ‘Bllaca 2’ case, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison for aggravated murder and attempted aggravated murder.

Ljubisa Vujovic, the only Serb indicted, was a member and supporter of the criminal group and actively participated in criminal activities.

“Specifically, Ljubisa Vujovic provided the group with the original verdict no. 1164/90 dated 24 June 1992, which returned to his family the land parcel no.145 in Fushe Kosova, knowing that the group was going to falsify it replacing that parcel with others,” reads the indictment. Vujovic also supported the group by providing it with “false documents, photos, and personal data of his family members that were used to create false ID documents, authorization, power of attorney and Court certifications.”

Other Serbs involved in the criminal activities have not been indicted because they are unreachable to the prosecution, which suspects they are being sheltered in Serbia. Since Kosovo’s institutions are not recognized by Serbia, suspects have evaded justice in the past by fleeing to Serbia or northern Kosovo.

Thirty-nine people, including their alleged leader Azem Syla, were indicted on charges of organized crime, money laundering, bribery, aggravated fraud, fraud on duty, issuing illegal court decisions, abuse of duty, legalizing falsified content, and fiscal evasion.

The defendants maintain their innocence and deny all culpability in all 47 charges in the two indictments submitted by the Special Prosecution on October 24.

31/10/2016 - 13:12

31 October 2016 - 13:12

Prishtina Insight is a digital and print magazine published by BIRN Kosovo, an independent, non-governmental organisation. To find out more about the organization please visit the official website. Copyright © 2016 BIRN Kosovo.