Trepca mines complex. Photo: Fitim Selimi Wikimedia

Kosovo PM condemns ‘organised’ attack on Trepca’s new chief

Prime Minister Kurti on Wednesday slated Monday's assault on the new Acting Executive Chief and Adminstration Manager of the troubled Trepca complex, saying: 'No one is stronger than the state'.

Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti, on an official visit to the Trepca mining and metallurgical complex on Wednesday, condemned Monday’s attack on the new Acting Executive Chief, saying no one is above the law.

“As PM of Kosovo, I pledge that no individual or group will be stronger than the state,” Kurti said after meeting the Trepca management, describing the assault as an “organised attack against the leadership [of Trepca] and not good for Kosovo”.

On Monday, a group of Trepca employees opposed to the appointment of new Acting Executive Chief Enis Abdurrahmani attacked him and the Administration Director, Besim Haxhiu.

The meeting between Abdurrahmani, Ragip Istrefi, from the complex’s strike council, former Acting Chief Executive Rafet Ibishi and other employees, was supposed to be a simple handover – but the discussions ended in violence.

BIRN’s TV show Kallxo Pernime on Tuesday evening showed videos and audio recordings of the incident.

The Mitrovica Basic Prosecution asked the Mitrovica Basic Court to order the detention of Ibishi and four other persons. They have been detained and put in custody for 48 hours since Monday.

The Trepca complex strike council has, however, demanded the release of their co-workers, the dismissal of the indictment against them and the appointment of a new chief, as they do not accept the current one.

Kurti rejected the demands of the strike council on Wednesday. “It wasn’t enough for them to attack the director, but one of the council’s requests is for them [the management] to withdraw the statement that they suffered violence; this is unparalleled and will not happen,” he said.

“Those who have filed the statement with the police will not withdraw [their charges],” Kurti added.

Ibishi, one of the alleged attackers in detention, was dismissed as Acting Executive Chief on October 15, after holding the position for six months.

During his mandate, he objected to signing an agreement with Kosovo customs, pushed by Kurti, on opening a customs terminal at the complex, claiming it would cause losses for Trepca.

The opening of a state-owned customs terminal was announced by Kurti in May 2020, as a way to cut the losses caused by Kosovo’s dependence on private customs terminals, because of its high level of imports.

Abdurrahmani dismissed seven employees immediately after the incident.

Trepca’s rise and fall echoes that of the former Yugoslavia itself. While the country boomed, the complex enjoyed its glory days. When it started to break apart, the complex slid sharply downhill.

In the 1960s, it became the largest metallurgical processing plant in the former Yugoslavia, accounting for 70 per cent of the country’s extraction production.

It employed 23,500 people, over 18,000 in Kosovo and the rest in other parts of former Yugoslavia. The net value of its exports reached a peak of $120 million dollars a year.

The violent collapse of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s and the changes introduced to companies in Kosovo by the Serbian regime of Slobodan Milosevic dealt huge blows and confused the ownership structure – as did Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia in 2008.

Today, the complex partially lies in Serb-dominated northern Kosovo, an area de facto controlled by Belgrade, and partly in Kosovo proper. Ownership has become an important dispute between Kosovo and Serbia, as both claim ownership.

The firm has long been on the verge of collapse, which the Kosovo government aimed to prevent via a law adopted by the Kosovo parliament in October 2016, transforming it into a shareholder company where 80 per cent of the complex was owned by the state and 20 per cent by the workers. Serbia was strongly against this law, considering it a threat to its interests.

Monday’s violence was not the first incident in Trepca complex in the recent months, while documents containing suspicions of misuse have been submitted to investigative bodies in Pristina.

Besim Imeri, head of the public enterprises’ monitoring unit at the Kosovo Ministry of Economy, told BIRN that suspicions of corruption in Trepca were related mainly to illegal selling of “waste, minerals and [suspicious] contracts”, linking these suspicions to the previous management.

Bahri Hyseni, head of Trepca complex’s board, told BIRN that Trepca’s finances “are not very transparent”.

In March 2021, after BIRN’s TV show Kallxo Pernime reported on thefts of minerals at Trepca, police went to the complex demanding documents and initiating an investigation.

BIRN had found out that the scam involved abuse of the scales weighing lead and zinc concentrates. Smaller quantities of the minerals than were officially weighed were being loaded onto barges.

In May, dozens of locals set up a protest tent in front of the Trepca complex, dissatisfied with employment decisions and demanding the hire of 154 former applicants who underwent competitions in 2019.

In early August 2021, a Trepca complex employee was injured after he fell from a pit during an inspection.

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21 October 2021 - 12:02

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