Kosovo Police closed the Serb ‘parallel administration’ office in Shterpce/Strpce on Wednesday and raided several other locations in an operation connected to the alleged illegal issue of construction permits for villas on Mount Brezovica, a winter tourism destination in the Sharri National Park in south-east Kosovo.
“Today operation ‘Brezovica’ was held, in which seven different locations in Shterpce/Strpce were raided, including the facility of the parallel structures municipality in Shterpce/Strpce,” said the Ferizaj/Urosevac Basic Prosecution.
“Two suspects have been arrested… N.G., a customs officer, and S.I., chairman of the board of the Ski Centre Brezovica,” the prosecution added.
The suspects were remanded in custody for 48 hours on suspicion of “committing the criminal offence of accepting bribes”.
The prosecutor ordered the closure of the Serb ‘parallel administration’ office, which is one of a network of Belgrade-run and funded institutions in Serb-majority parts of Kosovo that operate independently from the Kosovo government.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic reacted angrily to the raid, claiming that the Kosovo authorities’ aim is “to clear Sirinicke Zupe [Shterpce region] so that Serbs cannot remain in the south of Kosovo”, hiding their true motives behind “false concern” about corruption at the winter tourism resort.
Dozens of people have been arrested in connection with the Brezovica case since December 2021.
The prosecution’s case file, which has been seen by BIRN, claims that constructors gave millions of euros to the municipality of Shterpce/Strpce and the Environment Ministry in return for permits.
The prosecution claims that a former secretary at the Environment Ministry, one of those arrested in the case, allegedly accepted thousands of euros for the permits for two bridges over the river Murzhica on Mount Brezovica within the Sharri National Park.
At the beginning of March, a total of 12 locations were raided in four different Kosovo cities.
In January, the former secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Arben Citaku, and the chief inspector at the ministry, Bedri Halimi, were arrested, along with five others.
In the first Brezovica operation, which took place at the end of December, ten people, including the ex-mayor of the Shterpce/Strpce municipality, Bratislav Nikolic, were arrested.
“It is suspected that there are some villas and cars that have been that have been acquired as gifts, for issuing construction permits [for villas in the Sharri National Park],” prosecutor Rasim Maloku told the media in December.
Nikolic is suspected of receiving around a million euros in bribes for construction permits.
BIRN has learned that villas belonging to politicians could be the target of the prosecution’s investigations in the case.