Report Alleges Organ Harvesting Ring Linked to Kosovo Officials
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European investigators on Tuesday disclosed chilling new details of organ trafficking in Kosovo and Albania, corroborating allegations raised in a 2009 investigation by the Center for Investigative Reporting, the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network and the BBC.
A draft report released by the Council of Europe alleges that a criminal network linked to Kosovo's current prime minister summarily executed prisoners and harvested their kidneys to sell for illicit organ transplant operations abroad.
The 27-page draft report will be submitted on Thursday to the Council of Europe's legal affairs committee by Dick Marty, a respected former Swiss prosecutor who spent more than two years leading the investigation.
Among the victims referred to in the report were Kosovo Serb civilians who disappeared from areas administered by NATO troops and United Nations officials following their arrival in Kosovo in June 1999.
The report alleges the organ trafficking was part of a broader web of organized criminal activity including assassinations and drug dealing. The "boss" of the criminal network, according to the report, was Hashim Thaci, Kosovo's current prime minister and the former political director of the Kosovo Liberation Army.
Kosovo enjoys strong diplomatic and financial support from the United States, and Thaci has visited with Vice President Biden in the White House. Thaci has repeatedly denied links to organized crime. In a 2009 interview he dismissed reports that Kosovo Liberation Army operatives ran secret detention camps and engaged in organ trafficking in Albania.
"It just didn't happen," Thaci said. "At any time, in any case, in any place, any space — this has nothing to do with the Kosovo Liberation Army."
The Council of Europe report alleges that the executions and organ extractions occurred at two locations north of the Albanian capital, Tirana. Medical personnel who conducted the operations in a makeshift clinic arranged to ship the organs abroad for what's known as "cadaver transplantations."
A source interviewed by American Radio Works in 2003 described transporting captives to a makeshift clinic near Tirana. The source said in one case the victims — a Serbian man and woman — seemed to be aware of what would happen to them.
"The Serbs were frantic. At one point the man asked us to kill them immediately. 'We don't want to be cut into pieces,'" he said.
The Council of Europe report alleges the organ harvesting may have continued until 2000. However, some operatives in the criminal network remained involved in organ trafficking for a decade after the Kosovo war.
A recent case involves illicit kidney transplants conducted at a clinic in Pristina, which is now the focus of a criminal investigation. European prosecutors today filed charges in the case in a Kosovo courtroom.
The Council of Europe report also substantiates allegations made in a 2008 memoir by Carla del Ponte, the former prosecutor of the Hague war crimes tribunal. Author Marty credits Del Ponte for spurring the investigation. He says Western governments must seek justice in the case.
"The signs of collusion between the criminal class and the highest political and institutional office holders are too numerous and too serious to be ignored," the report states.
"It is a fundamental right of Kosovo's citizens to know the truth, the whole truth, and also an indispensable condition for reconciliation between the communities and the country's prosperous future."
The report also criticizes Western countries, including the United States, for failing to take action to combat organized crime in Kosovo in spite of extensive intelligence reports documenting high levels of corruption.
Among the report's findings: