A group of five people, including a former deputy minister, are accused of conspiring to forge official documents for money for people seeking US visas.
By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 04/09/12
Had the visa scandal gone unchecked, the fraud could have seriously damaged Kosovo’s image and its relations with other states, an analyst said. [Reuters]
Kosovo police arrested five individuals, including former government officials, on charges of abuse of official duty, bribery, smuggling immigrants, forging official documents and blackmail.
The police explained that the five, which include Januz Kastrati, former trade and industry deputy minister, conspired to issue false documents to at least 10 Kosovo citizens seeking US visas that identified them as employees of Kosovo state institutions.
"The suspects … obtained a sum of money in the amount of 20,000 euro [in exchange for the documents]," the police said.
According to the police, the August 28th arrests were made based on a court order from the Pristina district court and searches were conducted in Pristina and Drenas. Police confirmed the investigation was carried out in co-operation with the US Embassy in Pristina.
None of the people who obtained US visas has returned to Kosovo.
Had the scandal gone unchecked, the fraud could have seriously damaged Kosovo's image and its relations with other states, according to Merita Mustafa, transparency and anti-corruption programme manager at the Kosovo Democratic Institute.
"[But] it is of even greater concern when through corruption certain individuals threaten and endanger the security of a country, with consequences that might be unpredictable and fatal," Mustafa told SETimes.
One of those arrested, Mehmet Morina, headed the consular issues department at Kosovo's foreign ministry until May. He was suspended for falsely verbally vouching for Kosovo citizens to help them obtain US visas.
"There are people who have got into the institutions not to build the country, but to plunder people," Luan Ademi, resident of Gnjilane in eastern Kosovo, told SETimes.
"The arrests raise the alarm about the unreliable, irresponsible officials in Kosovo's state institutions who are ready to misuse their high positions for a handful of money," Ibrahim Rexhepi, director of the Kosovo Centre for Strategic and Social Research, told SETimes.
Rexhepi said that in the recent past, senior Kosovo officials have been arrested on serious charges only to be released for lack of evidence.
"I do not want to prejudge if they are guilty or not, but the justice system should be very careful when arresting people in senior positions, because releasing them later for lack of evidence leaves a bad taste and compromises the justice system as well as justice itself, " Rexhepi told SETimes.
"[T]he state and the government are daily giving their officials examples that their misuses will not be punished."
"This government, but also a part of the opposition that has been in power before, have shown that they are not able to lead the state because they put their personal interests above the country," Besnik Gashi, resident of Pristina, told SETimes.
Avni Zogiani, head of Kosovo anti-corruption NGO Cohu (Stand Up), said if the detained are freed in court, the result is to encourage corruption to continue rather than discourage it.
"The situation is such that sometimes arresting and releasing officials suspected in serious cases of corruption via the courts' failure to make a case, have served only to clean these individuals," Zogiani told SETimes.