PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — The European Union's rule of law mission in Kosovo has suggested defense lawyers in an ongoing case may have leaked recordings of conversations between officials, including Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, that were later posted on YouTube.
The mission, which aims to help local authorities fight organized crime and convict war criminals, said it was not responsible for the leak, stressing that its prosecutors handed over material to the defense and the court.
The mission "has acted in a legal and correct way, and according to law. It is unfortunate that some parties have improperly released this material into the public domain," the statement said. It declined to name the case.
However, an official who is familiar with the proceedings said on Saturday the evidence is part of a larger investigation into alleged embezzlement of some €2 million ($2.6 million) in the transport ministry between 2008 and 2012. The source requested anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case.
The investigation has already led to the indictment of the former transport minister and lawmaker from Thaci's party, Fatmir Limaj, and six other defendants. The leaks follow a clash between Thaci and the EU mission over Limaj's arrest in a separate war crimes case, also handled by the 3,000-strong mission. Thaci branded the arrest "unjust and shameful," but was swiftly cautioned by the top EU foreign policy official, Catherine Ashton for political interference in a judicial process.
Thaci has come under pressure from former fellow fighters in the now disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army for tolerating the arrest of former rebels and faces strained relations with key figures in his ruling Democratic Party of Kosovo, including Limaj. The phone recordings do not seem to reveal any incriminating evidence but include offensive references to party members, highlighting a rift that is likely to worsen ahead of the party congress early next year.
Limaj is currently in detention after an EU-led panel of judges overturned a previous verdict that acquitted him and the three others of torturing and killing Serb prisoners of war. The panel also said it would hear evidence given by Agim Zogaj, a protected witness known as "X'' who was found dead in an apparent suicide in a park in Germany during trial proceedings. The first court ruled his evidence inadmissible.
Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, but Belgrade has vowed never to accept the secession.