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Kosovo's PM linked to trade in human organs

Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi headed a mafia-style organised crime ring in the late 1990s that engaged in assassinations, beatings, organ trafficking and other crimes, says a draft report released yesterday.

Kosovo's government denounced the Council of Europe draft report as baseless and threatened to take legal and political action in response.

The report to the Council's Parliamentary Assembly, released a day after Kosovo's election commission said Mr Thaci's party won the first post-independence election on Sunday, also accused Western powers of complicity in ignoring crimes dating back to the late 1990s. The allegations surrounding Mr Thaçi have developed from when his supporters, the Drenica Group, became the dominant faction in the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which fought Serbian forces in 1998 and 1999 under his leadership.

"Thaçi and these other 'Drenica Group' members are consistently named as 'key players' in intelligence reports on Kosovo's mafia-like structures of organised crime," says the report by Dick Marty, the rapporteur for the Council's committee on legal affairs and human rights.

"We found that the 'Drenica Group' had as its chief – or, to use the terminology of organised crime networks, its 'boss' – the renowned political operator and perhaps most internationally recognised personality of the KLA, Hashim Thaçi."

The report was produced after Carla del Ponte, a former chief prosecutor of The Hague's war crimes tribunal, claimed that the KLA kidnapped Serbs to harvest their organs but she had been prevented from investigating.

Kosovo threatened legal action over the claims in the report. "The government of Kosovo and Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi will undertake all the necessary steps and actions to dismiss the slanders of Dick Marty, including legal and political means," it said in a statement. "It is clear someone wants to hurt Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi after the citizens of Kosovo gave him clearly their trust to continue the development program and the country's governance."

The allegations emerged on the same day that a former senior official in Kosovo's Health Ministry and six other men appeared in court in the country's capital, Pristina, charged with running an organ-harvesting ring.

Jonathan Ratel, the European Union prosecutor in the case, said the men had promised impoverished people from countries across Eastern Europe as much as €20,000 (£17,000) for their organs but never handed the sums over, while taking between €80,000 and €100,000 from recipients.