In 2014, British newspaper The Guardian revealed the EU’s “worst foreign policy crisis in recent years”: the coverup of a massive corruption scandal in EULEX, the rule of law mission in Kosovo, which has cost more than €1 billion since it started in 2009.
The scandal was discovered by a whistleblower, UK prosecutor Maria Bamieh, who was dismissed from her position in EULEX after she revealed that a judge and chief prosecutor may have accepted large bribes from Kosovar politicians in return for favors. Rather than applauded for her courage to bring to light corruption in the EU’s largest foreign operation, Bamieh herself was “suspended and escorted out of the EULEX headquarters in Pristina on 24 October, for ‘gross misconduct.'”
It is interesting to see how the treatment of Bamieh by the EU institutions – persecution rather than acknowledgment and protection – mirrors the case of Dritan Zagani, the former anti-drug police chief in Fier who first sounded the alarm about the involvement of former Minister of Interior Saimir Tahiri in drug trafficking, an involvement later confirmed by the Italian police. Rather than placed under protection, Zagani was vehemently attacked by Prime Minister Edi Rama and held in jail without trial.
After the EULEX scandal erupted in public, EU High Representative Federica Mogherini ordered an independent report reviewing the implementation of EULEX’s mandate, which was prepared by Jean-Paul Jacqué and finished in March 2015.
Although the Jacqué report in the end did not find Bamieh’s allegations to be true, the overall critical report shows clearly how Bamieh’s complaint was mishandled internally, and how she did not receive the protection a whistleblower deserves. Bamieh, in return, has contested Jacqué’s conclusions, and has since filed a lawsuit against the UK Foreign Office for advising her to “turn a blind eye” to the possible evidence for corruption in EULEX.
Regardless of the truth of Bamieh’s accusations, Jacqué’s evaluation of the success of EULEX is simply depressing:
In the complete absence of any respect for the rule of law in Kosovo over the years, [corruption and organised crime] have abounded. The situation has remained deeply worrying since the Mission began. Corruption is omnipresent.
All the more cause for concern is the fact that when the Mission was set up, unwise statements were made to the effect that corruption would now be brought to an end and the “big fish” arrested. Yet politics moves at a faster pace than judicial work, which insists on proof, adversarial argument and the presumption of innocence.
These conclusions of the Jacqué report raise many doubts about the effectiveness of the EU’s efforts to implement judicial reform in Albania. The main aim of the judicial reform is the elimination of corruption from the justice system, precisely with Rama’s promise to arrest the “big fish.”
First, if the EU, with €1 billion and dozens of foreign judges and prosecutors, was unable to set up a corruption-free justice system, how will it be possible to achieve such a goal in Albania, without any foreign specialists embedded within Albanian institutions at all?
Second, four out of the eight international experts on the International Monitoring Mission (ONM), which is supposed to monitor the proceedings of the vetting institutions in the reevaluation of all judges, prosecutors, and supporting personnel employed in the justice system, have a background in Eulex. Theo Jacobs was chief prosecutor of EULEX and a predecessor of Jaroslava Novotna, who was implicated in the corruption scandal that Bamieh uncovered, Elka Ermenkova was international judge in Kosovo’s Supreme Court, and Ferdinando Buatier de Mongeot and Marie Tuma were both EULEX judges.
Naturally, the fact that these people were working for EULEX does in no way imply they were corrupt, but the EU’s handling of the corruption case within EULEX should serve as a cautionary tale for the way in which the EU will address any possible corruption in the vetting institutions and/or the ONM in the future.
Because the EU and the Albanian government have something very important in common: when possible corruption is uncovered in their midst, they don’t respond with openness and accountability; they start attacking the whistleblower and cloak themselves in secrecy. This should be a warning for what is yet to come.