A BIRN investigation has revealed that Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaci personally asked an American professor to write a paper endorsing land swap in 2018, and that the country’s embassy in France lobbied French journalists to write positively on the prospect of a land swap between Serbia and Kosovo.
Journalist Jeta Xharra’s investigation follows her last month’s revelation that Kosovo’s government had paid EUR 168,000 to a French PR company, Majorelle PR & Events, to promote land swap as a route to a peace deal.
David Phillips, an American academic, has told BIRN that he was asked twice by President Hashim Thaci to prepare two papers in 2018.
“Hashim [Thaci] asked me to prepare a paper arguing that the Special Court was illegitimate,” he said. “I refused.”
“He also asked me to prepare a paper endorsing the territorial swap,” Phillips added. “I don’t believe that partition is in Kosovo’s interest and I would never do anything that was not in Kosovo’s interest so I refused.”
Phillips is the Director of the Peace-building and Rights program at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights. He has been writing about Kosovo since 1989.
A few months later, during a meeting with Thaci, the President accused Phillips of being bought off.
“In front of my children, he accused me of being corrupt. He asked: ‘Who paid you off to oppose my proposal to swap territories? I know you’ve been bought, where did the money come from?’”
“No amount of money could persuade me to violate my conscience,” Phillips replied.
BIRN also spoke to French newspaper Le Monde journalist Jean-Baptiste Chastand, who said he was contacted by Majorelle PR & Events in both 2018 and 2019.
In September 2018, Majorelle asked him to meet Kosovo’s Ambassador to France Qendrim Gashi, to discuss a possible land swap deal between Kosovo and Serbia. They met on 19 September 2018.
“Qendrim Gashi came to Le Monde with a woman from Majorelle in order to talk about territorial exchange,” Chastand recounted. “He was basically saying that [land swap] is a good idea to bring about peace, but he wasn’t very specific as it wasn’t clear what territory we were talking about.”
“What was strange to me is that Qendrim Gashi knew me,” Chastand said. “He had my number and we had met before. He did not need Majorelle to arrange the meeting with me.”
Qendrim Gashi was appointed ambassador in 2016, when Hashim Thaci was Kosovo’s foreign minister. Gashi denied allegations on his involvement in land swap discussions.
Gjyljeta Mushkolaj, former Constitutional Court member, told BIRN that if allegations are true, Gashi should be held accountable for violating the Constitution and laws on foreign service, according to which he is obligated to protect Kosovo’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Majorelle reported back to the Kosovo government on 21 October 2018 that it had influenced the publication of articles on the issue in French newspapers, including Le Figaro and Le Journal du Dimanche. It also mentioned successful meetings it had arranged between Ambassador Qendrim Gashi and high profile French journalists from Le Monde, Le Point, La Croix, AFP, France Inter.
President Thaci didn’t reply to BIRN questions regarding these claims.