Macedonia Drug Lord Captured

Bajrush Sejdiu of Kumanovo, near Skopje, considered the biggest drug lord in Macedonia and the owner of the FC Milano soccer club, was arrested after police charged him with smuggling cigarettes and possession of firearms.

Sejdiu found out that police were looking for him and tried to escape by car to Kosovo but was stopped at the Blace border crossing, 20 km north of Skopje. He was arrested after trying to fight with Kosovo police, sources said. He is known in Kosovo because he is married to the sister of Hashim Thaci, Prime Minister of Kosovo, President of the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), and former political leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army. Kosovo police returned him to Macedonian police officers there.

Tuesday’s arrest came as a result of a police operation called “Ashes,” in which they raided 24 locations in Skopje and the Kumanovo area and seized what officials said was a significant amount of weapons, including 17 semiautomatic Kalashnikov rifles in the homes of suspects. Interior Minister Gordana Jankulovska said they seized about 15 tons of various kinds of illegally produced cigarettes.

Macedonia’s prime minister, Nikola Gruevski, and Minister of the Interior Gordana Jankulovska look over the seized cigarettes.
Another 30 people who worked for Sejdiu were arrested. some on the executive board of his tobacco company, TK Kumanovo. Ssome were wanted in other countries, including Italy, on charges of smuggling cigarettes, violence and illegal ownership of weapons. Sejdiu is wanted as a witness against mafia in Italy and in Germany, sources said. One of those arrested was Svetlana Popova, on the board of  TK Kumanovo and the wife of a Kumanovo police official.

All suspects were expected to be brought before an investigating judge.

Jankulovska said the operation is ongoing —some of the arrests came Thursday--and that “Ashes” had been carried out in the past six months by the ministry of the interior’s Organized Crime Department.

“We are aware of all the risks triggered by this operation, but we’re determined to pursue fighting crime and corruption, she said.

One of the houses in Vizbegovo, a village near Skopje, where police also found illegal cigarettes, belongs to Ismail Darlishta, former Macedonia minister of justice, who rents the house to Sejdiu.  Darlishta, a lawyer, was not charged.

Sejdiu owns TK Kumanovo, as well as other companies including restaurants and a baking company. Shareholders of a tobacco company are suing him for what they say was an illegal move to obtain shares in the Kumanovo company.