Kosovo: Kelmendi Pleads Not Guilty as Trial Opens in Prishtina

By Una Hajdari, BIRN.

At the start of his EULEX-led trial in Kosovo, alleged Balkan crime boss Naser Kelmendi pleaded not guilty to murder, organized crime and drug trafficking.

The trial started in Prishtina on Friday with EULEX Special Prosecutor Andrew Hughes giving an opening statement in front of the Basic Court.

Kelmendi, currently in detention at the Dubrava Prison in Prishtina, is charged with aggravated murder, two counts of organized crime and six counts of sale and production of drugs in various capacities, which include the managing and overseeing a narcotics ring.

Spanning from the United Kingdom to Turkey, the hub of the drug ring is thought to be in Sarajevo, which is where the drugs would be repackaged or prepared for sale in Europe.

“In Sarajevo, they mixed the heroin for different countries. For the UK, pure heroin at the highest price, whereas Switzerland had the most mixed heroin,” Prosecutor Hughes said.

Ecstasy tablets and heroin were mainly transported in altered fuel tanks to the various distributors Kelmendi’s ring worked with, he added.

The heroin was transported to Sarajevo from Turkey and then to other European countries, whereas ecstasy tablets were generally transported from The Netherlands to Istanbul.

The most high-profile charge in the case concerns the 2007 murder of Ramiz Delalic, a Bosnian warlord. The prosecutor said Kelmendi had extensive motives for the killing.

“Delalic had given law-enforcement agencies in Bosnia and Herzegovina extensive information about the drug-trafficking operations of Naser Kelmendi. Delalic was also trying to establish his own trafficking operations in Bosnia and this was perceived by Naser Kelmendi as a threat for his criminal organization,” said Hughes.

Personal grudges are thought to have involved Bosnian media mogul Fahrudin Radoncic, who has, however, denied involvement in the case.

“Delalic was in an intimate relationship with Radoncic’s wife before they were married,” the prosecutor said, adding that Delalic often bragged about this.

Delalic is thought to also have talked about being in the possession of a document that proved Radoncic had “collaborated with the enemy during the war” [in Bosnia].

Radoncic is currently a politician, heading the Union for a Better Future, SBB, a Bosniak nationalist party in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The final straw, or the moment “when Radoncic gave the order for the murder of Delalic,” according to the prosecutor, came after the murder of Selvet Lekic, the godfather of Radoncic and brother of Ekrem Lekic, a friend and coperpetrator in the Delalic murder.

“Kelmendi volunteered to organize the murder of Delalic,” Hughes said.

The group, with Radoncic and Kelmendi at the top and involving Sead Spahic, Ekrem Lekic and Naser Oric, met at Radoncic’s properties in Sarajevo, including the Avaz Twist Tower and the Hotel Radon Plaza.

Delalic was killed on June 27th, 2007 on Odobasina Road in Sarajevo as he was entering an apartment where he sometimes hid and went to meet his girlfriend.

Kelmendi pleaded not guilty to all counts of the indictment and said he “anticipates the moment when the court will declare his innocence”.

Besnik Berisha, Kelmendi’s lawyer, says that the evidence in this case had been “set up by the political enemies of Fahrudin Radoncic in Bosnia”.

The head of the panel of judges, Anna Adamska-Gallant, noted that the majority of the witnesses are from Bosnia, which could create difficulties, as Bosnia has not recognized the independence of Kosovo.