Prishtinë, 15 May 2020
The Kosovo Center for Investigative Journalism Preportr, which operates within Organization Çohu, has monitored five cases over the past year, two of which are organized crime being tried in the Basic Court in Prishtina, and three cases of corruption which are being handled in the basic courts in Gjakova and Peja. These are the cases against Pal Lekaj - former mayor of Gjakova, Haki Rugova, mayor of Istog, former members of the Assembly of Kosovo Ukë Rugova and Azem Syla, and former mayor of Klina, Sokol Bashota.
In addition to monitoring these five cases, Preportr has produced five profiles, with the indictments initiated against these persons for organized crime and corruption. These profiles have been expanded with other information related to their public and political life, their property and businesses that have been the subject of at least one case handled by the court (the case against Haki Rugova).
These five cases have been selected in order to have a clearer picture of the fact that in one way or another they have had and continue to have a great impact on Kosovo society due to the high public positions they have held or still hold.
During the one-year monitoring, the findings of different natures have been identified, starting from the most technical legal issues such as delays in the beginning of court hearings, delayed start of hearings, interruption of court hearings and their postponement, These and other monitoring findings continue to be evident in all basic courts of Kosovo. This phenomenon is continuing to cause delays in the judicial processes. Some of the cases against Ukë Rugova and Azem Syla have been going on for almost 4 years. Sokol Bashota's case lasted 4 years, and now it has returned to retrial. Others took more than two years.
The frequent reasons for the postponements were the absence of the trial panel, the absence of the prosecutor, the accused, the witnesses, etc.
During the monitoring, cases of substitution of prosecutors during the representation of indictments were also identified. Two cases, i.e. one against Ukë Rugova and "Toka" case have been transferred from the prosecutors of the EU Rule of Law Mission (EULEX) to the local prosecutors.
In almost all the cases that have been monitored over the course of a year by the observers of the Çohu! the problems encountered were of the same nature, such as delays in court proceedings, and adjournment of hearings, absence of defendants, prosecutors, judges, lawyers and witnesses. Also in some cases the hearings did not start on time. They would start with a 40-minute delay and sometimes up to an hour late .
Drilon Dobruna, who monitors cases in the Basic Court in Pristina - "Toka" and the case against Ukë Rugova and others, says the problems are huge. He disclosed only some of the data he has identified in these two cases - but the most pronounced are the delays.
"There has been absence of defendants because the court did not send the invitations on time. This happened in "Toka" case. In this case, the trial panel was changed twice. In one of the hearings, there was a change of the trial panel, where instead of Judge Shashivar Hoti, Judge Fatime Dermaku took his place," he says. Dermaku replaced Hoti only in this session.
The trial was postponed four times for absence of lawyers and twice for absence of defendants. One of the hearings started 35 minutes late and the trial panel did not say what was the reason for the delay.
Delays in the start of the proceedings, delays in the judicial process are very pronounced, especially in the case of Ukë Rugova. One of the hearings started 40 minutes late, because the prosecutor had another initial hearing, at the same time. The same thing happened in another hearing, but this time because this judge was engaged in another trial.
The court in this case (Ukë Rugova) had to separate the procedure since for more than a year no hearing had been held. According to the observers findings, the hearings did not take place after the defendants were absent three times, in one case due to absence of one of the judges, and in another case due to absence of the prosecutor.
The observer in the Basic Court in Peja, Artan Sufaj, has found that in the case of Haki Rugova, the last three hearings have failed consecutively after the start of the main hearing, while four other hearings have failed before the initial hearing, making up a total of 7 failed hearings.
The hearings in this case have been postponed due to the absence of the parties: four times for the absence of Rugova, the main accused, twice due to absence of the lawyer, once due to absence of the prosecutor.
In the case of Pal Lekaj, the hearings were not held because the prosecutor was absent twice, the witnesses and the lawyer were absent once, while another time Lekaj himself did not appear in court.
In the case of Sokol Bashota, the most serious violation was the apology of the judge to the accused on the day the verdict was announced.
The presiding judge, Sylë Lokaj, had explained to Bashota the reasons why he came to this decision. In the end of his declaration, Lokaj felt sorry for the verdict, saying: "Here are all evidence... even against you Mr. Enver, so I'm very sorry, what has been done has been done. You have the right to appeal."
Judge Lokaj was subsequently sanctioned by the Kosovo Judicial Council (KJC). The disciplinary measure against him was imposed after the legal office of KALLXO.com had initiated a request to initiate disciplinary proceedings.
"What I would add is that based on the monitoring data of these cases, there have been violations of the deadlines and the duration of the main trial. According to CPCK, our courts are given a time limit as to how long a hearing should last after the main trial begins. Such a thing has been done so that the review in general and in certain stages in particular does not continue indefinitely without obtaining a deserved conclusion for the case which is being tried and in order to result in efficiency in handling cases in the courts. The KPCC has set a deadline of 90 to 120 days. All three of these cases have been pending in the relevant courts for years – Pal Lekaj, Sokol Bashota and Haki Rugova),” says Sufaj.
Preportr has tried to get answers from all three courts where trials are taking place to see if they have ever addressed these findings not only evidenced by Çohu! but also by other organizations - whether measures have been taken regarding such irregularities. The basic courts in Peja and Gjakova have responded, while the Basic Court in Prishtina, although the request has been repeated several times, did not respond. The request was sent to the Information Office and the president of this court.
The response of the Basic Court in Gjakova was short. The Information Office of this court has said that they do not comment on the cases handled in this court.
"The hearings in question (Pal Lekaj) have been and continue to be open to public and the media, to organizations and every citizen who shows such interest," is said in their response.
The Basic Court in Peja in their response said that taking into account the situation with Covid 19, the court works with reduced staff. For this reason, according to them, it is now difficult to answer the questions raised by Preportr.
"Taking into account the situation in which we find ourselves and the fact that the court for more than a month is not taking any procedural action other than addressing issues of urgent nature, at the moment we cannot provide answers to the question posed by you," is said in the answer.