EU vows 'thorough probe' of bribery claims in Kosovo mission

 EU vows 'thorough probe' of bribery claims in Kosovo mission

PRISTINA, Kosovo - The head of the European Union's justice mission in Kosovo on Thursday said he took "very seriously" allegations that some top officials had taken bribes to drop criminal cases and vowed a thorough investigation.

The accusations were made earlier this week by Maria Bamieh, a British prosecutor at the European Union Rule of Law Mission (EULEX) in Kosovo. Bamieh herself has been suspended pending an internal inquiry into leaks of confidential documents.

"We are taking all allegations very seriously," EULEX head Gabriele Meucci told reporters, adding that the allegations levelled by Bamieh "will be thoroughly investigated".

"The point is they were not ignored," the Italian diplomat said.

Bamieh told AFP on Tuesday that EULEX officials were taking bribes to halt some high-profile cases.

She accused EU mission chief prosecutor Jaroslava Novotna, a Czech national, and former EU chief judge Francesco Florit of Italy of taking bribes from local criminals to drop three cases of organised crime, including murder. The bribes were allegedly taken in 2012 in 2013.

Local media reported that both Novotna and Florit were offered 350,000 euros ($441,000) each.

Bamieh also claimed that her boss, Canadian prosecutor Jonathan Ratel, was obstructing her in unveiling the information.

EULEX is the EU's largest civilian mission. It was launched in 2008 in order to strengthen the rule of law in Kosovo, just months after it broke away from Serbia. Currently it has some 1,500 members.

EULEX prosecutors and judges have the power to step in and take on sensitive cases that cannot be handled effectively by the local judiciary.

Meucci said the graft allegations had been known to EULEX since 2013 and the mission and local judicial authorities had launched a joint probe into them.

"Due diligence has been applied thoroughly, in line with what is at the heart of EULEX efforts, namely the fight against corruption and impunity," he said.

Meucci refused to elaborate on the investigation.

He justified Bamieh's suspension, stressing it was "not a sanction" but a normal measure as part of the inquiry.

Bamieh has been with EULEX since it was launched in December 2008 and most recently headed its financial crime team.

"They were trying to punish me for what I found out innocently, I am just doing my job," she told AFP on Tuesday, estimating the information she had "should shock the EU".

"They are wasting the money of the taxpayers, they are doing nothing for the people of Kosovo."

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