Prosecutor indicts Kosovo crime ring led by ex-lawmaker

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) " An international prosecutor on Tuesday charged a group of Kosovo Albanians and Serbs, including a former lawmaker, with organizing a crime ring involved in money laundering, bribery, fraud, abuse of power and tax evasion.

The European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo, or EULEX, made the indictment Tuesday. In a statement Kosovo prosecutor's office said 39 defendants, headed by Azem Syla, a former lawmaker of the governing Democratic Party of Kosovo, cooperated "to deprive Kosovo of socially owned properties through criminal activities including the falsification of verdicts and of other official documents, fraud and corrupt behavior."

"The case concerns a structured, hierarchically organized and long-standing organized criminal group," the statement said.

In April the European Union's police mission in Kosovo held a major operation against the alleged ring, believed to have illegally owned properties worth 30 million euros ($34 million). Prosecutors said the criminal gang has been operating since 2006.

EULEX, which helps Kosovo's fragile judicial system handle war crimes and organized crime cases, led the operation with the help of Kosovo police and authorities in Belgrade because several of the defendants reside in Serbia.

A substantial portion of the land parcels involved are temporarily confiscated and managed by government authorities aiming at restoring the land to its legitimate public ownership.

Syla, 65, was arrested in April after he surrendered himself. He was a top commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army during the 1998-99 separatist war against Serbia. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, a move Belgrade still rejects.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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