PARIS – Civilians detained by the Kosovo Liberation Army were allegedly shot to death in northern Albania so their kidneys could be extracted and sold on the black market after the war in Kosovo ended in 1999, according to a report prepared for Europe's premier human rights watchdog.
The report by Council of Europe investigator Dick Marty — more than two years in the making — also suggested Kosovo's U.S.-backed prime minister was once the "boss" of a criminal underworld behind the alleged grisly trade.
Kosovo's government branded the report as "baseless" and described it as an attempt "to tarnish the image of the Kosovo Liberation Army." In a statement, the government also accused Marty of bias and "fabrications."
Marty, a Swiss senator, led a Council of Europe team of investigators to Kosovo and Albania in 2009, following allegations of organ trafficking by the KLA published in a book by former U.N. War Crimes tribunal prosecutor Carla Del Ponte.
Marty is known internationally for a 2007 probe on behalf of the Council of Europe that accused 14 European governments of allowing the CIA to run secret prisons and conduct rendition flights from 2002 to 2005.
The 55-page report is an attempt to cast new light on the KLA, which received U.S. backing in its fight to secure Kosovo's independence from Serbia in 1999. Marty says it is an attempt to unearth alleged crimes that went unpunished in the postwar period.
Marty's investigation found that there were a number of detention facilities in Albania, where both Kosovan opponents of the KLA and Serbs were allegedly held once the hostilities in Kosovo were over in 1999, including a "state-of-the-art reception centre for the organized crime of organ trafficking."
The report says the captives had their blood drawn and tested to help determine whether their organs would be suitable for transplant, and were examined "by men referred to as 'doctors'" in the towns of Rripe and Fushe-Kruje. During his 2007 trip to Albania, then-U.S. President George W. Bush visited Fushe-Kruje.
Marty said his findings were based on testimonies of "KLA insider sources" such as drivers, bodyguards, and other "fixers" involved in logistical and practical tasks, as well as "organizers," or the ringleaders behind the lucrative organ trade. The report, however, does not name any of the sources, or the number of people who were allegedly killed in the process.
The accounts pointed to "a methodology by which all of the captives were killed, usually by a gunshot to the head, before being operated on to remove one or more of their organs," the report said.
The report alleges that the captives were first taken to a house in Albania run by an ethnic Albanian with ties to KLA's leadership. When the surgeons were ready, KLA gunmen would shoot the captives — their corpses quickly taken to an operating clinic, it said.
Marty did not specify how many people were killed for their organs, but said the "filtering" process allegedly ended in Fushe-Kruje where "the small, select group of KLA captives who were brought this far met their death."
In his report, Marty says that Fushe-Kruje was selected for its proximity to Albania's main international airport, which "therefore offered accessibility for incoming international visitors and outgoing shipments alike."
The report also pointed to "a small but inestimably powerful group of KLA personalities" known as the Drenica Group whose "boss" was Kosovo's current prime minister and former KLA leader, Hashim Thaci.
The investigator said his team's firsthand sources "credibly implicated" some KLA leaders and members of Thaci's inner circle for "having ordered — and in some cases personally overseen — assassinations, detentions, beatings and interrogations in various parts of Kosovo."
Kosovo's government described Marty's allegation as "slanderous", and part of an attempt to "obstruct" Thaci, whose party this month won Kosovo's first election since it declared independence from Serbia — in a vote tainted by claims of fraud.
The government said in the statement it would take all necessary legal and political means to counter Marty's "fabrications" and urged Council of Europe members to oppose the report.
Meanwhile, Serbia's deputy war crimes prosecutor Bruno Vekaric, praised the report as a "great victory for the truth and justice."
"Thanks to the help and authority of Serbian President Boris Tadic, and the perseverance of the (Serbian) judicial authorities, we came to this victory which gives hope to the families of the kidnapped victims," Vekaric said.
The report also appeared to suggest that the traffic in human kidneys predated — and could even have links to — suspects behind illegal sales of donor kidneys involving a private Kosovo clinic.
A Kosovo court heard a prosecutor's arguments Tuesday that seven Kosovans on trial were part of the elaborate international network trading in the organs of people living in extreme poverty.
European Union Prosecutor Jonathan Ratel told the Pristina District Court that the men, including a former Kosovo Health Ministry official, had promised poor people from Moldova, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkey as much as to $20,000 for their organs — money that was never paid.
The prosecutor said the recipients of the organs, including patients from Canada, Germany, Poland and Israel, had paid euro80,000 to euro100,000 ($110,000 to $137,000) for them.
The prosecutor, who serves in Kosovo as part of the EU's rule of law mission, alleged that what he called an organ-harvesting ring recruited about 20 foreign nationals with false promises of payments in 2008.
The seven have pleaded not guilty to charges ranging from people trafficking to unlawful medical practices and abuse of power. None is in custody. Two other suspects — a Turkish and an Israeli national — remain at large.
Tuesday's session was adjourned until Jan. 6 to give the prosecution more time to provide additional documents.
The prosecution has alleged that Kosovo surgeon Lutfi Dervishi is the ringleader of the group. A Belgrade-based daily newspaper, Blic, has claimed that Dervishi is also linked to the KLA's alleged kidnapping and killing of Serb civilians for their organs.
Marty says some of those involved in the recent case, were also allegedly involved with the organ harvesting in Albania. He declined to elaborate, so as not to hamper the EU-led legal proceedings in Kosovo.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe will debate the report in Strasbourg on Jan. 25, council said.