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Ex-Guerrilla-Turned-MP Does not Plead in First Hague Appearance

Former Kosovo MP Haxhi Shala, who fought as a guerrilla against Serbian forces in Kosovo’s 1998-99 war, during his first appearance at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in the Hague, for obstruction of justice and witness intimidation, did not enter a plea.

Shala said he had decided to wait to understand the charges better before entering a plea. The pre-trial judge, Nicolas Guillou, explained that Shala must enter a plea within 30 days of Wednesday’s initial appearance.

Guillou said Shala is accused of three counts: “attempting to obstruct official persons in performing official duties, by serious threat; obstructing official persons in performing official duties, by participating in the common action of a group; and intimidation during criminal proceedings,” between at least 5 and 12 April 2023.

According to the indictment, during this time, Shala and two other accused facing similar charges in another case at the Specialist Chambers, Ismet Bahtjari and Sabit Januzi, assisted each other and others to intimidate an unnamed witness.

Shala is accused of attempting to “use serious threat, or any other means of compulsion, a promise of a gift or any other form of benefit, to induce another person, Witness 1, to refrain from making a statement or to make a false statement or to otherwise fail to state true information to the police, a prosecutor or a judge, when such information relates to obstruction of criminal proceedings”.

The Special Prosecutor’s Office, SPO, claims that on April 5, “at Shala’s direction”, in a separate case, Bahtjari approached the unnamed witness to withdraw their testimony. On April 12, again “at Shala’s direction”, in a separate case, Januzi approached the same witness to reiterate “the offer that Shala and unnamed others would help Witness 1 if he agreed to withdraw his testimony”.

Shala was arrested and transferred to the Specialist Chambers detention center in the Hague on Tuesday.

In separate hearings at the Specialist Chambers on October 9, 2023, Bahtjari and Januzi both pleaded not guilty to witness intimidation.

In early November, the court said it had ordered several raids in Kosovo as part of investigations into possible obstruction of justice. Around the same time, the SPO announced the arrest of another former guerrilla fighter from Malisheve/Malisevo – former mayor Isni Kilaj – on suspicion of obstruction of justice.

The Kosovo Specialist Chambers was created in 2015 to try former fighters of the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, for crimes committed during and immediately after the Kosovo war, including crimes against civilians and political killings. The court was set up in The Hague due to concerns the Kosovo justice system would be unable to try former guerrillas after previous cases were marred by widespread witness intimidation.

Source : BalkanInsight