Kosovo Court Releases Azem Syla From Custody

Pristina's Basic Court has released the former Democratic Party of Kosovo MP and former Kosovo Liberation Army commander, accused of organised crime money laundering.
Syla while heading to Pristina police station | Photo: BIRN

A court in Pristina on Monday released the former Democratic Party of Kosovo MP and former Kosovo Liberation Army commander Azem Syla, who is accused of organised crime and money laundering and has been in custody since 2016.

The court “refused the Prosecution’s request to extend the measure of detention for Azem Syla and approved the defence’s request to release him immediately,” Syla’s lawyer, Besnik Berisha, wrote on Facebook.

The decision comes weeks after the case was transferred from the EU rule-of-law mission in Kosovo, EULEX to local judges.

In October 2016, Kosovo’s special prosecution filed two indictments for organized crime and money laundering against 22 and 17 persons respectively that it said Syla had led.

The groups are alleged to have illegally appropriated land near the Kosovo capital, Pristina, by falsifying the ownership documents and by obtaining unlawful court decisions.

The first indictment contained 10 charges relating to organized crime, money laundering, bribery, aggravated fraud, fraud in office, unlawful court decisions, abuse of office, legalization of false assets and fiscal evasion. The second indictment, involving 17 persons, concerned money laundering.

“A structured criminal group with a long-term, organized hierarchy … damaged Kosovo’s state budget and Kosovo Serbian families whose land rights were abused,” the prosecution said.

The property connected to the case has since been confiscated, and the prosecution has said it aims to “return the land to legitimate public ownership”.

The prosecution says the crime groups were composed of Kosovo Albanians and Serbs and their operations covered both Kosovo and Serbia.

Syla surrendered to the authorities on April 29 2016, two days after 300 Kosovo and EULEX police launched a large-scale operation to detain him and others.

He was released on August 2016, but was put back behind bars a month later. He has been in custody ever since. Court hearings on his case have been postponed several times for different reasons.

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