News

Former Kosovo Intelligence Chief ‘Observed’ Turks Being Deported

A timeline of the procedural steps taken in the deportation of six Turkish nationals says the former intelligence agency chief Driton Gashi was present at Pristina airport when they were bundled onto a plane.
Students, fellow teachers and family members of Turkish nationals who were arrested in March, protesting in Prishtina, calling for their release. Photo: BIRN/ Atdhe Mulla

A report obtained by BIRN says the then head of the Kosovo Intelligence Agency, AKI, Driton Gashi, was present at the VIP zone of Pristina airport when six Turkish nationals were controversially deported in March last year.

The report, showing a timeline of the procedural steps taken in the deportation case, shows Gashi, who was the head of AKI, was there when checks on the six Turkish nationals’ IDs were completed at 10:09 on March 29, 2018.

“At this time, the head of the Immigration Unit of the Airport, the director and officers from Directorate of Migration and Foreigners and the director and officers of the AKI [were all present],” it reads.

It says: “At 10:25, Kosovo Police began transporting the Turkish nationals to the airplane of the Turkish authorities … at 10:42, handover of the six Turkish national was complete.”

The plane took off for Turkey eight minutes later.

The six Turkish citizens, who all had permits to be in Kosovo, were wanted by Ankara over their alleged links to a movement led by the exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Turkey calls this alleged movement the “Fethullahist Terror Organisation”, or FETO, and blames it for the failed coup in Turkey in 2016. Gulen, based in Pennsylvania in the US, insists he had nothing to do with it.

Kosovo officials have long claimed the deportation caught them by surprise, claiming they were not informed about it.

On the day of the operation, Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj said the Turkish citizens had been deported without his knowledge. “As Prime Minister, I was not informed about this operation,” he wrote on Facebook.

Claiming that misuse of the police and intelligence agency had taken place, Haradinaj demanded the removal of the head of the AKI, Driton Gashi, and the Interior Minister, Flamur Sefaj. President Hashim Thaci also claimed he had not been informed about such an operation taking place.

But the report reveals that the plans started 17 days before the operation took place, and that the Interior Ministry was well briefed.

“On 12 and 19 March, 2018, a senior official from the AKI went personally to the Department for Citizenship, Asylum and Migration [DCAM] of the Ministry of Interior to review the records of six Turkish nationals: Hasan Huseyin Demir, Kahraman Demirez, Mustafa Erdem, Yusuf Karabina, Osman Karakaya and Cihan Ozkan,” the report, by a US human rights law expert, Tienmu Ma, says.

The report says the AKI officially informed the DCAM officials that the intelligence agency had the Turkish nationals “under its surveillance”.

When a parliamentary committee investigating the controversial expulsions interviewed Shpend Maxhuni, then head of Kosovo Police, he denied having any information about the matter until the Turkish citizens were already back in Turkey.

“Driton Gashi, who then was the head of AKI, told us that he had notified Police Director [Maxhuni] three days ahead of it. So one of them is lying,” Driton Selmanaj, deputy head of the parliamentary committee, told BIRN on Thursday.

BIRN has contacted Driton Gashi, the AKI and the police service about the claims made in the report. No answer was received by the time of publication.

BIRN reported on Thursday that the AKI’s officers “took over” Kosovo Police offices in order to completely lead the operation, giving orders to police officers via the telephone “every two or three minutes”.

Die Morina