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Kosovo appoints fugitive from Serbia as constitutional court judge

PRISTINA (Reuters) - Kosovo President Hashim Thaci has appointed a judge who fled from Serbia to Kosovo to avoid a prison sentence for corruption to serve on the constitutional court, the president’s office said.

Nominated by ethnic Serb lawmakers, ethnic Serb Radomir Laban was approved by a vote in parliament in May but Thaci was urged by the opposition and a justice watchdog not to appoint him before all the security checks were done.

“He is still a wanted person by Belgrade authorities,” a senior police source told Reuters. “There is an Interpol red notice warrant and if he goes outside the country his name will appear at any airport.”

Thaci’s office said in a statement it had appointed Laban with a photograph of him and four other judges taking their oaths, without giving further details. Neither the office nor Laban were available for further comment.

Laban will be one of nine judges at the court, filling one of the posts set aside for the country’s minorities. Ethnic Serbs make up about 5 percent of the population.

According to Serbia’s court records, Laban, who has a law degree, was sentenced in 2011 to six years in jail for corruption as an official of the Serbian Customs. He served half his sentence in pre-trial detention between 2006 and 2009.

After the trial, Laban was provisionally released until he would be called to serve the rest of his sentence, but instead he fled to neighboring Kosovo. Last year, a Serbian court in the town of Kraljevo issued an arrest warrant demanding he be handed back to Serbia.

The background of the candidates for judges is checked by Kosovo law enforcement agencies, but Laban’s case will be difficult to solve because of Serbia’s refusal to cooperate with authorities in Pristina. Serbia does not recognize its former province.

Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Alison Williams