Suspected Balkan crime boss jailed for six years in Kosovo

FILE PHOTO - Naser Kelmendi (C) arrives at the Basic Court of Pristina January 16, 2015. REUTERS/Hazir Reka

PRISTINA (Reuters) - Suspected Balkan crime boss Naser Kelmendi was sentenced to six years in prison in Kosovo on Thursday for trafficking drugs, but cleared of murder, organized crime and other charges.

The Kosovo-born ethnic Albanian with Bosnian citizenship was blacklisted in 2012 by U.S. authorities, who have accused him of heading a family network distributing heroin and other drugs through Afghanistan to Turkey and into Europe.

He was arrested a year later in Kosovo on a warrant issued by Bosnia, where prosecutors accused him of a string of crimes in their territory.

But he stayed in Kosovo, as the two countries do not have an extradition agreement. His case was handled by judges from an EU mission, who take cases seen as too sensitive for the local judiciary.

The 61-year-old was convicted of drug trafficking but acquitted on eight other counts including participating in organized crime and aggravated murder.

Organized crime flourished in the Balkans during the ethnic wars that followed Yugoslavia’s break-up in the 1990s, leaving the region awash with weapons and a transit route for drug traffickers.

Bosnia prosecutors had accused him of involvement in the 2007 killing of Ramiz Delalic, a Bosnian Muslim warlord who switched to organized crime after the wars in the Balkans.

He denied all the charges, which also included the possession, distribution and sale of drugs.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 but Bosnia has not recognized it because of resistance from its Serb-dominated autonomous region, which comprises a half of the country and wants to show solidarity with Serbia.

Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Andrew Heavens