May 23, 2018 / 4:16 PM / 3 months ago

Ethnic Serb fugitive is nominated as court judge by Kosovo

PRISTINA (Reuters) - Kosovo’s parliament is facing criticism from the opposition and watchdog organizations for nominating as a judge a Serb who fled to Kosovo to avoid being jailed for corruption.

Parliament voted last week to appoint Radomir Laban to serve as a judge of the Constitutional Court representing the Kosovo Serb minority. President Hashim Thaci has two weeks in which to approve or reject the nomination.

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 had already served half his sentence in pre-trial detention between 2006 and 2009.

After the trial, Laban was provisionally released until he was 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.

Laban was nominated for the post by the Serb List party that represents the around five percent of Kosovo Serbs and which is controlled by Belgrade. Serbia refuses to recognize Pristina’s 2008 declaration of independence.

“Unfortunately, Kosovo has become a country which rehabilitates criminals into the most important constitutional institutions,” Albulena Haxhiu of the opposition party Vetevendosje wrote on Facebook.

“This person should not be appointed a judge of the constitutional court.”

“Any judge of this court should have no criminal past and no one should be appointed if he or she can be blackmailed,” Ehat Miftaraj from the Kosovo Institute for Justice, a non-governmental organization, told Reuters.

“The president should review this decision and act based on the law.”

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.

Law enforcement agencies of Kosovo and Serbia communicate only through European Union bodies in both countries.

EULEX, a EU law and police mission in Kosovo, said it did not have the competency to extradite Laban under its current mandate and had told this to the Kraljevo court in Serbia.

Reporting by Fatos Bytyci in Pristina; Additional reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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