Building on yesterday’s Tony Blair post about Greater Albania being a most profitable poor country for rich Western former government officials, I realize that in my February update about Albright’s business group bidding for Kosovo’s state telecom company, I neglected to include this important article from December. It sheds additional light on the tacky and blatant maneuver that, if not for recent scrutiny, would have proceeded without skipping a beat.
That Crush at Kosovo’s Business Door? The Return of U.S. Heroes (NY Times, Dec.11, 2012, By Matthew Brunwasser)
American flags streamed recently above the main street of Pristina, Kosovo’s capital…Akos Stiller
Prime Minister Hashim Thaci is in a bind. His country’s largest and most lucrative enterprise, the state telecommunications company, is up for sale…
One bid is from a fund founded by former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright. Lobbying for another was James W. Pardew, the Clinton-era special envoy to the Balkans. Both former diplomats are among the Americans who hold the status of heroes here for their roles in the 1999 intervention….
So many former American officials have returned to Kosovo for business — in coal and telecommunications, or for lobbying and other lucrative government contracts — that it is hard to keep them from colliding.
They also include Wesley K. Clark…and Mark Tavlarides, who was legislative director at the Clinton White House’s National Security Council.
The State Department has no policy that forbids former diplomats from lobbying on behalf of nations where they served or returning to them for profit….
Kosovo is not the only nation where former officials have returned to conduct business — Iraq is another example — but it presents an extreme case, and perhaps a special ethical quandary, given the outsize American influence here. Pristina, the capital, may be the only city in the world where Bob Dole Street intersects Bill Clinton Boulevard.
[And that should tell us something.]
Foreign policy experts say the practice of former officials’ returning for business is more common than acknowledged publicly. Privately, former officials concede the possibility of conflicts of interest and even the potential to influence American foreign policy as diplomats who traditionally made careers in public service now rotate more frequently to lucrative jobs in the private sector.
Asked for comment, former officials involved said their business dealings with the Kosovo government would benefit Kosovars by building a more prosperous economy. “We’re going to employ people, provide training, create exports and help the country grow and develop as a democracy,” said General Clark, who is chairman of Envidity, a Canadian energy company seeking to explore Kosovo’s lignite coal deposits and produce synthetic fuel.
Lawrence Lessig, a law professor and director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard, said the appearance of “cashing in” risked undermining the prestige of the United States by clouding the humanitarian nature of the 1999 intervention, which was aimed at ending Serbian atrocities against Kosovars.
[Um, so maybe it wasn’t? And maybe the people we’ve allowed to guide foreign policy have made the U.S.moreabout “cashing in”than about any moral principles? Lending credence to the money-grubbing caricature that the world’s socialists and communists like to paint it as?]
After the separation, Kosovo was an international protectorate run by thousands of officials from other countries and the United Nations serving as government representatives and private contractors…The closeness of the ties between the state-builders and the state they built has made it easy for officials to change hats. Though the country is one of Europe’s poorest, there is still the potential for profit, particularly as the government privatizes critical assets.
Albright Capital Management, founded by Ms. Albright, has been shortlisted in the bidding for a 75 percent share in the state telecommunications company, PTK. The company’s sale is expected to bring in between $400 million and $800 million.
[The fact that Albright’s company was shortlisted makes its dropping out all the more likely to have been related to the eyebrows raised not only thanks to Albright’s Serb-hatred which a group of Czech activists brought to the surface last October, but the following.]
Senior executives of a sister company, Albright Stonebridge Group, are already small shareholders in PTK’s only competitor, the private company IPKO, raising concerns on the threat to market competition if Ms. Albright’s consortium wins the bid.
Mr. Pardew, the former American envoy, lobbied top Kosovo officials on behalf of a competing consortium, Twelve Hornbeams S.a.r.l /Avicenna Capital LLC.
The memo on the prime minister’s meeting with Mr. Pardew, from within the consortium, was leaked by someone unhappy with the running of the tender process. The choice of Mr. Pardew as their emissary was “vitally important,” the memo noted, because Kosovo’s elite “know and love him for his role on the ground during the war.”
After the memo became public, Mr. Pardew withdrew from lobbying for the consortium, and he declined to comment…
Telecommunications in Kosovo can be a rough business. In 2007, gunmen tried — first with firearms, then with a mortar attack on his car — to kill Anton Berisha, the head of the telecommunications regulatory agency. He survived both attempts, which took place not long after he awarded Kosovo’s second cellphone license to the Slovenian-owned IPKO. A year later, he became ambassador to Slovenia.
In 2004, Ms. Albright became a special adviser to the chairman of the board of IPKO, Akan Ismaili, who is now Kosovo’s ambassador to the United States.
The telecommunications deal is just one of many that Americans have angled for. The biggest infrastructure project in Kosovo’s post-Yugoslav history, a 63-mile stretch of highway connecting Pristina to the Albanian border, was awarded in 2010 to Bechtel of San Francisco in a joint venture with a Turkish company, Enka.
Bechtel had help getting the contract from Mr. Tavlarides, the legislative director at the National Security Council during the 1999 Kosovo intervention…Mr. Tavlarides now works at Podesta Associates, which signed a $50,000 monthly contract with the Kosovo government on Jan. 1, advising it on communications and strengthening Kosovo’s ties to the United States government. Podesta Associates was co-founded by John Podesta, White House chief of staff in Mr. Clinton’s second term. Mr. Podesta left the firm in 1993. It is still owned by his brother, Anthony.
Mr. Tavlarides declined to comment, citing his firm’s policy to not speak with the news media about clients. [Well that’s certainly convenient.]
Watchdog groups raise the possibility that Kosovo’s government might see doing business with former American officials as a conduit to the current United States administration. They also fear that the influence of former officials diminishes competition and hurts consumers.
The appearance of an inside track by some companies had discouraged competitors “because they know the game is set,” said Avni Zogiani, a Kosovar journalist who heads Cohu, an anticorruption organization in Pristina that has investigated the links between the telecommunications business, crime and politics. “There is no interest in investing in Kosovo by reputable companies anymore.”
Even some former officials acknowledge discomfort at the extent of the interplay between dealing and diplomacy.
Steven P. Schook, a retired United States army brigadier general and former chief of staff of KFOR, NATO’s force in Kosovo, said he had “mixed feelings” about it.
Mr. Schook, who also served as the deputy head of the United Nations mission in Kosovo, has returned as a private consultant for former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, who was acquitted last month by the war crimes tribunal in The Hague. He says that he works for Mr. Haradinaj because of a belief in his leadership and that his only compensation is his expenses living in Kosovo, about $2,600 a month.
“There are a lot of ex-diplomats coming in and out that are now representing private interests,” he said. “If I’m a large corporation and I want to get in to be competitive, I want to work with people to help me do that.”
“But on the other hand, it seems a bit tawdry,” Mr. Schook added. “One minute you’re liberating a place, and the next minute you’re trying to get an energy tender.”
And that about sums it up.
But let’s ponder the fact that this pause is given by one Steven Schook, who was fired from his UN job because of…corruption. Oh, and witness-endangerment. On behalf of Haradinaj. Whom he so “believes” in. Or, at least, has so married himself to irreversibly. And would therefore naturally stay close to, helping Haradinaj to continue getting off the hook for his crimes past, present and future, lest Haradinaj make a misstep and take Schook and the rest of the U.S. establishment down with him. No coincidence, therefore, that Haradinaj “was acquitted by the war crimes tribunal,” as the NY Times article above mentions oh so casually.
For those who wed their names to the crime and cover-up of the century — Kosovo — there are apparently gradations to conscienceless-ness. And so the likes of Albright, Clark, Pardew and Tavlarides need the likes of Schook to keep them ‘honest,’ relatively speaking.
By the same token, this uncharacteristically honest Albanian should give Haradinaj-believer Schook some cognitive dissonance:
Albanian Writer Raises Storm in Kosovo (Balkan Insight, July 19, By Besar Likmeta)
Kosovo officials have rounded on Albanian writer Fatos Lubonja for saying that the political elites in both countries turned a blind eye to the crimes of the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA.
Albanian writer Fatos Lubonja
In the article published in the May edition of the magazine Sudosteuropa, Lubonja focused on the reaction of Albania’s political class to the acquittal of the former KLA commander and Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj by the Hague Tribunal.
Lubonja wrote that following Haradinaj’s release, the elite in Pristina and Tirana celebrated him as a hero, despite having enough information that the charges brought by prosecutors in the Hague were correct.
According to Kosovo public broadcaster RTK, Hardinaj has called Lubonja’s comment slanderous and has hinted that he may sue the Albanian writer for defamation. [Perhaps on the advice of his consultant Schook?]
Prosecutors had alleged that, together with two co-defendants, Haradinaj tortured and killed ethnic Serbs, and Albanians who were deemed to have collaborated with the Serbs in a KLA-run camp at Jablanica in 1998.
According to Lubonja, the reaction to Haradinaj’s acquittal in Albania and Kosovo encapsulates the hypocrisy of its political and cultural elites who use nationalist ideology to brainwash people.
“As in Communist times, Albanians are fed with the idea that they are nothing as individuals in front of the interests of the nation, and should sacrifice everything for the fatherland, turning a blind eye to every crime committed in its name,” Lubonja wrote.
According to Lubonja, this brainwashing create[s] a form of schizophrenia, as Albanians glorify the heroes that sacrifice themselves for the nation while deploring the scoundrels that steal from and even kill them – both being the same. […]
A point this blog has made many times.
The Albanian reaction to this Albanian’s conscience-raising? Gee, the guy’s last name sure sounds Serbian.
The writer’s claims have angered members of Haradinaj’s Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, AAK, party.
The party spokesperson, Ernest Luma, lashed out Lubonja on social networks calling him “a son of bitch”.
“Lubonja’s last name sounds like a Serbian name,” Luma wrote, calling him “a Serb who speaks Albanian”.
Kosovo’s Minister of Integration, Vlora Citaku, said she was “shocked and speechless” about Lubonja’s writings.
Kosovo’s Minister of Culture, Memli Kraniqi, accused him of making shameful and “sick comments about the liberators of Kosovo”.
******OH, AND THIS JUST IN******
Patton Boggs Wins White-Collar Acquittal in Kosovo (Legal Times, July 17)
[Law firm] Patton Boggs attorneys have secured an acquittal in a white-collar prosecution in Kosovo for the leaders of a telecommunications company.
Partners Andrew Friedman and Benjamin Chew defended the Devolli Group’s Blerim and Shkelqim Devolli against allegations of fraud, entering into “harmful contracts” and falsifying documents. The two partners were assisted by of counsel Graham Wisner and associate Mary Moore.
In 2008, Dardafone, a business venture between the Devolli Group and Unitel Co. of New York, obtained a license from Kosovo authorities to provide mobile phone service. Dardafone partnered with the government-owned Post and Telecom of Kosovo. In exchange for use of its infrastructure, Dardafone would share revenue.
The Deveolli Group allegedly defrauded its U.S. business partner and misled the government-owned telecommunications operator…In an interview, Friedman said that he and Chew were hired soon after the Devollis were charged in the middle of 2011…
Friedman said that the firm does a lot of investigations with an international perspective, and credited Patton Boggs foreign affairs advisor Frank Wisner for helping with the connection. Frank is the former U.S. Ambassador to Zambia, Egypt, the Philippines and India. He was also the U.S. special representative to the Kosovo Status Talks in 2005 which paved the way for Kosovo’s independence.
A PRNewswire item about the same thing adds the following details:
…The indictment was brought by EULEX…[and] claimed that the Devollis and their business manager defrauded the U.S. business partner and misled PTK, and that the Devollis had effectively operated as an organized crime enterprise. The indictment implicated two current or former PTK officials, charging them with mis-using their authority and exposing PTK to substantial economic damage. PTK is one of the largest revenue-producing businesses in Kosovo.
The win underscores the firm’s increasing role as an international problem solver, particularly in this region of the world. Members of the firm have played important roles at key moments in Kosovo’s recent history: Foreign Affairs Advisor and Former Ambassador Frank G. Wisner had a crucial role in negotiating Kosovo’s independence as the United States’ special representative to the Kosovo Status Talks in 2005.
So a Wisner-connected law firm is also profiting off Kosovo. The Wisner brothers — Frank and Graham — are of course the sons of Frank Wisner, Sr., who recruited Albanian Fascists for the CIA in the 1950s “Operation Mockingbird” and had the decency to kill himself in 1965 for whatever reason. May his sons follow in his footsteps. Though that could require a conscience.
One notes also that, until recent pressure, the trembling EULEX has been very reluctant to prosecute any connected “Kosovars.” So if it undertook this prosecution, we can be fairly sure that something was fishy enough about the outfit. But as with all things Kosovo, it couldn’t be proven in court.
Frank G. Wisner
Graham G. Wisner