Perspectives | Politics

The only war uniting Kosovar citizens needs to be the fight against state capture

By - 05.08.2019

Gupta brothers, Devolli brothers and the sole real war.

In the war against the army of the dead, the Westerosi hero John Snow captures a White Walker from the army of the dead and brings it to King’s Landing.

“There is only one war that matters — The Great War,” says John Snow in an attempt to convince rival queen Cercei Lannister to join him in the war.

John Snow almost died in battling the Night King and the army of the dead, while trying to collect evidence for queen Cersei, who was sceptical about the existence of the army of the dead. 

In the TV show “Game of Thrones,” the army of the dead represents a threat that everyone knows exists, but that no one wants to believe or accept, until one day it breaks through the gigantic wall and marches toward the humans.

This article isn’t about “Game of Thrones,” but since I captured your attention with the Westeros story, I want to ask you to follow me until the end in order to understand what the real war in Kosovo is, what the greatest threat to our country is and how we can win this war together.

From cents to millions: Gupta brothers in South Africa

The usage of the expression “state capture” has become common when discussing corruption in South Africa, after surviving and being liberated from apartheid. In the epicentre of these accusations is the wealthy Gupta family, which is believed to have been involved in dozens of corruption affairs exposed by the African and international media.

As a result of these reports, in January this year, the current president of South Africa, Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa, established the judicial commission known as the Zondo commission in order to investigate the allegations of state capture, corruption and fraud in the public sector, including within state organs.  

The story of how the Gupta brothers became rich and successful is told as a modern fairytale in their hometown of Saharanpur, in India.

This commission, which is holding its public hearings these days, will investigate whether the Gupta family has had an influence on state organs, state enterprises and even on the office of former President Jacob Zuma in filling public positions. Besides this, the commission will investigate the nature and the depth of corruption involved in the distribution of contracts and tenders by public institutions and assess if there have been any irregularities, such as: unjust enrichment, corruption and influence in giving contracts and licenses for mining, ad space in the media bought from the government, and other domains that intersect with the businesses of the Gupta family.

The Gupta family, also known as the Gupta brothers, is a rich family in South Africa originally from India that owns a great number of businesses ranging from computer tools and media to mines, energetics, railways, transport, medicine and many other things.

The story of how the Gupta brothers became rich and successful is told as a modern fairytale in their hometown of Saharanpur, in India. Legend says that when the Gupta brothers entered adulthood, their father, who ran a business of spices and soapstone powders that he sold in the streets of Saharanpur, sent each of his three sons in a different direction to seek fortune.

Ajay, the eldest brother, went to Delhi, India; the second brother, Rajesh went to China; the third brother, Atul, went to South Africa. 

In 1993 Atul arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city and commercial capital, in a period when big transformations were happening. A year later, in 1994, Mandela was elected president and the apartheid era was over. 

Atul started his business by selling shoes in Johannesburg, but it didn’t take long before he opened a business selling PCs through which he began to develop connections with leaders of the African National Congress (ANC). The other two brothers would then join Atul in South Africa, and this is where the story begins.

The Gupta brothers had found people within the ANC who were thirsty for power and money, and they would get their reward from them very soon. In 2000, the Gupta brothers received their first public contract, which was to install laboratory computers in schools in the richest provinces of the country.

With this tender, they immediately bought an IT company, uranium and steel mines and other businesses with which they would invest in each member of the ANC who was thirsty for money.

Many stories of scandals surrounding the Gupta brothers have been published in South African and global media. One of the numerous scandals concerned subventions in agriculture.

Their niece Vega Gupta was getting married, and the Gupta brothers decided that the wedding would last for four days in a row. An air charter with 200 guests from India would land in a military base, the landing for which the Gupta brothers had used political connections. To pay for the big wedding, they made sure to gain a contract worth around 18 million euros, means that were dedicated to the subvention of a fictitious dairy farm.

Another scandal that is being investigated is the ESKOM affair, in which it is suspected that the Gupta brothers, together with President Zuma, have managed to use the state energy company ESKOM to gain millions of dollars. 

This country’s tragedy is that the leaders of the ANC began to sell their country, not even a decade after the long and rough war for freedom and liberation.

It is suspected that the Gupta brothers served as gatekeepers between President Zuma and the McKinsey & Company consulting firm to reach a contract with ESKOM, in an attempt to get South Africa out of the energy crisis. The contract was won without public competition and as usually happens with corrupt contracts, a phantom company called Trillian Management Consulting, linked to collaborators of the Gupta brothers, partnered with the American McKinsey & Company.

McKinsey later found out that behind this phantom company was Salim Essa, who was linked to the Gupta brothers and had earned over 100 million dollars in contracts through other phantom companies, by buying locomotives for the state rail agency, Transnet.

The South African government later declared the contract between ESKOM and McKinsey & Company illegal, since the government wasn’t able to approve the required commission to McKinsey & Company, even though it had been promised that the agreement would pass.

The agreement would be cancelled after eight months, but although the company didn’t solve ESKOM’s energy problem, McKinsey would receive around 100 million euros from ESKOM and 40% of this sum would be channeled to the shell company associated with the Gupta brothers .

An article by Matthew Campbell and Franz Wild for Bloomberg titled “The Brothers Who Bought South Africa,” describes how the Gupta brothers would elect and de-elect ministers, replace them when they would hamper the family businesses and reward them when they would make way for them. They secured them hotels, plane tickets, vacations, accessories, employment and properties, especially for President Zuma, whose sons had bought shares in the wealthy South African mines. They also served as gatekeepers to other companies that wanted to invest in South Africa, by providing access to the government and to President Zuma in exchange for bribes.

The story of the Gupta brothers is the story of South Africa under the governance of the ANC party. The British historian R. W. Johnson, who lives in South Africa, says that this country’s tragedy is that the leaders of the ANC began to sell their country, not even a decade after the long and rough war for freedom and liberation.

According to Forbes, the Gupta family holds a fortune of around 3 billion dollars. The eldest brother, Ajay Gupta, is currently under arrest in Dubai, since South Africa has issued an arrest warrant for him. The Zondo commission concludes that it is important that South Africa, by selecting an investigative judicial commission for state capture, has accepted that it exists and wants to deal with it. 

Devolli brothers and the rich families in the Republic of Kosovo

The story of the Gupta brothers in South Africa is strikingly similar to that of the Devolli brothers in Kosovo. Kosovo is in a situation almost identical to the one of South Africa, in the sense that state capture through corruption, organized crime and fraud are present in state organs and in the daily lives of high public officials.

Since the rise to power of PDK in 2007, and especially after the Declaration of Independence, the Devolli family has seen a drastic increase in wealth, as beneficiaries of public contracts.

In an article for Gazeta Express, Berat Buzhala writes: “Before [Hashim Thaçi] became prime minister, Blerim Devolli and his brother spent their days counting cents. When he became prime minister, their cents turned into millions.”

A documentary produced by Gazeta Express titled “Devollistan,” which the Devolli company has sued for defamation, describes how the empire of the Devolli family business was established and developed.

One of the most rumored cases of the Devolli brothers remains the PTK contract with Dardafon to create the virtual operator Z-Mobile.

According to the documentary, in just a few years after PDK came to power, the Devolli brothers went from running a company that repaired bicycles in Peja to suddenly becoming the owners of a number of licenses, assets, companies and monopolies. The Devolli family had ownership over the largest and most powerful companies in the country, including Birrarinë e Pejës, M&Sillosi Food Industry, the milk production company Vita, Tango beverages, Prince coffee, Comodita, Z-Mobile, the Vehicle Homologation Centre, and the customs terminal. They secured licenses for the production of renewable energy, for which the government guaranteed the sale.

One of the most rumored cases of the Devolli brothers remains the Post and Telecom of Kosovo (PTK) contract with Dardafon to create the virtual operator Z-Mobile, which brought nothing new besides marketing to PTK and channeled the majority Z-Mobile’s profits to Dardafon. In 2010, Devolli and the executives of PTK were investigated by EULEX for fraudulent and malicious contracts, but the Basic Court acquitted them all in 2013 due to the absence of evidence.

However, it is undeniable that after 10 years, PTK, one of the most profitable post-war  companies, is today on the verge of collapsing. In March this year, the Assembly of Kosovo established an investigative committee to address the situation regarding PTK and Vala, but this commission doesn’t have a full mandate to investigate state capture, as is the case in South Africa.

In the Pronto and Bosses’ file (Dosjen e Shefave) affairs, Hashim Thaçi’s party links with the Devolli brothers surfaced at a time when he was the president of the party. The then head of the PDK caucus, Adem Grabovci, speaks on the phone with one of the Devolli brothers.

Grabovci: Alright then. Look, I couldn’t call you to, to… but

Shkëlqim Devolli: It’s done.

Grabovci: …it’s all empty…

Shkëlqim Devolli: I will send it to you.

Grabovci: My throat.

Shkëlqim Devolli: It’s done boss. I will send it to you. 

Just like the Gupta family in South Africa, the Devolli family too lives a life outside the public eye. The wedding of Vega Gupta can be compared to Devolli’s circumcision party, which was attended by many from the current government and from the Democratic Party of Kosovo. The Devolli family allegedly controls the customs, police and state agencies, such as the Veterinary and Food Authority (AVUK), which enables the Devolli family to sell flour that is suspected to have been produced from animal bran, a concern raised by deputies since 2015.

With the change of government, another family that has gotten rich through cooperation with the state will join the Devolli family. The Dukagjini family, known as the Dukagjini Group and led by Ekrem Lluka, has close ties to former Kosovar Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj.

The Dukagjini Group has over 10 companies, including Dukagjini Hotel, the Dukagjini publishing house, the Dukagjini insurance company, Dukagjini College and Dukagjini Construction. 

In 2011, Pacolli would join Thaçi in forming a coalition government. Thereby, the Thaçi and Pacolli families united politics and business.

Another family that has benefited from many tenders and licenses from the Kosovo Government is the Pacolli family. Its leader, Behgjet Pacolli, has used his business and the poverty of Kosovar citizens to enter the political realm. Pacolli was the beneficiary of a contract worth millions for the renovation of the Rilindja tower, which was given at the time when Hashim Thaçi was prime minister and not even a year after the Declaration of Independence. Hashim Thaçi’s brother, Gani Thaçi, would work closely with Behgjet Pacolli’s brother, Rrahim Pacolli, in a scheme that effectively robs the diaspora through the Kosovo Insurance Bureau as Kosovo is not part of the green card system.

In 2011, Pacolli would join Thaçi in forming a coalition government. Thereby, the Thaçi and Pacolli families united politics and business. 

To show his power, Pacolli often insisted on government meetings not to be held in state offices, but in his luxurious house. Lunches, dinners and frequent meetings were arranged for the Thaçi family and the leaders of other parties. The owner of Swiss Diamond would refresh the captured state with his private yacht on hot summer days, and would send his guests to Brussels and Berlin on his private airplane. Hashim Thaçi, Kadri Veseli, Ramush Haradinaj and Fatmir Limaj have all flown on Pacolli’s private plane.

The fight against corruption and organized crime in three steps

Game over — this is our main fight. I’d love to write about the threat of global warming and how we could help by investing in alternative energy to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and changing our diet to prevent the growing factory farming industry, but these seem as distant concerns for our poor, unemployed, corrupt society, which is lacking in rule of law.  

Our state is captured by two or three families and two or three parties, who hold the progress of nearly 2 million Kosovar citizens hostage. No mechanism, no law, and no institution will succeed in fighting corruption and organized crime as long as the government is linked to crime and holds hostage, threatens and blackmails the police, prosecutors and judges.

So we need reform to bring about full transparency of public spending.

The second step in fighting corruption would be the continuation of legal reform against corruption. Recent changes to the law on enhanced powers to confiscate illegal property and to the penal code, where the burden of proof also rests on the accused, should continue with the promulgation of a new anti-corruption law as well as the amendment of the Anti Corruption Agency’s mandate. You cannot promise to fight corruption as a prime minister if you have no governmental agency fighting it, so a new office within the Prime Minister’s Office needs to be formed, which would be a task force against corruption.

The third step is reform in public procurement. No tender, no license, no contract can be won without a business. Public procurement accounts for about 10% of GDP, a figure of around 600 million euros a year, that circulates through businesses in and out of Kosovo, while we know very little about what these businesses are and who owns them. To know where the money goes and who wins every cent of the taxpayers, we need to gather data on the final benefactors of those companies.

So we need reform to bring about full transparency of public spending. This reform would affect the law on business organizations, reform the business registration agency, ATK, the regulative commission of public procurement and introduce a new law, that of public sector partners. 

However, the first and the main step remains the election of an uncorrupted prime minister and government. We will never succeed in fighting corruption and organized crime with people involved in both crime and corruption.

Westeros in “Game of Thrones” was threatened with extinction by the army of the dead, while in Kosovo the threat comes from the army of corrupt forces that have forced hundreds of thousands of citizens to leave the country since the Declaration of Independence.

If we, as conscious and responsible citizens, chose a new, uncorrupted government and prime minister, then we would be taking the first step toward fighting corruption and the second liberation of Kosovo. 

Feature image: Majlinda Hoxha and Arrita Katona / K2.0. 

  • 14 Aug 2019 - 05:38 | Burim:

    Important article! The second liberation is sorely needed in Kosovo.