Norwegian Extradited to Kosovo to Face Corruption Charges

Ove Johansen, former director of Norway Invest and founder of the campaign ‘Don’t Invest in Kosovo’, has been extradited to Kosovo to face allegations of fraud, Kosovo’s Ministry of Justice reported on Thursday.

Cooperation between Kosovo’s Ministry of Justice and its Montenegrin counterpart saw Johansen returned to Kosovo on Thursday, where he is suspected of committing fraud relating to a deal with the publicly owned firm PTK, Post and Telecommunication of Kosovo.

The case concerns a contract signed in 2003 between Norway Invest and PTK to install phone masts for the emergency services and military in Kosovo. The deal was later dropped after a corruption investigation by UNMIK.

The Norwegian national, who is on Interpol’s wanted list, has been sought in connection with claims that, as director of Norway Invest, he was responsible for signing a ‘damaging contract’ with PTK. He denies all wrongdoing.

The contract was also signed by the former PTK director, Leme Xhema. A Kosovo court last year convicted her of abusing her authority and company resources. Mustafe Neziri, Norway Invest’s director for Kosovo, was also convicted for fraudulent contracts. Both have appealed.

Xhema this week had a four-year sentence cut to three at the supreme court, but has been ordered to repay 300,000 euro, the sum PTK paid to Norway Invest for ‘preliminary work’.

Johansen was arrested in Montenegro in 2007 following the issue of an Interpol warrant but was not extradited. In an earlier interview with Balkan Insight, he claimed that he has been ‘effectively under house arrest’ since then, as he had been unable to leave Montenegro but also not given the opportunity to clear his name.

Ove Johansen and Norway Invest colleague Ronny Sorensen, also wanted on fraud charges, launched a campaign against investing in Kosovo earlier this year. Sorensen, who lives in Oslo, Norway, also denies any wrongdoing.

According to the Ministry of Justice, the first hearing against Johansen is to take place on Friday in Pristina’s District Court.

The EU rule-of-law mission, EULEX, confirmed the extradition, noting that EULEX judges would hear the case. “The hearing court will be paneled by EULEX judges,” said Karin Limdal, police spokesperson for the mission. She would not comment on whether Sorensen would also be extradited.

According to documents lodged at Kosovo’s Supreme Court, Johansen and Sorensen are among 31 investors in Norway Invest claiming 5.5 million euro damages from three bodies – the PTK, the Kosovo Trust Agency, KTA, and its successor, the Kosovo Privatisation Agency, KPA – for the collapse of the phone mast contract and lost revenue.

Balkan Insight / BIRN