Bloody business. On the trail of organ trafficking in Kosovo

Organ trafficking
Authors: Arndt Ginzel, Martin Kraushaar, Ulrich Stoll

0.04 Narrator:
Olgica Kostic mourns for her brothers. They were abducted at the end of the war in Kosovo. It was not until years later that just the remains of her brothers’ bones were found in a mass grave.

0.17 Original soundbite Olgica Kostic, Sister:

0.17 Narrator:
“We have lots of information saying that our people were taken to Albania where they were held prisoner.”

0.27 Narrator:
The fate of many Serbs remains unresolved to this day. A Council of Europe report from December 2010 accuses the Kosovo-Albanian army, the KLA, of having kidnapped and killed Serbs at that time, and of having sold their organs.

0.43 Original soundbite Dick Marty, Special Rapporteur for the Council of Europe:
“The primary intention was to liquidate these people. And then, using the contacts that they happened to have, to make some money from them as well.”

0.56 Narrator:
Investigators from the United Nations were pursuing this suspicion as far back as 2003. The findings of their investigation have never been released.

1.07 Original soundbite José Pablo Baraybar, UN chief forensics officer

1.09 Narrator2:
“Did organ trafficking take place? I have no doubts. I’m convinced that this happened.”

1.14 Narrator:
We follow the leads which stretch right up to the present day. Was there, and is there still a trade in human organs in Kosovo?

1.26 Narrator:
12 years after the Kosovo war, relatives such as Olgica Kostic want answers to their agonising questions. Did her brothers have to die because the KLA wanted to sell their organs?

Bloody business.
On the trail of organ trafficking in Kosovo
A film by Arndt Ginzel, Martin Kraushaar, Ulrich Stoll

01.53 Narrator:
Murder and organ trafficking in Kosovo are matters to which the German Bundestag too has recently devoted its attention. We meet Sevim Dagdelen, member of parliament and a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs. She has asked the Federal Government detailed questions regarding suspected war crimes by the KLA in Kosovo. She is outraged by the response she has received.

2.16 – 2.45 Original soundbite Sevim Dagdelen, Member of the Bundestag for The Left Party Parliamentary Group:
The issue of war criminals, we are told, is an internal affair to be dealt with by Kosovo. I find it more than questionable that the Federal Government is evading this matter given that the Bundeswehr has had a military presence in Kosovo as part of the KFOR operation for more than twelve years now, and that these crimes against humanity must have taken place under the eyes of the German Bundeswehr.

02.47 Narrator:
Evidence of the abduction of Serbian prisoners from Kosovo to Albania has been presented for years. Yet the indications, including those of organ trafficking, were ignored.

2.57 – 3.15 Original soundbite Sevim Dagdelen, Member of the Bundestag for The Left Party Parliamentary Group:
“Our problem is that, following these suspected war crimes against humanity, such as illegal organ removal, German Federal Governments ranging from the

Red-Green Federal Government to the current CDU/CSU-FDP Federal Government have done nothing to punish these crimes.”

3.18 Narrator:
A copy of the United Nations’ secret report is leaked to us. In the report, people who were directly involved in the crimes describe in detail how Serbs were kidnapped and murdered. The summary of the UN investigators reads as follows:

3.38 Narrator:
“They were brought in lorries
to prison camps in
northern Albania.
In a makeshift clinic,
the captured Serbs had
their organs removed
and they died.”

3.51 Narrator:
The UN report also gives information on these witnesses and stresses that they are eye witnesses to the crimes.

4.00 Narrator:
“The summary
is based on statements
from at least eight witnesses,
who served in the KLA, the
Kosovo Liberation Army, and
who transported Serb prisoners.”

04.15 Narrator:
The UN report describes in detail the routes and places where these crimes took place. We want to get our own picture of what happened and begin our journey in the Serbian capital Belgrade.

Here, the Serbian War Crimes Prosecutor’s Office has investigated the kidnappings. Bruno Vekaric is convinced that the charge of organ trafficking is true.

4.40 – 5.00 Original soundbite Bruno Vekaric, from the Belgrade Prosecutor’s
“First they were abducted and then they became victims of organ trafficking. Based on what we know, the prisoners were transported at night in vehicles, via a border crossing to Albania, where they later died. We know of several places where these people had their organs removed.”

05.02 Narrator:
Is this just simply propaganda on the part of the Serbs in order to divert attention from their own atrocities committed during the war in Kosovo? In the United Nations report from 2003, we find the names of the Kostic brothers. An account of their abduction is given in the document.

05.16 Narrator:
We meet Olgica Kostic in a Belgrade cemetery. She was only able to bury just a few bones belonging to her brothers that the UN investigators found in a mass grave. The corpses had been blown up so as to destroy any trace of the bodies.

5.31 – 5.46 Original soundbite Olgica Kostic, Sister

5.33 Narrator:
“We don’t know how long my brothers were alive, who gave the order to kill them. We don’t know how they were killed or how they ended up in the mass grave. But we do know who abducted them.”

5.49 Narrator:
She is convinced that fighters from the KLA abducted her brothers from their village and later murdered them. She has a firm suspicion as to who the perpetrators could be.

06.02 – 06.13
Original soundbite Olgica Kostic:

6.05 Narrator:
“Our Albanian neighbours know the answer. Our neighbour was the local commander of the KLA.”

6.15 Narrator:
We are in Kosovo. The village of Reti is where the Kostic family used to live. Hamsa, a farmer, remembers the Kostic brothers well. People used to live together here peacefully, he says. He does not know what happened to them in the war. At the time, he says that he was fleeing himself.

6.33 – 6.49 Original soundbite Hamsa, Resident of Reti:

6.35 Narrator:
“I know nothing, for God’s sake. Look, we left the Kostics here. We had already fled before them. When we returned, we discovered that all the houses had been burned down, our houses as well as theirs.”

6.52 Narrator:
The Kostic brothers vanished without trace. They were only seen alive again once, some twenty kilometres from their home village, at this junction. According to the investigations carried out by the United Nations, they were taken prisoner as part of a larger group.

Was there really a prison camp here at the time? We ask some of the residents:

7.13 Original soundbite translator: “Miredita!” [Hello!]

7.14 Narrator:
Today it is hard to find any Kosovar-Albanian who will speak openly about the crimes of the KLA. We film with a hidden camera.

7.20 Original soundbite resident of Ljutoglava, voiced:
“I know what you mean: you mean the bad house, it was over there. But the prisoners there were always treated well.”

7.30 Narrator:
One of the men warns us. We’d better not ask such questions. It’s dangerous, he says.

7.40 Narrator:
In 2003, the witnesses also gave UN investigators detailed descriptions of how the kidnapped Serbs were transported. Freezer vans like this one were used as cover, they say. One of the witnesses, a driver for the KLA, was surprised at one order given by his commander.

8.00 – 8.14 Narrator/quote:
“We were told not to beat the prisoners but to treat them well … That amazed me because in the past we had always been allowed to beat Serbs and break their arms and legs as and whenever we wanted.”

08.16 Narrator:
We search for the man who was the KLA commander in charge of the region at that time and want to find out what he knows about the crimes against Serbs.

His name is Ismet Tara – shown here on right of the photo with his former comrade Hashim Thaçi, the current Prime Minister of Kosovo.

Relatives of the victims suspect Ismet Tara of having carried out atrocities. He is also mentioned in the United Nations report in connection with the kidnappings and organ removals.

08.45 -08.54 Original soundbite, Reporter:
“We were met by a KLA gang led by Ismet Tara. The dead Serbs were wrapped in grey military blankets.”

8.56 Narrator:
Several days later, we find the former KLA commander. Today, Tara runs a small restaurant in Orahovac. He is willing to be interviewed, but disputes the crimes which the UN investigators accuse him of having committed.

09.10 – 09.33 Original soundbite Ismet Tara, Former KLA commander

9.13 Narrator2:
“As far as the claims of human organ trafficking are concerned, they’re evil fabrications. Even today, 12 years after the war, our hospitals and our doctors are not capable of trafficking organs or even removing human organs at all and implanting them in other people.”

09.35- 9.43 Narrator:
Tara also denies that any secret prisons for kidnapped Serbs
ever existed in Kosovo.

9.44 – 10.05 Original soundbite Ismet Tara, Former KLA commander

9.46 Narrator2:
“There were no KLA prisons, not even during the war. Most of the time, we couldn’t even find unoccupied territory for us KLA soldiers, let alone set up prisons in these areas.”

10.06 Narrator:
So are all of these nothing but false accusations? We follow another lead that takes us back to Serbia. After the war, the town of Kraljevo became a retreat for many Serbian refugees from Kosovo.

Brankica Antic is one such refugee.

10.22 Original soundbite Reporter: “Dober dan!” [“Hello!”]

10.23 Narrator:
Her husband Zlatko is also mentioned in the UN report as a victim of the KLA. In June 1999, he was kidnapped from his house (in Prizren). He has never been seen since. Only once was there an anonymous caller:

10.40 – 11.11 Original soundbite Brankica Antic, Widow
“A stranger called and said that he had seen my husband in a KLA camp in Prizren. He was able to give an exact description of him. He said that my husband Zlatko was ill. I don’t understand why he was held there when he was an innocent man. Since that day, we haven’t heard anything else about him. We don’t know what happened to him.”

11.13 Narrator:
Mrs Antic tells us the way to the KLA prison where her husband was seen. She herself no longer dares to return to what was once her home town of Prizren in Kosovo.

11.26 Narrator:
We follow her directions and find a deserted student residence, exactly as Brankica Antic described to us.

11.34 Narrator:
A man who lived here at the time confirms that the building was a base for a secret KLA special forces unit. Nobody dared go near the residence, he says. From Prizren, the Serbs are said to have been taken to Albania.

11.51 Narrator:
But who were the kidnappers? A neighbour of the Antic family saw the men who abducted Zlatko. The woman has remained silent – until today. Fearing for her life and afraid that the UCK will exact its revenge, she doesn’t want to be recognised.

12.08 – 12.19 Original soundbite Neighbour [voiced]

12.08 Narrator:
“I understand that it haunts Mrs Antic. But I can’t help. Please don’t pressurize me. I have to live here in Kosovo. I’m half-Serb.”

12.21 Narrator:
12 years on from the abductions, following investigations by both the United Nations and the Council of Europe, the fate of the Serbs is now also being looked at by Eulex, the EU Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo. Eulex’s role is to ensure law and order in Kosovo. Hanns-Christian Klasing is the spokesperson for the law enforcement agency.

12.43 – 13.10 Talks briefly off-screen, original soundbite Hanns-Christian
Klasing, Eulex spokesperson
“The suspicion is that the Albanian fighters, the KLA, removed organs from the captured Serbs at camps in northern Albania, both during the conflict and after the war. The prisoners in question then died and their organs were sold and traded on the market. This is what we’re dealing with and it’s naturally a serious war crime.”

13.11 – 13.34 Narrator:
A war crime – at the heart of the area for which the Bundeswehr was responsible at the time.

In the summer of 1999, German soldiers were stationed here to control the border between Kosovo and Albania. The UN report describes how the KLA was able to transport the captured Serbs and pass the last checkpoint before Albania without any problems.

13.35 – 13.49 Narrator2:
“The Serbs were already handcuffed and were told to be quiet otherwise they would be shot on the spot. They crossed the border without any problems. They sounded their horns at the Germans and that was that.”

13.51 Narrator:
How was it possible to transport so many Serb prisoners to Albania, evading detection by the German soldiers? Peter Matthiesen was the German military attaché in the Balkan region at the time.

We show him pictures of the Morina border crossing dating from that period. When the war ended, several hundred thousand Albanian refugees streamed back into Kosovo. The KLA’s prisoner conveys – so say witnesses – went in the opposite direction, to Albania.

14.21 – 14.40 Original soundbite Peter Matthiesen, Former military attaché:
“For the soldiers to have been able to carry out a really thorough search of every vehicle, additional personnel, more resources and more training too would have been required. Indications of kidnappings would then certainly have been found. But if I don’t have the personnel and resources, I can’t find any indications of kidnappings.

14.42 – 15.15 Narrator:
This is how the prisoners were transported undetected to Albania, to Kukës. We follow the same route. The KLA is reported to have kept another prison camp here, in an old metal factory. Locals confirm to us that one of the buildings was used us a hospital. The KLA would therefore have been able to carry out basic medical examinations for the removal of organs.

A KLA driver who brought the Serb prisoners to Albania also confirms this to the UN investigators.

15.16-15.37 Narrator2:
“The source said that he visited a prison camp near Kukës where Serbs were held captive. He heard that blood and urine samples had been taken from the prisoners. Soldiers told him that Serbs would be used for their organs and that the removal of the organs took place in central Albania.”

15.38 – 15.49 Narrator:
We continue along the route described to us by the UN witnesses, to central Albania. One of the KLA drivers recalls how the prisoners pleaded in despair.

Narrator2 15.51 – 16.05:
“The Serbs were absolutely desperate. One of the men asked us to kill them straight away. ‘We don’t want to be cut up into pieces’, he said. In the early evening, we took them to a house south of Burrel.”

16.07 Narrator:
According to several of the former KLA soldiers, only the prisoners who had been chosen for organ removal were taken to Burrel. They were brought to this house south of the town.

16.20 Narrator:
In 2003, UN investigators actually found suspicious tablets, infusion solutions and syringes like those used in operations behind the house.

Those living at the house tell us that they strongly refute the suspicion.

16.37-16.48 Original soundbite Mersin Katuci

16.38-16.46 Narrator2:
“They were syringes that I used for myself, for our family. We then disposed of everything. We can’t perform any transplants or keep soldiers here.

16.49 Reporter:
But tell me once again exactly: What do you use these syringes for?

Mersin Katuci:

Narrator2: 16.55
“For colds, rheumatic complaints.

16.58 Narrator:
The daughter then brings out the supposed antirheumatics.

17.04 What kind of medicines are these then?

Mersin Katuci:

17.07 Narrator2:
“They’re medicines against animal diseases.”

17.13 Narrator:
None of the drugs which the family shows us match the medicines found here by the UN investigators.

Narrator 17.22 – 17.26:
One KLA witness told the United Nations that he brought prisoners to this house and that there was a suspicious smell on the ground floor.

Narrator 17.30-17.47
“The room was clean and there was a strong smell of medicine. It reminded me of a hospital, a sickly smell, I felt really ill. I thought, this is the only house that I always bring people to, but where I never pick anyone up.”

Narrator 17.48:
We ask Mersin Katuci about the UN experts who searched his house at the time and who discovered the suspicious traces.

17.56 Original soundbite Mersin Katuci:

17.58 – 18.11 Narrator2:
“They’re Serbian agents, criminals…They wanted to show the Albanians in a bad light…and wanted to say that we killed Serbs.”

18.13 Narrator:
We do some research into the investigative team from that time. One of the experts was the acknowledged forensic scientist, Jose Pablo Baraybar, who had already investigated war crimes such as the Rwandan genocide.

18.26 Narrator:
We arrange to meet Baraybar and ask him about his discoveries in the suspicious house near Burrel.

18.37-19.18 Original soundbite José Pablo Baraybar, Former UN chief forensics officer

18.39-19.15 Narrator2:
“In the house there were these marks covering a right angle, as if there was a table. This area was clean and around it we found bloodstains. We found the same bloodstains on the wall behind the furniture, once we had moved it. At first, the family would say that the blood was from animals that they had slaughtered in the house in winter. Then they said that the wife had given birth in the house. Both of them were crazy explanations.”

19.19 – 19.30 Narrator:
Baraybar is one of the few people to have spoken in person to the KLA members who became key witnesses for the UN report. This is how he learned of another site where crimes took place.

19.32-19.47 Original soundbite José Pablo Baraybar, Former UN chief forensics officer

19.33 Narrator2:
“In Fushë Krujë outside Tirana, witnesses said, prisoners’ kidneys were removed. The kidney is one of the most resistant organs for transplant.”

19.50-20.01 Narrator:
We continue our journey south. For some Serb prisoners, Fushë Krujë, a suburb of Tirana, was the last stop before their death. This is also confirmed in the UN report.

20.03-20.16 Narrator2:
“One day before the operation they were brought to Fushë Krujë, to a farmhouse east of the city. The kidneys were removed and then the prisoners were killed.”

20.18 Narrator:
The site has been well chosen: it lies just a few minutes away from Tirana airport.

20.25 Original soundbite Flight announcement: Istanbul

20.26-20.34 Narrator:
From Tirana, the organs were then flown to Istanbul, a KLA
driver told the UN investigators:

20.36-20.49 Narrator2:
“He escorted a car which was used to take the organs to Tirana airport. The people working at the airport were given some of money and turned a blind eye. Exactly the same happened in Istanbul.”

20.51 – 21.04 Narrator:
At Tirana airport, our search for clues comes to a temporary halt. Back in 2003, the suspicion of organ trafficking hardened for the UN team. Yet the investigations were stopped.

21.06-21.15 Narrator:
Although the evidence uncovered in Burrel was sent to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, it was destroyed shortly thereafter.

And the Head of the UN Mission in Kosovo, the Frenchman Bernard Kouchner, later publicly denied the findings of his investigators.

21.24-21.34 Original soundbite Bernard Kouchner, Former Head of UNMIK

21.28 Narrator2:
“Organ trafficking? Are you mad or something?”

“This house does not exist and there is no organ trafficking.”

21.37 Narrator:
And this despite the West having already revealed some inconvenient findings on the KLA leadership years ago. Hashim Thaçi was the then head of the KLA, today he is Kosovo’s Prime Minister.

The German Federal Intelligence Service reported the following with regard to the current head of government:

21.55- Narrator2:
“Thaçi” controls
“a criminal network that is
active throughout Kosovo.
During his time in the KLA,
this network also conducted
special missions against Serbs.”

22.05 – 22.27 Narrator:
Special missions against Serbia – does that mean abductions? Were these possible because NATO gave a free rein to the KLA in Kosovo? We meet Dick Marty.

Marty has reopened investigations against the KLA. We want to know why politicians continue to regard the KLA leadership as a partner.

22.28-23.10 Original soundbite Dick Marty, Special Rapporteur for the Council
of Europe
“You’ve got to remember that until 1998, the KLA was still designated as a terrorist group in Washington and in other capital cities around the world, and as an organised criminal group by Interpol. And all of a sudden it has become acceptable. Why? Following the bombardment, NATO needed an ally on the ground and it had the one with the strongest presence on the ground. That was clearly the KLA.”

23.11-23.23 Narrator:
Marty’s accusation is that the West drove the Serbian army out of Kosovo using bombs, leaving it to the KLA. Critical reports on the KLA, such as that of the UN, were a real nuisance.

23.27-23.50 Original soundbite Special Rapporteur for the Council of Europe
“The document, if you read it, is explosive. Of course, the report should have led to a serious investigation. Nothing was done, the report was placed in a drawer and treated as secret like so many other reports. That, I believe, is the biggest scandal.”

23.52 – 24.13 Narrator:
No further investigations followed the UN report. But experts from the University of Berkeley searched for links between the KLA and organ trafficking groups. Professor Nancy Scheper-Hughes uncovered an international organ trafficking nework which was active in Turkey at the same time as the KLA abducted its prisoners and took them to Albania.

24.14 – 24.44 Original soundbite Prof. Nancy Scheper-Hughes, Organs Watch:

24.17 Narrator2:
“The allegations that in 1999, KLA militants removed the organs of people they executed and sent them to Turkey is a likely story insofar as Turkey, and in particular a doctor by the name of Yusuf Sönmez, were involved in illegal organ transplants, with organs taken both from deceased people as well as from organ traffic donors.”

24.47 Narrator:
So does that explain why the organs went from Tirana airport to Istanbul at the time?

We are back in Kosovo and have discovered that there was indeed a network of organ traffickers and surgeons around the Turkish doctor Yusuf Sönmez. He was still performing illegal transplants in Kosovo in 2008.

On the outskirts of Pristina, Kosovo’s capital, we find the Medicus clinic, a hospital funded by a German doctor.

25.23-25.40 Narrator:
The clinic was advertised as being the “German clinic”.

This is where Sönmez performed illegal kidney transplants until the police closed the clinic down three years ago. This time the victims were eastern Europeans who had sold their organs out of poverty. The Eulex law enforcement agency has since charged Sönmez with performing illegal operations.

25.42 Narrator:
We try to speak to Sönmez about the accusations, wanting to ask him about potential contacts with KLA organ traffickers. The Turkish doctor wants 100,000 euros for an interview, the money supposedly for a charity project. We decline.

Eulex, the European rule-of-law mission in Kosovo is now investigating both cases, both the KLA’s organ trafficking and the current Medicus case.

26.14-26.38 Original soundbite Hanns-Christian Klasing, EULEX spokesperson
“We have also begun investigations relating to a Turkish doctor. Our public prosecutor travelled to Istanbul and is now working together with the Turkish authorities, who are very helpful. It’s also interesting that in the indictment, the public prosecutor has confirmed that there is a lead to Germany. An elderly German gentleman is said to have been among the recipients of one of these kidneys.”

26.40-27.00 Narrator:
We return to Germany in search for the owner of the Medicus clinic. Dr B. is a German urologist. We want to question him on the illegal transplants in his clinic and hold an initial conversation. When we officially request Dr. B. for an interview, he threatens us with his lawyers.

27.02-27.19 Narrator:
We follow another lead and track down the German kidney recipient who is mentioned in the Eulex indictment. The wealthy entrepreneur lives in North Rhine-Westphalia. He does not wish to speak to us.

27.20-2 Narrator:
We meet his son who confirms the illegal transplant in Kosovo. Legally, his father would probably not have been given a kidney, he says. So he paid 82,000 euros to the Turkish-Kosovar organ traffickers for a kidney.

27.39 – 27.50 Narrator:
As with our trip to the Balkans, wherever we go we are met with a wall of silence once the issue of organ trafficking is raised. The new Medicus case, however, could bring about some developments in the investigations.

28.05 Narrator:
The war in Kosovo ended 12 years ago. For the relatives of the kidnap and murder victims, the wait for answers goes on.

28.30 Closing shot

Closing credits:

A film by
Arndt Ginzel
Martin Kraushaar
Ulrich Stoll

Dimce Stojanovski
Axel Brandt

Marc Bruckwilder

Sound mixing:
Martin Hilche

Götz Bielefeld

Acht Visual Catering Frankfurt

Petra Stumpf

Christian Dezer

End approx. 29.00
The indictment lists 30 illegal transplants carried out by Sönmez and his team. The organ donors this time around are poor eastern Europeans.