Behgjet Pacolli, the Kosovo Maecenas – doing good in order to confuse

Behgjet Pacolli, the Kosovo Maecenas – doing good in order to confuse


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In the context of Eulexgate and of the suspicion of corruption floating above the EU mission in Kosovo, and also above the integrity of the local power structures, it would not be without profit to recall the figure of an important character such as Behgjet Pacolli. Pacolli was briefly president of Kosovo in 2011 and is now “first deputy prime minister”.

I met him in totally unlikely circumstances. Kabul, Afghanistan, in the autumn of 2004, was the last place on earth where one would have expected to see an elegant middle-aged Kosovar businessman descending from a private plane with a suitcase stuffed with cash… or so he let it be understood, because in the end nobody ever knew whether any money changed hands.

He had come, like in a movie, to pay for the rescue of three UN workers, members of a team of international observers during that summer’s Afghan elections, who had been kidnapped on October 30, 2004. One of them was a Kosovar female UN worker, Shqipe Habibi. Two weeks into their ordeal, nothing had been done for their rescue. Then Behgjet Pacolli arrived on a private plane, flying in from Kazakhstan, and announced that he was ready to pay for their release.

I was one of the few in Kabul who knew who Pacolli was. I was in Moscow in October 1993, when Yeltsin dissolved, and then bombed into rubble the Russian parliament –the so-called White House-, and I could remember the dismay and incredulity when, a few months later, it was announced that the contract for the rebuilding and refurbishing of the “White House” had been attributed to a totally unknown Kosovar businessman from Lugano, Switzerland, Behgjet Pacolli, owner of the equally unknown Mabetex company.

Protected by Yeltsin, whom he supplied with credit cards, Pacolli then also renovated the Kremlin, and after the year 2000, when Putin brought his own people into the Kremlin, Pacolli moved over to Kazakhstan to build part of that country’s new capital, Astana. Obviously, Yeltsin had passed him over to Nazarbayev. I also knew about the accusations against him for complicity with Yeltsin’s money laundering, and also about the fact that in 1999, the prosecutor of the Lugano district in Switzerland, where Pacolli’s company Mabetex is based, a certain Carla Del Ponte, was investigating into his activities, but that the investigation stopped when Del Ponte was moved to The Hague, as Chief Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

Pacolli was unabashed about his desire to become president of Kosovo. He was slowly working at building his reputation there, from funding football teams in Kosovo, to buying over local journalists and cultural and political figures.

Surprisingly, in Kabul Pacolli was allowed to act on his own. Through someone close to the former Afghan king Zahir’s family, contact was established with the kidnappers. The hostages were released. Nobody ever knew how much was paid.

In Switzerland, Pacolli’s luxury hotel in Lugano, the Diamond Hotel, right on the lake’s shore, not far from the fortified compound which is his house, is tastily furbished, although rather heavy on the marble side, displaying an excess of gilded taps and mirror frames. There he entertains visiting guests, shipped in from the Milan airport, one hour by car, most often Kosovar politicians, public figures, sportsmen and artists, who flock to him for his largesse and seemingly limitless, generously distributed funds and stipends.

Through Pacolli I learned this precious word of wisdom: that “in life you sometimes have to do good only in order to confuse”.

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