Kosovo police arrest suspected drugs kingpin

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Kosovo police have arrested a suspected Balkan drug kingpin who is wanted on an international arrest warrant and blacklisted by U.S. authorities.

Naser Kelmendi, 56, is a Kosovo-born ethnic Albanian businessman who police say allegedly runs a major cocaine and heroin organization from a family-owned hotel in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo.

Special organized crime police arrested Kelmendi late Sunday in the Kosovo capital of Pristina, police spokesman Brahim Sadriu said Monday. A second suspect was arrested for aiding Kelmendi, he said.

Police also raided two houses believed to have been used by the suspects and confiscated two cars.

Last year the U.S. Treasury put Kelmendi on a list that bars U.S. citizens from doing business with him and allows authorities to freeze any of his U.S. assets.

It was not immediately clear if Kelmendi, who has dual Kosovo and Bosnian citizenship, will be extradited to Bosnia, where authorities want him as part of an investigation into at least six murders, illegal money transfers and drug trafficking. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 but Bosnia does not recognize Kosovo as a state and has no direct contact with it.

In similar cases in the past Kosovo authorities were forced to let suspects free because they could not be extradited. In the most prominent case, Naser Kelmendi’s son, Elvis Kelmendi was arrested by Kosovo police in 2012 based on a Bosnia-issued arrest warrant but was released from police custody.

The European Union rule of law force that deals with serious crimes in Kosovo detained Elvis Kelmendi immediately after Kosovo police let him go and has kept him in detention awaiting trial for attempted murder.

The arrest comes as Kosovo seeks to show it is able to fight criminal networks, part of conditions it must meet to eventually join the European Union. The former Serbian province has often come under strong criticism for not clamping down on its ethnic Albanian gangsters.

Organized crime flourished in the lawless Balkans during the wars in the 1990s. The area remains a major transit route for smuggling drugs and cigarettes into the 27-nation EU.

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