Stamford Lawyers Fly to Kosovo to Defend Minister of Transport

The Stamford Advocate

Written by Debra Friedman – 5/27/11

Three Stamford lawyers have been hired as part of legal team seeking to vindicate the Kosovo minister of transport and telecommunication in a corruption case that has sparked controversy overseas.

Attorneys Stephan Seeger and Ryan O’Neill, who are based in Stamford, flew to Kosovo this past weekend to meet with Fatmir Limaj, a popular official who is under investigation on claims that he and other ministry personnel accepted bribes in exchange for contracts to build roads in the newly formed country.

Meanwhile, a third lawyer, attorney Mark Sherman, has stayed stateside working to lobby American officials to take an interest in the case and research the legal issues.

“We are here to investigate why this transpired,” Seeger said in a phone interview from Kosovo. “This is a transitional country and not everything is certain over here. There were concerns raised by his American supporters who wanted to ensure he received the proper representation.”

Sherman said Limaj, a leading figure in the governing Democratic Party of Kosovo or the PDK, has advisers in Greenwich, which is one of the ways he and his colleagues were contacted.

“We are confident we can meaningfully contribute to the minister’s defense team, as well as help raise awareness here in the United States about this case,” said Sherman, who plans to go to Kosovo on the next trip.

Limaj’s home and the country’s transportation ministry were raided on April 28 by officials from EULEX, the European Union Rule of Law Mission, an agency that supports Kosovo authorities with police, judiciary and customs matters, according to their Web site. Seeger said the raid has sparked tensions between the agency and the government, as many Limaj supporters believe the prosecution’s efforts are politically driven. Seeger said the evidence is scant and called the raids of Limaj’s home “outrageous.”

According to Seeger, EULEX prosecutors said the backbone of their evidence is “a statement that appears to have been made by a dead person who had an interest in gaining tenders for road construction.”

“What we in America would be shocked about is the ease with which any authoritative body can simply come to your home and literally kick down the door using armed, masked men in the name of the law they seek to uphold,” Seeger said.

A spokesperson with EULEX confirmed the searches in an e-mailed statement to Greenwich Time and cautioned that the investigation is on-going and no conclusions have been drawn.

“The investigation and the searches are in connection with several tenders related to the construction of roads in Kosovo in the period 2007-2009,” said Kristiina Herodes, a justice press officer. “It must be stressed that these searches are purely investigative in substance and the material which is being gathered will be carefully analyzed by both EULEX police and prosecutors at the Special Prosecutors Office in Kosovo.”

Limaj fought as a rebel leader in 1998 helping the Kosovo Liberation Army win their first battle against the Serbs, according to theChristian Science Monitor. He was later arrested and then acquitted of war crimes after facing trial at an international criminal court based in The Hague, Netherlands. In 2007, Limaj was appointed to his current post where he was been charged with building roads in a country that three years ago had only five miles of a four-lane highway, according to published reports.

In the past several years, Limaj has made several trips to the U.S. to meet with elected officials. Limaj, along with a delegation from Kosovo, met with several political figures in September 2009, including U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., to discuss political and economic developments in Kosovo. Himes said Wednesday Limaj and Kosovo officials also visited this spring to talk about Kosovo. However, Himes said he was not familiar with Limaj’s case and did not know him outside of those two brief meetings.

In addition to the American attorneys, Limaj is also represented by an attorney in Kosovo and an attorney from England, officials said.

Seeger said right now the legal team is reviewing the warrant and requesting more documentation from prosecutors.

Seeger said the case is a first for all three U.S. lawyers, but they each believe they can translate their legal background to help successfully defend Limaj.

“We will take an American perspective and superimpose it on this situation in this country,” Seeger said.

Staff Writer Debra Friedman can be reached at 203-625-4449 or debra.friedman@scni.com

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