So, this text is going to be pretty long. I tried making it shorter but then you won’t get the full picture. It´s heavily based on a few news articles, some in Swedish, so I highly recommend checking those out if you want some further reading. I provide all my sources at the bottom. Anyways here goes:
In 2018, outside Stockholm, a man by the name of Michael Rawlinson is buried. On his grave is the signum of the Swedish coastal rangers, Poseidon’s trident, and during the ceremony, they read “Sometimes you face challenges – not because you have done something wrong – but rather because you have done something right.” He was 55 years old when he died, and it was most likely due to complications from being infected by a rare type of so-called “murder” bacteria, three years prior. Michael Rawlinson accomplished a great deal in his life, he was part of several Swedish elite military units, and later also worked as an intel officer for the Swedish Military Intelligence and Security Service, also known as MUST.
But what exactly did they mean when they, during his funeral, talked about facing challenges for doing the right thing? To understand that, we need to start at the beginning, 20 years ago in the 1990s Balkans.
Since the beginning of the century, different wars have been raging between different parts of the former Yugoslavia. The conflicts are a result of multiple factors, one being tensions between different ethnic groups, which has been rising for a long time. One of these conflicts is known as the Kosovo wars, which played out between 1998 and 1999. After the end of the conflict, with the Kosovo Liberation Army, or KLA, coming out as victors over the Yugoslavian forces, the united nations enacted Security Council Resolution 1244, allowing international civil and military presence in the federal republic of Yugoslavia, which later divided into Serbia and Montenegro, and finally with Kosovo declaring its own independence in 2008.
In the same year, 1999, UNMIK is also launched, short for United Nation Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo. Its goal is to, quote, “help the Security Council achieve an overall objective, namely, to ensure conditions for a peaceful and normal life for all inhabitants of Kosovo and advance regional stability in the western Balkans.” With the country eventually splitting into Serbia and Montenegro, and finally with Kosovo declaring its own independence, the EU launches its own mission to aid the new republic of Kosovo in dealing with issues on the Rule of Law. This mission is called EULEX, which is short for European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo. EULEX did not replace UNMIK but rather they coexist, however, most of the day to day operations were carried out by EULEX.
One of EULEX main objectives was to pursue the so-called “big fish” among Kosovo politicians, the ones believed to be corrupt and involved in organized crime. The mission originally consisted of 3200 personnel, including police officers, riot squads, prosecutors and judges.
One of these was a Brittish prosecutor named Maria Bamieh, who previously had worked with the United Nations rule of law missions. In 2012, Bamieh was involved with an investigation into a senior civil servant at the Kosovan health ministry. The man was Illir Tolaj, which had been arrested and was held in prison amid allegations that he had demanded bribes from pharmaceutical companies in return for official contracts. Bamieh got a court order to intercept calls from a cellphone which Tolaj had smuggled into prison, something which he was not allowed to have.
She monitored the calls and what she heard aroused some disturbing suspicions. It became clear to Bamieh that he was taking calls from people claiming to intermediaries or go-betweens between Italian judge Francesco Florit, who was seconded to Eulex, and Bamiehs boss, the Czech chief prosecutor Jaroslava Novotna.
The intermediaries told Tolaj that the Italian judge would, quote, “do everything to help because he thinks that man deserves to be helped”. She apparently also overheard them talking about her, claiming that the Italian judge had described Bamieh as “very difficult” and that Florit had suggested he would get her replaced.
According to Bamieh the middlemen had also told Tolaj he would hold a meeting with her chief, the “… Czech lady”. In one call, Tolaj had said: “I will analyze and see whether I can afford it or not”. She was beginning to strongly suspect that her colleagues in Eulex could be compromised. This suspicion grew even stronger when she was apparently approached by two men convicted of a 2009 bombing attack in the Kosovan capital Pristina. Bamiehs claims that they told her how one of the men, through his lawyer had done negotiations with Florint and that 300,000€ was enough to for at least one of them to be cleared of charges.
With this information in hand, Bamieh set up a meeting with the then UK contingent leader in Kosovo in a bar in Pristina. She claims how she provided him with copies of the relevant documents, including transcripts of wiretaps which even showed the subjects of her investigation were themselves being illicitly briefed about her investigation.
The contingent apparently did not even look at documents and instead told her to “turn a blind eye” on the thing. She also claims that over the next two years, other Foreign Offices officials repeatedly dismissed her claims of collusion, an explicit breach of the FCO´s whistleblowing policy which was a contractual part of her employment. She alleged she was being marginalized as a result of her findings and that her line manager in Eulex was being allowed to engineer a recruitment process that would result in her dismissal, and that she was not being provided with any assistance from the FCO, something which the FCO strongly refuted in an interview.
Around this time Michael Rawlinson was working as Head of EU’s Office for Criminal intelligence in Kosovo, with a mission to provide both Sweden and the EU with information about organized crime, weapon smuggling, trafficking and suspected terrorism. His superior was also of Swedish origin, a prosecutor named Mats Mattson. He had been appointed the second-highest position within Eulex in 2012 and was considered an expert in organized crime partly due to an investigation into outlaw motorcycle clubs in southern Sweden, an investigation which had even led to shots being fired into his own apartment by members of the clubs.
During the winter of 2013, Matsson received German intel which stated that two prominent international judges employed by Eulex was receiving bribes in exchange for lighter, or no, sentences. He tasked Rawlinson with investigating the situation, and he would find out that suspicions had existed for some time. After looking through intel he came across Bamiehs transcripts from the wiretaps. He also found out about how Bamieh had reported about this but for some reason the documents about the report where nowhere to be found. Matsson said in an interview that
“I tried finding these documents but they were nowhere. We checked around if anyone in Brussel knew about this, but no one did.”
Later parts of the documents were found, and it almost seemed as if they had been intentionally hidden away. Along with the German Eulex chief, Berndt Borchardt, he decided to see if there was more to these allegations. They chose a Swedish investigator to look further into it, and he found even more peculiarities. In several sensitive cases, there were suspicions that the two Italians had received money in exchange for lighter sentences.
This report made Eulex realize that they needed to find out what was really going on. They handpicked a team that was supposed to work under the radar in order to dig deeper into these allegations. The team was approved by both the director of EUs missions abroad, EEAS, and eventually even by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton.
The team was given the name of the “independent task force”, but was commonly referred to as “the Ghost team”. It consisted of Michael Rawlinson, Finnish prosecutor Heikki Wendorf, a state prosecutor from Kosovo, three handpicked Eulex investigators and a group of local police investigators. The team looked at three trials where the Italian judge had been involved, and went through large amounts of wiretaps, and using GPS from these they could pinpoint the different parties’ locations. Pretty soon they considered to have substantial evidence of the suspected corruption, and in a 2014 letter from Heikki Wendorf to the Eulex chief Berndt Borchardt it says:
“In the most promising part of the investigation, there is evidence of a double murderer being cleared of charges as a direct consequence of corrupt actions on behalf of a Eulex employee.
It´s about large sums of money – between 260000 to 1 million euros. A financial investigation shows that up to 80 million euros have been transferred through the suspect’s bank accounts”.
Several of the international prosecutors considered that the reports pointed towards serious crimes and should be investigated. Wendorf together with the state prosecutor from Kosovo decided that they should try to get the Italian judge legal immunity revoked so that they could investigate and prosecute him. This due to the fact that Eulex employees had legal immunity in the regions they served, and thus could not be investigated or prosecuted unless they were sent back to their own country or had the immunity revoked.
However that same autumn in 2014, parts of the report were leaked in a newspaper from Kosovo, and this would turn out to have disastrous consequences for the investigation and the people working on it. The news spread quickly and soon several more European countries started to report on the issue. The European parliament was furious and demanded that Eulex be investigated to find out the truth behind all this.
But then the trail went cold.
The reporter from the Kosovo newspaper that outed the story claimed he had been threatened by EU officials, and Euelex personnel was forced to sign NDA treaties that meant they could face charges if they ever spoke to the press.
And soon the story seemed to be completely forgotten, if you google it you will find lots of articles from the 2014 leak but after that, it pretty much dies out completely.
However, things were still happening away from the public eye.
Michael Rawlinsons, and in turn the Ghost teams, problems really started with the election of Italian ambassador Gabriele Meucci being named the new chief of Eulex. Meucci was not very fond of the investigation at all, and have been quoted as saying that he was going to “end the witchhunt against Italians in Eulex”.
Pretty soon after Meucci is appointed, Rawlinson suddenly finds himself suspended from work. He is told that by order of Meucci himself he is to leave his office and to have no contact with any employee within Eulex. He is also ordered to give away all his professional belongings, including ID badge, weapon, sim-cards, computer, and hard drives.
Meucci’s explanations of the suspension are that Rawlinson has made himself guilty of disreputing Eulex by insulting a French law professor investigating Eulex, and according to Meucci had publicly told the professor that he must have had a stroke. But this allegation turned out to be fake, being based on an anonymous letter sent to the Eulex management, and Rawlinson was freed.
This, however, did not mean he could return to his job, but instead, he was hit with new accusations. This time he was apparently guilty of misconduct in his role as chief for the EU criminal intel offices.
At the same time, an Italian prosecutor started visiting Rawlinson’s personal office in Kosovo claiming to be investigating the claims toward him. This did not sit well with the Swedish ministry of foreign affairs, and they demanded the investigation on Rawlinson be removed. This pressure made Meucci’s superiors in Brussel call him in for an official explanation as to why he was investigating Rawlinson. At first, he could not offer any explanation at all, which forced him to stay until a few days later when he handed in a written explanation. This was not all up to any standards, however, and he had even made himself guilty of breaking several rules of conduct for Eulex, and according to a witness, his superiors gave him a scolding before sending him back and also ordered him to remove the allegations toward Rawlinson.
However, Meucci did not care about this order and instead let the investigation continue. This enraged the Swedish foreign ministry which gave EU an ultimatum: let Rawlinson back to his work, or they would not approve the Eulex chief continued mandate.
But this would not be the case. In a last-second agreement, Sweden was convinced to vote for him in exchange for an external investigation into Mueccis conduct which then would be sent out to all EU nations so that any misconduct would be reported on.
Three days after this meeting, on the 22nd of June, Meucci orders the Italian prosecutor Danilo Ceccarelli to go to EUs offices for Criminal intel, that is Rawlinsons offices. He arrives with two local construction workers, who pulls Rawlinsons personal safe outside, and with angle grinders and other tools begin working their way inside. After four hours they manage to break the safe, and according to witnesses the Italian prosecutor seized the documents inside and locked himself in Rawlinson’s office. What happened in there is not known. The safe contained not only documents on the corruption investigation, but classified Swedish intel, NATO and Europol documents.
But where was Rawlinson during all this? Well, earlier that year, more precisely in April, he had woken up to an itch on his left leg, only to find an open wound. He seeks medical attention and finds out he has contracted a rare type of murder bacteria and is hastily sent to Stockholm on an ambulance flight, with his condition deteriorating for every hour. He spends weeks at the hospital and is close to death on multiple occasions. He would remain in the hospital for months to come.
Mats Mattson leaves his job as vice chief of Eulex in 2015 and returns to Sweden. According to him, it is clear that all the trouble began when Meucci was appointed the head of Eulex, since he had apparently made it abundantly clear he would try to stop the corruption investigation. The Italian ministry of foreign affairs was not happy about the investigation either, and Mattson had even been told by Italy’s ambassador for Kosovo that the investigation was not even legal.
After Rawlinson was suspended, Bamiehs was also let go, and Heiki Wendorf had to leave his assignment as well. As for the rest of the Ghost team, most would be reassigned to other places or simply not have their contracts lengthened.
Mats Mattson is convinced that the reason for opening the safe was to access the information on the corruption case.
But what about the external investigation on Meucci that was to be shared with all members of the EU? Well, hastily a team of police from different member states was put together, which conducted several interviews. One of them was with Rawlinson himself while he was still in the hospital, and he had apparently only been told a few days in advance that the interview would take place, but he underscored the complete lack of legal support to enter his safe. Just over a month later, the report was done.
Swedens ministry of foreign affairs, and Rawlinson, was hoping that maybe now they could get some justice.
But with no premonition, the report was classified and no one was allowed to read it. After much protest from Sweden’s foreign ministry, they were promised a few of the conclusions to be told orally to a Swedish ambassador. They concluded that Meucci had indeed broken directives from his superior, that the allegations toward Rawlinson were completely false and that his safe should never have been broken into.
Despite all this, Meucci kept his job and just a few days later the chief of EU’s foreign affairs offices EEAS, Kenneth Deane, encouraged EU’s member states to show its full support to Euelex chief Gabriele Meucci.
Today Meucci works as Italy’s ambassador in Slovakia. The full report of him is still deemed by EEAS to be of a sensitive nature, and thus they will not give out any information.
Is this the end of the story? Did Rawlinson take the secrets of this with him into his grave?
Recently a British judge who was part of Meucci’s team investigating Rawlinson has chosen to spoke out, despite knowing that he could face charges for doing so. He claims he took part in the documents from Rawlinsons safe, and that there was indeed information on corruption and other unlawfulness by the Italians Judges. He also claims that he was never allowed to take part in the meetings about the investigation and that only Meucci and his Italian colleague would meet, which is a direct breach of conduct since such a meeting require all parties present in order to determine how to proceed. How this will play out, we will have to wait and see.
Eulex has recently been decreased in size to around 500 personnel, and it´s current mandate stretches to 2020. Many have however accused Eulex of becoming part of the problem its trying to solve, with corruption and other unlawfulness occurring within the ranks of the organization. If this were to be true the EU, and in this case Italy, would take a massive blow to their reputations and credibility, especially considering this project has cost over 1€ billion of EU taxpayers money. But then again if it were to come out that this was the case and that it was actively covered up… well, lets just say I think a lot of people have it in their strongest interest that such a story never comes out.
And for those claiming that Bamieh and the others are lying and telling false accusations, what exactly do they have to gain from it? Bamieh has spent her entire savings battling this in court and is pretty much isolated from all her previous colleagues, and has even said she deeply regrets pulling the curtains on this due to it having ruined her life. Rawlinson is dead and Matsson is no longer working for Eulex.