BIRN’s Impact – 2017

The social and political impact of BIRN’s reporting throughout the year.

Albania – Electoral fraud

For the election that was held in April 2017, BIRN staff produced news, analysis and investigations on electoral crime. The coverage ranged from incidents of abuse of office and vote-buying abuses that the authorities uncovered to last-minute changes introduced by political parties to the criminal code following a pre-electoral agreement between Prime Minister Edi Rama and opposition leader Lulzim Basha which BIRN analysed.

The investigation, which was found to have a tangible effect on institutions, was produced by the reporter Elvis Nabolli from Shkodra, who documented how various officials of the Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI) were offering local residents jobs in an EU-funded prison facility in exchange for their votes. Following the publication of the investigation, the Ministry of Justice launched an administrative inquiry that confirmed BIRN’s findings and filed charges against several LSI officials, including two MP candidates in the region of Shkodra.

More about this case:

Albania Prosecutors Probe Opposition’s US Lobbying Payments

Serbia-Greece – Government debt

BIRN discovered that government of Serbia did not fulfill its obligations towards Mytilineos, a Greek investor, after an arbitration court in Switzerland issued a warning in October 2017 that Serbia has to pay more than 200,000 US dollars in interest. A day after the story was published, the government of Serbia initiated a meeting with Mytilineos representatives and agreed on how to pay off the debt to the company.

More about this case:

Slučaj Mitilineos: Na kamate preko 200 hiljada dolara [in Serbian]

Montenegro – Selective abortions

A women’s organisation in Montenegro began a campaign in November 2017 against illegal prenatal gender tests and sex-selective abortions after BIRN’s investigation into the reasons behind the country’s stark gender imbalance.


Following BIRN’s investigation into the subject, Women’s Right Center and NGOs in Montenegro launched the first phase of a campaign highlighting the problem of gender-selective abortion and urged the authorities to tackle the phenomenon. #Nezeljena [#Unwanted] was launched at an event in Podgorica, and several other towns were flooded with pink obituaries with a female character drawn on them and the printed message: “Dear #Unwanted, your parents wanted a boy and that’s why you didn’t get a chance to be born. Forgive them. Your grieving Montenegro.”

More about this case:

Montenegro’s Open Secret: Illegal Gender-Tests for Unborns

BIRN Probe Prompts Montenegrin Campaign Against Sex-Selective Abortions

Ukraine – Foreign fighters

After BIRN interviewed the Ukrainian ambassador to Serbia in November, tensions between Kiev and Belgrade rose. Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin called on Serbia to respect his country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. After summoning the ambassador Klimkin back to Kiev for consultations, Ukraine’s government also urged Serbia to show respect for its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to deal with the issue of Serbs fighting for pro-Russian forces in the Donbas area of eastern Ukraine.

In an interview with BIRN, Ukrainian ambassador Oleksandr Aleksandrovych explained that Serbia was not doing nearly enough to stop its citizens from travelling to Ukraine to fight for pro-Russian forces in the east. The ambassador said that Russia’s propaganda and its secret services had played a huge role in attracting Serbian and other foreign mercenaries to Ukraine. He also accused Russia of playing a damaging role in the Balkans in general.

More about this case:

Russia ‘Using Serbia to Destroy Europe’, Ukraine Ambassador

Ukraine Tells Serbia to Respect its Sovereignty

Kosovo – Hospital mistreatment

In March, the team behind BIRN Kosovo’s TV programme ‘Life in Kosovo’ initiated an investigation after receiving a report about a patient who was left paralysed after being inadequately treated by public and private hospitals in Kosovo.  Afterwards, judicial institutions immediately addressed the case, and the Health Inspectorate suspended the license of a private hospital that was involved.

More about this case:

Paralizimi i Mistershëm [in Albanian]

Kosovo – Unethical obituary


Florim Neziraj, the head of the Islamic Union of Kosovo (BIK) in Kacanik announced the death of a Kosovo-born ISIS leader, Lavdrim Muhaxheri, from the city’s mosque – as he usually does for every death in town. Given that Muhaxheri was an extremist, and his death was announced without the approval of Central Kosovo’s BIK, the pronouncement could have been seen as unethical. BIRN Kosovo’s reported on the case, and after its publication, Neziraj was dismissed from his duty as head of BIK Kacanik.

More about this case:

Kryetari i BIK-ut në Kaçanik Tregon pse Shkoi në Ngushëllime te Familja e Lavdrim Muhaxherit [in Albanian]

Njoftimi për Lavdrim Muhaxherin, Shkarkohet Kryetari i BIK në Kaçanik [in Albanian]

Kosovo – Mayor charged

The mayor of the municipality of Istog, Haki Rugova, was charged with a conflict of interest after a report by BIRN Kosovo’s ‘Justice in Kosovo’ TV programme. The Anti-Corruption Agency filed criminal charges against the mayor based on findings from the ‘Justice in Kosovo’ investigation, which was initiated by a report sent to BIRN’s anti-corruption reporting platform  The TV report in June 2017 showed how that the municipality had given multiple tenders to a business owned by Rugova’s brothers.

More about this case:

Haki Rugova Heq Dorë nga Kompania ‘Macon’ [in Albanian]

Prosecution indicts Istog mayor after ‘Justice in Kosovo’ report

Germany – Weapons to Syria

A BIRN investigation sparked an official probe into whether the Pentagon broke the law by sending weapons to Syrian rebels through its German airbases. In September 2017, a public prosecutor in the German city of Kaiserslautern carried out a preliminary investigation into the findings of an investigation published by BIRN, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and the Süddeutsche Zeitung. Checks were used to show if the US military failed to properly declare the movement of weapons from Central and Eastern Europe through Ramstein, 20 kilometres from Kaiserslautern. This came after BIRN published information linking Ramstein to the Pentagon’s huge operation to buy up vast quantities of Soviet-style weapons in Central and Eastern Europe for Syrian rebels fighting ISIS in Syria.

However prosecutors in Kaiserslautern said that while they did not rule out that weapons bound for Syria had passed through the US airbase, “no indications of concrete arms transports” via Ramstein were discovered, precluding the launch of a criminal investigation.

More about this case:

German Concerns Spark Pentagon Reroute of Syria-Bound Arms

Germany Probes BIRN’s US Weapons Transfer Revelations

Germany Closes Probe Into Balkan Arms Transfers to Syria

Bosnia and Herzegovina – Srebrenica suspect

Following a report in an episode of BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina’s ‘TV Justice’ programme in November 2014, the prosecutor’s office filed an indictment against Sasa Cvetkovic, whose trial at the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina began in July 2017. In the November 2014 episode of ‘TV Justice’, a war victim said she was taken from Srebrenica to Bratunac as a 15-year-old and was raped several times. Her emotional testimony caused the prosecution to seek her out and initiate an investigation, which resulted in the charges against Cvetkovic.

More about this case:

Bosnia Indicts Serb Soldier for Murder, Rape

Cvetković: Počelo suđenje za zločine u Srebrenici i Bratuncu [in Bosnian]

Kosovo – Judge indicted


A report for BIRN Kosovo’s ‘Justice in Kosovo’ TV show resulted in the indictment of Safete Tolaj, a judge in Decan/Decani on charges of abuse of office, tampering with evidence, and forging official documents. Judge Tolaj was indicted ten months after BIRN released video footage of her son, Fisnik Tolaj, accepting a bribe in exchange for influencing judicial proceedings. Tolaj was acquitted of abusing her office, but her son Fisnik Tolaj was found guilty of fraud, forgery, illegally exerting influence and the unlawful possession and use of weapons, and jailed for four-and-a-half years.

More about this case:

Justice in Kosovo TV promo results in bribery-related arrest in Decan

Judge indicted following BIRN report

Former Decan judge accused of abuse of office is released, her son is found guilty

Bosnia and Herzegovina – Tender violations


BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina published a story about irregularities in public tenders in the Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidency in April 2017. During the research phase, BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina sent a freedom of information request about who was buying a car with baby equipment, who would use it and why did they have an exact specification for one specific model of car, which is against the law. BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina never received an answer, but the tender documentation was changed right after the freedom of information request was sent in.

Several other public institutions changed their tender documentation after BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina sent requests for information after it detected irregularities in their public tenders or asked for comments about high prices paid for vehicles. Some institutions amended their tender specifications after BIRN’s reports about violations of public procurement practices.

In 2018, BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina published a database of the official vehicles of Bosnian institutions and public companies. Of the 292 issued tenders in the database, BIRN marked 26 tenders in which the requested specifics of the vehicles were so detailed that they could limit competition or suggest a preferred manufacturer, which is against the country’s public procurement law.

More about these cases:

Predsjedništvo BiH tražilo “Škodu Superb” za prevoz djece [in Bosnian]

Ismir Jusko kupio najskuplji model “Superba” s dizajnerskim potpisom [in Bosnian]

Ministarstvo komunikacija i prometa reagovalo na tekst BIRN-a BiH [in Bosnian]

Načelnik Banovića kupuje “Passat” od 80.000 maraka [in Bosnian]

Bosnian Officials Spend 4.5 Million Euros on Vehicles

 Albania – Offshore payments


In November, BIRN Albania published an investigation which shed light on how Albania’s Democratic Party used an offshore shell company in order to make secret payments to a US lobbyist.

The Democratic Party failed to report to Albania’s Electoral Commission on the payments of more than 500,000 US dollars made to a US lobbyist in Washington DC, where one of the transfers was paid. Based on this investigation, BIRN Albania published two follow-up stories. The first story reported on the official declarations of the head of the Democratic Party, who in contrast to previous declarations to BIRN admitted to paying the US lobbyist. The second story directly affected the party; the prosecutor’s office announced an official criminal investigation into the Democratic Party for falsification and false declaration of assets related to the sum of 675,000 US dollars paid to lobbying companies in US, which were left out of the financial report delivered to the Electoral Commission.

More about this case: Kontrata e fshehtë e PD me lobistin amerikan, transferta milionëshe përmes kompanisë ‘offshore’ (In Albanian)