A Kosovar court on Wednesday sentenced a former infrastructure minister to more than 3 1/2 years in prison for abusing his position by overspending public funds on a road project. Three of his top aides were also ordered to serve time.
The Priština district court sentenced former minister Pal Lekaj, 61, to three years and eight months after convicting him of abuse of power. He spent 53 million Euros ($57 million) to build the Arben Xhaferi highway in 2017 — an amount the court decided was too high. Lekaj was also prohibited from holding any public post for 3 1/2 years.
The three aides were sentenced to terms ranging from one year and eight months to three years and three months.
Lekaj said he would appeal. His lawyer Musa Damati called the verdict “scandalous,” saying the contract extension at the heart of the allegations against his client was not an individual but a collective decision.
Lekaj was infrastructure minister from 2017-2020 and has been an opposition lawmaker from the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo party since then.
Kosovo’s government has made fighting corruption a priority but it still remains a shortcoming in the country, 25 years after the 1998-1999 war when NATO member countries pushed back Serbian forces in a 78-day bombing campaign. Serbia still does not recognize Kosovo’s 2008 independence.
Kosovo was ranked 83 in the Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index for 2023, the same as the previous year.