NYT: Albright main bidder for Kosovo's PTK

NEW YORK -- Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci is in a bind as Kosovo’s largest and most lucrative enterprise, the telecommunications company, is up for sale.

The New York Times writes that one bid is from a fund founded by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, while "lobbying for another was James W. Pardew, the Clinton-era special envoy to the Balkans".

"Both former diplomats are among the Americans who hold the status of heroes here for their roles in the 1999 intervention that separated Kosovo from Serbia," notes the daily.

In a meeting with Pardew in October, the Kosovo prime minister explained his “difficult position” in having to choose between the buyers, according to a memo leaked to the Priština-based Albanian language newspaper Zeri, “because whichever of the two bidders behind them wins, he will be seen by two million people to have betrayed the other one.”

So many former U.S. officials have returned to Kosovo for business — in coal and telecommunications, or for lobbying and other lucrative government contracts — that it is hard to keep them from colliding, the NYT writes.

They also include Wesley K. Clark, a retired U.S. army general and the former supreme allied commander of NATO forces in Europe who ran the bombing campaign against the Serbian President Slobodan Milošević and Mark Tavlarides, who was legislative director at the Clinton White House’s National Security Council.

According to the paper, the State Department has no policy that forbids former diplomats to lobby on behalf of nations where they served or returning to them for profit, beyond the one applying to federal employees as a whole, which prohibits senior officials from contacting agencies where they once worked for one year and bans all federal employees for life from advising on the same matters.

Foreign policy experts say the practice of former officials’ returning for business is more common than acknowledged publicly, the article noted, and adds: "Privately, former officials concede the possibility of conflicts of interest and even the potential to influence American foreign policy as diplomats who traditionally made careers in public service now rotate more frequently to lucrative jobs in the private sector."

Asked for comment, former officials involved said their business dealings with the Kosovo government "would benefit Kosovo citizens by building a more prosperous economy".

Lawrence Lessig, a law professor and director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard, said the appearance of “cashing in” risked undermining the prestige of the U.S. by clouding "the humanitarian nature of the 1999 intervention".

Albright Capital Management, founded by Albright, has been shortlisted in the bidding for a 75 percent share in the Kosovo telecommunications company, PTK. The company’s sale is expected to bring in between USD 400mn and USD 800mn.