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CORRUPTION AND ORGANIZED CRIME

Croatia:

CRIME AND CORRUPTION CONTINUE

By: Zoran Daskalovic

Corruption in Croatia has so far mostly been hushed up. Mafia brotherhoods forged in the war continue in peace, because they are obviously better organized and better interconnected than those who should prevent them in their criminal deals.

On the eve of this year's celebration of the International Labour Day, an entrepreneur, a sports manager and vice-president of Dinamo football team, Zdravko Mamic, came out of the office of Zagreb Mayor with his head smashed and covered with blood. In the presence of the Mayor, Ms. Vlasta Pavic, he was knocked on the head by the head of Zagreb Institute for City Planning and Protection of the Environment, Miljenko Mesic. The police later intervened and raised charges against the two participants in the fight in the office of the Mayor for disturbing public order and peace, having meticulously recorded that apart from Mamic's head, Mesic's hand was also injured. The fight started after Mesic had read Mamic the negative opinion of his Institute on issuing a permit for the construction of two business towers the latter intended to build with his partners downtown Zagreb. As the Institute has recently proposed a new General City Plan according to which constructions of buildings with more than eight floors is not permitted in that part of Zagreb, while Mamic & Co. have intended to build towers of 15 and 21 floors, one could say that the negative opinion of the City Planning Institute was quite expected. But, when Mesic said so to Mamic, the latter, cursing and insulting him, attacked him and started hitting him with crutches with the aid of which he had come to the Mayor's office, because he had recently had a surgery of his knee. Mesic's hand bone cracked from the blow, but this did not prevent him from snatching a crutch from Mamic's hand and him across the forehead.

Because of the fight in the office of the Mayor, the session of City government started with a delay, and the news about it flooded the media at lightning speed. The scandalous fight in Mayor's office, however, did not prevent the members of the City Government to decide to issue the location permit for the construction of Mamic's twin buildings. Moreover, Zagreb organization of the Croat Populist Party demanded discharging of Mesic from the post, because being the party that had put up his candidacy for the post, it could not forgive him for the fight with Mamic. However, nobody among the leaders City administration is cudgelling their brains over the fact that Mamic's project does not fit in the new City Plan; obviously, certain city officials had promised to issue him the location permit before the new regulations come into force. Since it became more than obvious that violent Mamic had the support for the construction of buildings that will in a matter of days be contrary to city planning requirements, the trace of corruption raises sky-high, but the city authorities are silent about it and the whole scandal was reduced to sacrificing of the head of the City Institute who has violently responded to the use of violence, so it is inappropriate that he stays at his post. Rude behavior cannot be tolarated by Zagreb city authorities, but corruption and possible crime are shamelessly swept under the carpet.

Corruption in Croatia was so far generally hushed up, at the time of Tudjman's regime, but also during the three years of rule of the coalition government which is increasingly publicly reproached for not having fulifilled the pre-election promises that it would eradicate corruption and crime it had inherited from its predecessors. International investigations of corruption in Croatia testify about it with their results that unfailingly show that it is a big problem of Croatia.. According to CPI Transparency International's index, Croatia ranked 51 out of 91 countries in 2002 , while in 2001 it ranked 47, in 2000 it ranked 51, and in 1999 it ranked 74 according to the spread of corruption. The rise from rank 74 to 51 followed the replacement of Tudjman's regime and the moves coalition authorities started making in 2000 at the beginning of their term in office announcing a radical struggle against corruption and crime. As in the meantime numerous privatization and corruption scandals have not been completed by valid court decisions, and the announced establishment of new legal inftastructure which would enable a more efficient suppressing of corruption and crime has slowed down and practically grinded to a halt, Croatia has come to a standstill and even regressed on the Transparency International's scale.

The Law on the Conflict of Interests has not been passed that would enable suppression of corruption in political and state structures marked as the centres of corruption not even three years after the change of the regime, although drafted a long time ago and even put into parliamentary procedure. It turned out that the current power-holders have also done their best to avoid its implementation during their term in office and postpone it for an indefinite future. Similar is the destiny of the Law on Political Parties; it was drafted by a team of experts gathered in the Croatian Legal Centre primarily with the intention to stimulate internal democratization of political parties and precisely define their financing. But the provisions on financing political parties were the ones met with daggers drawn by almost all parliamentary parties whose deputies after the debate in the respective parliamentary board lay the draft law aside, refusing to put it on the agenda for almost a year. And without these and similar laws, and without the reform of the judiciary which is also taking an awfully long time, even the discovered cases of corruption can meet only with moral condemnation of the public about which their protagonists could not care less.

That is why with absolutely no consequences for the participants of corruption scandals they are like on a conveyor belt popping up one after the other in the media. When Zagreb district state attorney was suspended from his post some time ago due to founded suspicion that he accepted bribe in order to mitigate the charges against certain criminal groups, he silently packed his things from the biggest prosecutor's office in Croatia and went back to his prosecutor's post in a small town he had come from, probably hoping that he would be forgotten there and released from prosecution that should follow. Deputy head of the Customs Administration in charge of curbing corruption among customs officials also quietly withdrew after he had been suspended along with Zagreb district state attorney, because they jointly attempted to protect a group of coffee smugglers caught red-handed and awaiting criminal proceedings. The Minister of maritime affairs, transportation and communications Radimir Cacic acted according to the same principle. The media recently revealed that the enterprises owned by him, or rather his wife, have made more than three million euros in deals with the Ministry he is at the head of, or ten times more than in deals with the same Ministry before he had become the Minister. His defence comes down to the allegations that he had "frozen" his part of ownership when he was appointed minister and that the enterprises his wife is managing have won the jobs with his Ministry at a public competition, so he does not see what is the problem.

When anti-corruption provisions are not incorporated into laws and when numerous officials in the ruling administration renounce their involvement in dubious business deals suspected of being based on corruption, nobody in Croatia is surprised that despite promises, many privatization plunders from the time of the rule of the Croat Democratic Community (HDZ) have not ended up in court, not even after the police and investigative judges had completed their part of the job. Similar is the case with organized crime, although for the purpose of an efficient struggle against it adequate laws were passed and a special office was founded (USKOK) which is expected to coordinate the work of the police, investigative and judicial authorities. But, despite the fact that in the past three years the police has submitted 105 appeals for organized crime, apart from a few groups of perpetrators caught red-handed, not a single powerful mafia organization has been convicted in Croatian courts, not even the ones that did not shrink from liquidation of persons that stood in their way. Smuggling narcotics, cars, cigarettes, human trafficking continue… Perhaps slightly less than during the war and the post-war period, but persistently and still more than Croatia can endure in the long run. Occasional arrests and raised charges against certain organized groups of criminals are more evidence that organized crime still has deep roots in Croatia than they testify on efficient dealing with it, because with the exception of a few cases of arrested individuals from police and military hierarchy, most of them are groups of perpetrators who are probably just a link in criminal chains the creators and organizers of which are still concealed in state and Para state structures.

In the beginning of the war in Croatia, hardened criminals were engaged by certain army and police units in order to do the dirtiest jobs of ethnic cleansing under the pretext of defence of the homeland, and in return they were allowed to carry out their criminal jobs undisturbed. Mercep's units, "Wolves" from Sisak, Tuta's convicts' battalion, military police in Gospic, Sibenik, Split, were swarming with criminals, murderers and war criminals who charged for their crimes by plunder, profits made from smuggling of arms, narcotics, stolen cars and everything else that brought instant and easy profit. Promoted into war heroes many of them continued their criminal deals after the war to this day. When they were caught in the act, they were punished symbolically and only a few of them ended up in prison for longish sentences because they were so deeply involved in crime that even their protectors from the state and judicial authorities could not protect them and take them out of prison any more.

But, despite these individual cases of punishing members of the war and criminal brotherhoods, it still stubbornly persists in Croatia, firmly connected with similar brotherhoods in neighbouring states. The revelation of Serbian police in the investigation on the murder of prime minister Djindjic that the main suspect Miodrag Lukovic Legija among the documents with which he had travelled around the world possessed a Croatian passport, resulted in the investigation on this side of the Drina in which it was established that Legija's passport is just one of 930 passports that had disappeared from Croatian consulate in Mostar and which were most probably distributed among numerous Balkan partners of Croatian mafia members and their political protectors.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Croatia has confirmed that, before becoming a witness-repenter in the investigation against Legija and Zemun clan, Ljubisa Buha Cume hid in Zagreb from his former comrades, certainly not as a tourist, but again with local mafia partners. Some of the latest arrests of participants in human trafficking, arms and narcotics smugglers in Croatia are most probably the result of investigations and arrests in Serbia which partly revealed the Croatian part of smuggling routes mostly established during the war. Mafia brotherhoods established during the war are maintained in peace because they are obviously better organized and better interconnected than those who should prevent them to carry out their criminal acts.