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CORRUPTION AND ORGANIZED CRIME
Bosnia and Herzegovina:
ORGANIZED CRIME AND CORRUPTION IN B&H
By: Milkica MILOJEVIC
For dirty or freshly laundered money, everything can be bought: forged passport, a big bank, police information, and even (temporary?) freedom for the murderer of prime minister-reformist.
Milorad Lukovic Legija, leader of the notorious Zemun clan, after Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjic's assassination, escaped from court and police prosecution to neighbouring B&H. It was determined by investigation that Legija, former "Serb hero of the fatherland war, had a forged passport of the Republic of Croatia issued in Croatian consulate in Mostar (B&H) and that across the territory of Republika Srpska (RS), he ran away to B&H Federation, where he temporarily found refuge with his "business partners" in Posusje, and from there, allegedly escaped somewhere to the West. Reliable sources close to the heads of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MUP) of RS, however, claim that Serbian mafia boss has never budged from B&H.
A few days later, "Bosna" Hotel in Banja Luka whose majority owner is Pantelija Damjanovic, high official of the Serb Radical Party of RS and a deputy in B&H Assembly, was surrounded by members of special units of MUP. They were looking for the two runaway Zemun Mafioso, but they were not found. The policemen went from "Bosna" Hotel empty-handed, and that same evening, Milorad Dodik, the leader of the opposition in RS, said the following at a public gathering: "They were at the right place but at a wrong time". Connoisseurs did not find it hard to understand what Dodik was driving at: in the past few years every serious operation of MUP against -criminals engaged in human trafficking, narcotics or stolen car dealers, was "busted". Before policemen set out on the raid, "strictly confident" information about the operation would arrive at the seat of the crime.
Example one: Slobodan Solaja, controversial businessman from Banja Luka, "imported" in October 2000 164 kilograms of pure cocaine from Panama into B&H. He was personally overseeing the unloading of "goods" when his mobile phone rang. He took the message and slowly started down the street on foot. A few minutes later, police arrived to the site of the crime, but Solaja was already "inaccessible".
Example two: Milorad Milakovic, owner of night clubs in Prijedor, suspected of women trafficking for the purpose of prostitution, convened a press conference and showed the journalists a fax containing the plan of raids in bars, which as the police later publicly admitted was - authentic.
The mentioned Solaja was a friend of Momcilo Mandic, war minister of justice of RS, one of the best-known tycoons of B&H and leading financier of the Serb Democratic Party who was recently arrested by Serbian police because of his connections with mafia. It is expected that Mandic will travel to The Hague directly from Belgrade to answer for war crimes at the International War Crimes Tribunal. This will be his one and only chance to visit a country of the EU: Mandic's name is the first on the list of 25 citizens of B&H who are not allowed to enter the countries of the EU, at the proposal of Paddy Ashdown, High Representative for B&H. This list, as stated by Ashdown's office (OHR), contains the names of all those who are "part of the network of organized crime and money laundry and who support the indicted for war crimes".
That this is not just a story about "Serb patriotic mafia" which finances Radovan Karadzic is illustrated by the case of Alija Delimustafic, war minister of internal affairs of B&H. Delimustafic who is convicted in Sarajevo for embezzlement worth millions, was arrested last year in Belgrade with forged papers of Republika Srpska! A story leaked from the police that the documents for Delimustafic were procured by Dragomir Jovicic, the then minister of internal affairs of RS! It is symptomatic that Jovicic who has worked his whole life for a state salary, built a luxurious house downtown Banja Luka, although he did not marry a rich girl, nor had an aunt who left him a large inheritance.
- After Mandic's arrest, Slobodna Bosna from Sarajevo published a never denied articles on war "business relations" of Delimustafic, Mandic and other highly positioned politicians-businessmen close to three ethnic parties. Demobilized Serb, Croat and Bosniac combatants in the past few years had to face the bitter truth: while they were killing others, those who had sent them to war, regularly, across the frontlines, plundered "the abandoned property" and traded in oil, arms, and even the corpses of their killed comrades!
The list of persons not welcome in the countries of the EU will, it seems, be broadened to include a few Sarajevan officials from Izetbegovic's Party of Democratic Action, and Milenko Vracar who was until recently the minister of finance of RS. Due to a scandal in the Republican Customs Administration, Vracar has resigned from the post, but "offhandedly", for a small amount of money, through privatization he has become the majority owner of the New Bank of Banja Luka which has the best-distributed network of branch offices in the country and abroad.
More than a year ago, the media published that Vracar had paid 500 thousand marks to Mladen Ivanic, the then prime minister of RS and the current foreign minister of B&H, in order to get the ministerial post! Ivanic did not seem happy about it, but he has never denied these allegations
Three years ago, Wolfgang Petricsh, High Representative of the international community at the time, discharged Edhem Bicakcic from the post of the prime minister of B&H Federation. The reason was: in just one year, he and his deputy Dragan Covic, had managed to squander 15 million marks of state money by exceeding the budget. Nowadays Covic is a highly esteemed member of B&H Presidency and the President of the Organizing Committee for the Pope's visit.
And so on and so forth… There are so many similar scandalous publicly known examples of corrupt authorities in both B&H entities and their unambiguous connections with organized crime, that to repeat them is becoming pathetic. The known saying that every state has its mafia, but only in the Balkan the mafia has its state(s) could be broadened: the mafia has its state, and the state has its protector in the person of the High Representative.
Paddy Ashdown, the administrator of B&H, decided to take action after the end of the state of emergency in Serbia. He visited Belgrade and Zagreb, and after return to B&H he announced the merger of intelligence services on the state level. "The intelligence service will be in the service of the law, and not as until now in the service of criminals", the British Liberal said bluntly. It is a question whether the integrated institutions would be sufficient to put an end to corruption and organized crime. OHR and the authorities have already established anti-corruption teams on several occasions, but they all turned out to be "a shot in the dark". The reform of the judiciary has not had visible effects either, except for the raise of the salaries of judges and prosecutors which now amount to between 2000 and 3000 KM. Not even the fact that their salaries are three times higher than the ministers' and five times higher than journalists' has not induced public prosecutors in B&H to at least once launch a serious investigation against officials in power based on writing of the media, although the law obliges them to do so. Journalists remain the only Don Quixotes who are fighting against criminalization of the society , and not a single serious (published) scandal in the government, the Customs, Electric Company or Telecom has ended up in court. It all came down to weak accusations for the "abuse of posts", but always against just those who are not in power any more.
In the judiciary, the most frequent pretext was that their legal empowerment was insufficient to enable them to collect and draw evidence in such delicate cases. But, judges and prosecutors will soon get an opportunity to show what they are capable of. The new Criminal Law of B&H prescribes, for example, the possibility of confiscation of illegally acquired property, and the recently passed Law on Criminal Proceedings gives much more power to public prosecutors, and investigative judges the possibility to record, search archives and computers, use the services of "covered-up investigators" (agent provocateurs) and protected witnesses. Soon these two laws should also be passed on the entity level, and then they will come into force. But will that change anything? "No, it won't", says lawyer Krstan Simic, official of the League of Independent Social Democrats. "The problem is not in the laws but in the fact that they are not implemented. There was nothing wrong with former laws, but there can be no serious struggle against corruption and organized crime if there is no political will for that."
James Lion who was the director of the International Crisis Group for B&H for years and nowadays is at the same post for Serbia and Montenegro also claims that political will is decisive. "Momcilo Mandic was arrested in Serbia for violation of law. He violated the law in B&H, too, but nobody dared put him on trial because the authorities in RS obviously protected him", says Lion.
On the other hand, Simic claims, very loud demands for "organized state" and "rule of institutions and law" are coming from men who have become very rich during the war and whose favourite sentence is "just don't ask me about the first million, everything else is legal".
"They are well-off and now they do not want to be attacked or racketeered by anybody", says Simic. They are more interested in the rule of law and order than pensioners and the unemployed who have nothing to lose. "Back in 1997, The Economist from London carried out an investigation on corruption in the states of former Yugoslavia. RS was observed together with FR Yugoslavia at the time and it was established that the level of corruption was 7.8 out of nine index points. In B&H Federation that mark was five. Simply, it is a malignant state. British economists were amazed how B&H operates and survives. I was a deputy at the time and I demanded convening of an emergency session of RS assembly devoted to the struggle against organized crime. Six years have gone by and such a session has never taken place. Nowadays, the situation is not any better, on the contrary, it is even worse: dubious privatization has taken place, tycoonization, we have become a transit area for narcotics trade, human trafficking and organized prostitution.
Since recently, new laws on financing political parties and on donations have also been passed. The sense of both laws is the following: public enterprises cannot be donors of political parties, not even if they have a surplus of money, and parties are financed by limited donations of private entrepreneurs and individuals and by membership fees. After last year's elections in B&H, leading political parties published obvious lies in the media: that their campaigns were incredibly cheap and financed by party officials and friends who ask for nothing in return.
Let us be completely honest: nobody collects membership fees in parties, and donations are small. Parties are mostly financed by private enterprises which believe that they will be able to charge it when their debtors come to power. Or the other way round, while you are still in power, ensure deals for the firm, and it will bring you a commission", says Simic. "But the essence is that the commission is calculated into the price which is ultimately paid by the citizens: as consumers or taxpayers".
Simic believes, however, that foreigners have brought about certain positive changes: there are public competitions and calls for tenders, financing of budgetary beneficiaries goes via the treasury and things are slowly institutionalized. By revealing to the public the "operation" of the Electric Company of RS and announcing that he would look deeply into the operation of the Electric Company of B&H Federation and Telecom of both entities, High Representative Paddy Ashdown has shown that its is perfectly clear to him where the rub is. And that he takes the struggle against organized crime and corruption very seriously. The citizens of B&H believe him more than they believe the politicians they have voted for. An investigation recently carried out by Liberti TV magazine showed that 80 per cent of the citizens of all ethnic groups trust Ashdown more than they trust local politicians, and 60 per cent of them are convinced that should foreigners withdraw from B&H, war would break out again.
But there is the other side of this story, too. Recently, Ashdown said that B&H would not get another penny of foreign aid because "the project of B&H" has so far cost the international community 50 billion dollars. And where has all that money gone to? In his column in Nezavisne novine Mladen Grahovac, the official of the opposition Zlatko Lagumdzija's Social Democratic Party also wonders about this. By a simple calculus, Grahovac claims, one arrives at the conclusion that a large portion of that money has passed neither through the budget of the entities, nor through that of B&H, but "through an incredibly large number of non-governmental, donors' and other organizations which have sprung up after Dayton like mushrooms after the rain. He concludes that even such a humanitarian issue like the return of refugees can be a "perfidious way of corruption, crime and money laundry". Indeed, it was determined that even certain "humanitarian organizations" from Islamic countries with missions in Sarajevo were involved in smuggling in the past two years, and even, as Americans claim, in training of terrorists. Or maybe racketeering. And this story brings us back to the beginning.
To dirty or laundered money that can buy everything: a forged passport, a large bank, police information and even (temporary?) freedom for a murderer of a reformist prime minister.