Tuesday, June 02, 2009
Corruption, politics: Huge loopholes for Balkans criminals
Jun 2, 2009, 12:48 GMT
Belgrade/Zagreb - When Belgrade police arrested the prime suspect in the assassination of a prominent journalist in Zagreb, it turned out that he had Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian citizenship, each offering him shelter from extradition.
Serbia could therefore not hand him over to Croatia for prosecution, the state secretary in the Justice Ministry, Slobodan Homen, confirmed. Homen, however, promised that although suspect would not be whisked off to Croatia, he 'will be processed in Serbia.'
Similarly, Bosnia cannot return Branimir Glavas, a Croatian legislator sentenced in Zagreb to 10 years for war crimes, to his homeland because he obtained a Bosnian passport six months before the verdict came in May and fled across the border as it was read out.
Some 30 Croats sentenced for a crime are protected in Bosnia by their papers, including the organized crime boss Blaz Petrovic, corrupt surgeon Ognjen Simic and robber Zeljko Vrbat.
Bosnia is a 'Mexico for Croat fugitives,' a recent headline said. But, it works the other way round too, with Croatia sheltering its own. Former Bosnian banker Ante Jelavic arrived in Croatia in 2005 having fled his home country following a convicted for a massive embezzlement.
Serbia and Montenegro complete the quarter of former Yugoslav republics that share the same language and are criss-crossed by family, ethnic, political and business links.
Many prominent fugitives from Serbian justice, such as the former football administrator Zvezdan Terzic and disgraced tycoon Bogoljub Karic have found refuge in Montenegro.
'Montenegro grants amnesty to criminals with its passport,' the Belgrade daily Politika said recently.
But all countries in the region are lax in controlling citizenship applications, with bribes known to ease the process even further. As a result, criminals easily obtain documents to run circles around justice systems.
European diplomats point to this as one of the reasons for the strict entry visa regime for Serbs, Bosnians, Montenegrins and Macedonians.
Today, borders in former Yugoslavia only hamper police, 'while never, even in the blackest days of war, posing an obstacle to criminals,' a former Croatian criminal division police chief, Hajrudin Omerovic, said.
'Organized crime is the same everywhere, from South Africa to Serbia - it is easily regulated when there's political will, Omerovic told the German Press Agency dpa.
He said the political reasons for extradition limitations, which are stemming from the wars in former Yugoslavia and as protection of participants in the conflict, is endorsed by corrupt parts in state administrations.
'Countries that emerged from former Yugoslavia should change the constitutional articles banning extradition of nationals ... so they would not apply in organized crime cases - that would not affect delicate issues of ethnic conflicts,' Omerovic said.
But any will to move forward remains sidelined by the 'big alliance' of organized crime and corrupt segments of administration, which provides shelter to criminals within the context of national interests, he said.
'All those criminals did not accidentally get citizenships,' Omerovic stressed. 'Somebody gave it to them to protect them.'
Croatian and Serbian police cooperated fully in the investigation into the murder of journalist Ivo Pukanoic, whose alleged executor was arrested in Belgrade over the weekend.
'But now that they have arrested the perpetrator, there is a wall and a problem that can only be resolved by politicians, if they want it resolved at all,' Omerovic said.
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