Rooting out corruption and organised crime
By Fabrice Randoux in Sarajevo | Friday 15 January 2010
Bosnia and Herzegovina holds an unenviable 99th place out of 180 - not in the FIFA ranking (it just missed qualifying for the World Cup) but in the 2009 corruption barometer published by the NGO Transparency International. Bosnia ranks last in the region, on a level with Madagascar or Zambia (but ahead of Russia and Ukraine). The fight against corruption and organised crime in Bosnia is consequently one of the EU’s leading concerns, particularly because the Union has been criticised for having been too flexible on these issues with Romania and Bulgaria before their accession.
The situation is even more difficult for a country emerging from a war that also divided up its territory. Not only is the country split into two entities (Republika Srpska or RS, and the Bosniak-Croat Federation) each with its own government and police, but also one of the two, the federation, is itself divided into ten cantons, each with a government and police force. The same concern applies to the judiciary, where the state prosecutor has no authority over lower levels (except for war crimes). There is no supreme court to rule on conflicts of competence.
15 POLICE FORCES, 13 MINISTERS
For Oleg Cavka, prosecutor for the Canton of Sarajevo, “this segmentation is the key problem. The canton police are independent, which leads to rivalries, the absence of information-sharing and inefficiency. Collaboration depends on the good will of individuals and that is not right”.
Unification of the different police forces was nevertheless one of the aims of the European police mission (EUPM), launched in 2003, but the police reform failed in 2008 due to opposition by the Serbs, who want to keep political control over their police. Parliament adopted minimal laws creating new coordination structures. “There are still 15 police forces and I have to deal with 13 [home affairs] ministers”, admits the German head of the police mission, Stefan Feller. “That this is neither cost-effective nor the most efficient way to organise policing is understood by my national professional counterparts as well. However, this structure reflects the political reality in Bosnia.”
The EU mission, which has no executive powers, resigned itself simply to making the current system work by trying to harmonise penal legislation from one canton to the next, disseminating best practices and supporting the federal institutions, such as the border police or the State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA), something of an FBI set up in 2003 to investigate organised crime and war crimes. The effort has met with a fair amount of success in the past two years. For the first time, a top-level gang leader, Muhamed Ali Gasi, was arrested in Sarajevo in spite of his connections in the political and judicial spheres and even in the media. He was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment and his assets were seized. The operation was led by Oleg Cavka (a “hero,” according to EU High Representative Valentin Inzko) with the support of the EUPM. Another group dismantled in the RS is suspected of a number of murders since 1997, including those of two police officers. Also dismantled were networks specialised in illegal immigration from Albania to the EU and counterfeiting of the euro, based in Serbia.
COUNTRY OF TRANSIT FOR DRUGS
It is not easy to have an accurate idea of the extent of organised crime in Bosnia. Owing to the division of police forces, there are not really any reliable databases. Bosnia is a black hole that does not appear in Europol reports on organised crime. Colonel Domenico Paterna (Italian), deputy head of the police mission, nevertheless thinks that “Bosnian criminal groups do not have big transnational criminal activities as other groups in the Balkan area, otherwise there would be arrests in the EU. In Italy, I was more concerned with Albanian groups” .
Bosnia is primarily a country of transit from Central Asia to the EU, with favourable conditions given its long borders (1,500 km) with Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia. According to Deputy Security Minister Mijo Kresic, “the most important organised groups are involved in human trafficking, drugs, stolen cars and cigarettes. They are generally part of international groups” often rooted in Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro or Serbia.
These traffickers make the most of the fragmentation of police forces, which also makes corruption easier. The border police seized only 1.8 kg of heroin in 2008. “That is not enough,” admits Paterna. The war also created ties between politicians, combatants and traffickers. Bosnia could well adopt the view of Serbian President Boris Tadic. When presenting his country’s candidacy for EU membership at the end of December 2009, he declared that “Serbia’s future depends on breaking the ties between crime, the economy and the judicial and political spheres”.
Corruption is found at two levels in Bosnia. On the one hand, there is small-scale, ‘everyday’ corruption, not necessarily perceived as such. Many citizens seem to have already been faced with such corruption in dealings with a doctor, police officer or professor. “My brother had to have an operation on his leg. My family had to pay 1,000 convertible marks (€500) to the hospital so that he could have the operation more quickly and have a room,” explains Bojana Pejovic, a 17-year-old pupil in Pale, RS. “We have a problem of apathy of the citizens towards corruption,” notes Uros Pena, head of the RS police force. The EU police mission launched a campaign in early December (“corruption takes everything from you”) to encourage people to use an anonymous hotline set up by the federal police to denounce cases of corruption. The measure has been fairly successful because the number of calls has more than doubled since then.
For Pena and Cavka, however, “the real problem is high-level corruption”. According to Cavka, “there are hundreds of millions of euro tied to corruption at the highest political level and the privatisation policy. This system is almost untouched. Prosecutors in the cantons are not able to cope with such big issues, to bring accusations against ministers. The majority of them don’t dare touch the problem,” he notes. This corruption is linked to control by political parties of entire territories in terms of land, buildings and public companies.
Cases are starting to come out into the open at the instigation of certain prosecutors and the federal police. A former Prime Minister of the Bosniak-Croat Federation, Nedzad Brankovic, was accused of having “privatised” to his advantage a stylish flat in Sarajevo for €472. Few leaders are untouched by suspicions of personal enrichment from the massive sell-off of public enterprises.
The Centre for Investigative Reporting in Sarajevo has revealed that RS Prime Minister Milorad Dodik personally decided on the allocation of credits in amounts of more than €250,000 from the Republika Sprska’s main development bank, founded in 2006 with funds from the privatisation of telecoms networks. Among the beneficiaries were companies run by his friends. The firm run by Dodik’s son was granted €1.5 million to plant 170,000 apple trees. Dodik is also being investigated by the police and federal prosecutors for suspicions of corruption in connection with the construction of motorways and government buildings.
TEST OF STRENGTH
Ever since this latest investigation was made public by the press, in February 2009, Dodik has been at war with the central state’s judiciary, lodging a complaint against the chief prosecutor, seeking the dissolution of the prosecutor’s office and the state court, and engaging in a test of strength to obtain the departure of the international judges, who are providing assistance to the country’s justice system on war crimes and organised crime, and whose mandate expired at the end of December.
The parliament of Bosnia and Herzegovina rejected the extension of the judges’ mandate, which was nevertheless sought by the country’s highest judges owing to the lack of sufficient staff. In the department dealing with organised crime, 503 cases were handled in December by six local and three international judges. “Let’s hope they stay as long as possible, otherwise we’ll have a real problem because some investigations depend on their presence. If they leave, it will take six months of work just to be introduced with the case,” explained Prosecutor Sena Uzunovic. Dodik’s case is being handled by an international judge.
The same problem exists for war crimes, for which only cases at the highest level are being heard in The Hague. Fourteen years after the end of the war, “there are still thousands of cases and the number is even rising because people are finding out more and more evidence,” commented Deputy Chief Prosecutor Jadranka Lokmic. “The matter is all the more absurd because these foreign judges are paid by their country,” she added.
In the face of this situation, High Representative Inzko used his powers, on 14 December, to prolong the mandate of the judges working on war crimes until the end of 2012. The mandate of the foreign judges working on corruption and organised crime was not extended but they will nevertheless remain in the country to ‘advise’ local judges, playing a role similar to the one of the police mission. The RS parliament violently rejected this decision, but it will be enforced all the same. “Politicians have not put in place a programme to recruit local judges. In fact, they are against all judges,” noted Inzko ironically.
Smaller mission for revised mandate
On 1 January, the EU police mission began its last two years of presence in Bosnia with a smaller team and a new mandate focused more on combating organised crime and corruption than on police reform. “It will be more of a rule-of-law mission with experienced police officers, prosecutors and prison experts, with the aim of making the whole chain, from the police to prison, work better. We will concentrate on some important organised crime cases, the strengthening of the state level law enforcement agencies and developing best practice,” explained mission spokesman Kilian Wahl. The mission will lose one quarter of its staff and keep around 280 people (130 international and 150 local). In addition to its headquarters in Sarajevo, the mission also has regional offices in Banja Luka, Mostar and Tuzla.