Search for the Looted Treasure

Marinko Culic

SUN, 18 JUN 2000

Zagreb, June 12, 2000 - In the last ten years about eight billion dollars have been stolen in Croatia and illegally transferred to foreign banks. This shocking information was revealed in the latest issue of the Zagreb weekly "Globus", which specified that in this way the Croatian underground of unbridled capitalists, bankers, etc. has made a profit of another seven billion dollars, which means that the state has been robbed of fifteen billion dollars.

This is not the first time that the great robbery of Croatia is being mentioned, but until now those were mostly estimates derived from indirect data provided by renown Croatian economists. Already three years ago, Dr. Branimir Lokin had analysed a number of economic indicators overvalued Croatian currency, great profits of Croatian firms from imports, increased foreign exchange deposits, etc. - and on the basis of those he estimated that some seven billion dollars had been illegally transferred abroad. Dr.Drazen Kalodjera made similar analysis and recently stated that his estimates amounted to as much as ten billion dollars, which have been "swallowed by the night" in Croatia and then laundered in some foreign bank or through a foreign investment.

Stipe Mesic also spoke about the robbed money during his Presidential campaign using the figure of eight billion dollars, which was surely one of the reasons for reopening this subject several months after the elections, but no longer in a scientific manner. The amount mentioned by "Globus" is the first one based on direct data on illegal money flows, which this weekly got from a specialised American agency. Without specifying its name, the paper only said that it was located in the federal state of Georgia. However, "Globus" did reveal that the agency, which offers its services in tracing and returning the stolen money all over the world, was conducting negotiations with the highest Croatian authorities.

The Americans offered to help trace and return the mentioned seven million dollars without an advance payment, giving a firm promise that a part of that sum would be coming to Croatia already in a few months. But, the agreement wasn't reached because the agency demanded a fee of 30 percent of the value of the returned money and, according to the official statement and "Globus" explanation, the deal was off because the American agency was functioning as a kind of non-governmental intelligence service which in the subsequent stages of the projects turns into a kind of legal "money extortionist".

Obviously, the Croatian state top leadership did not want to engage in suspicious deals at the very beginning of its mandate. Admittedly, it was said that attempts would be made at hiring some foreign agency in future, but a more reliable one, because the data this one had rather scared off than attracted the Croatian side.

Allegedly, the Americans came to Zagreb with some shocking data with which they obviously wanted to impress their undestined employers, and claimed that the Croatian criminals had established contacts with the banking circles through the Yugoslav, i.e. Serbian banking lobby. The link allegedly went over London, Zurich and Cyprus and since a greater part of the transferred money was made with arms and drugs smuggling, the old stories about organised crime in the elite circles of the Croatian authorities, including police and the military, once again came to the surface.

Consequently, as a kind of a free-of-charge propaganda service, the American agency offered the Croatian side data on two Croatian generals who made one hundred million dollars on drugs transfer and deposited that amount in foreign banks. The bait for the Croatian client was also information about a Croatian tycoon who had laundered that money by purchasing 45 meter-long yacht, now moored in Cannes. However, instead of the expected amazement this piece of information first aroused suspicion of the representatives of the Croatian authorities who finally rejected the offer. A day later "The Morning Paper" (Jutarnji list) wrote that the decision was, allegedly, reached through a consensus of the three top state figures: Mesic, Racan and Tomic.

This speaks tellingly enough of the importance attached to this problem, but also of the fear of Croatia again being cheated with another American shoddy good, as was the case with the American attorney-at-law, David Rivkin, who charged Croatia millions of dollars for representing it in the Hague, only to prove totally unqualified for the job. According to "Globus" reasons for this rejection were quite different. Namely, the Croatian intelligence services were deeply offended by this because the Americans had given them a lesson claiming that the whole illegal transfer was carried out under their very nose.

However, this weekly didn't think that this had the decisive influence on the stand of the Croatian negotiators, but that Zagreb's rejection was rather motivated by the fact that there were probably those in the new Croatian authorities who would much rather have the whole thing hushed up. This might sound rather stretched, because there are no authorities which would give up such spectacular catch in the sphere of high-level crime, the more so as that catch would have an invigorating effect on the reconstruction of the paralysed economy. Anyway, by arresting some relative bigwigs from the fields of business, sports, and even politics, ever since the elections, these authorities have shown that they want to appear moral as that could attract greater understanding of the public which is starting to lose patience in all other spheres - primarily in the drastic social sphere. But, on the other hand, it is obvious that crime struggle is carried out according to a predictable patterns, as the main culprits are either typical heroes of the Croatian business underground, such as Miroslav Kutle, or those who can be considered as mere realisers of the robbery which was organised somewhere else, in the centres of political decision-making of the former authorities.

However, such persons do not fall within the meaning of the law, which means that the politically sponsored crime has remained practically untouched and its main protagonists out of the reach of the law. That is what Stipe Mesic has been pointing to in the past few months since the elections, secretly blaming police and the judiciary for that, and when this made Chief of Police Sime Lucina threaten with his resignation, all arrows were turned towards State Prosecutor Berislav Zivkovic (who was appointed to that function by the former authorities). He was labelled a bottleneck in the organised struggle against crime - which he undoubtedly is, judging by the number of instituted criminal proceedings - and when his superior, Justice Minister Stjepan Ivanisevic officially presented that opinion, Zivkovic changed his previous statement of not having the intention to leave and announced his resignation.

Now, everyone is waiting with great interest to see who is going to take his place, but if they expect new state prosecutor to perform tricks the whole thing could easily turn into a farce, perhaps a calculated one, which would not last long. Namely, it is obvious that the struggle against organised crime cannot be left only to the Prosecutor's Office, but must become the backbone of the overall state policy, which doesn't seem so now. On the contrary, Ivica Racan recently complained about the lack of evidence in the struggle against the major crime lords, so that the police will now concentrate on, as he called it, the future crime. This is an unknown event, something like fortune-telling from truncheons, so that we shall probably have to see who in Croatia actually stands behind organised crime as criminals have been removed from power.

Original article