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Croatia

Capital Zagreb
Time Zone CET (GMT+1)
Country Code 385
Mobile Codes 91,92,95,98,99
ccTLD .hr
Currency Kuna (1EUR = 7.26HRK)
Land Area 56,594 sq km
Population 4.5 million
Language Croatian
Major Religion Roman Catholicism

Regional Police Cooperation, Border Security and the Fight Against Organized Crime: Interview with Croatian Police Director Oliver Grbic

Oliver Grbic has been the Chief Director of Police in the Croatian Interior Ministry since August 2009. Born in 1964, he graduated from Zagreb University’s Faculty of Ecomonics, and became a member of the police in 1991, mainly working in the sector for fighting economic crime. In 2001, he was appointed deputy chief of police in Primorsko-goranska county, becoming chief of police there another three years later. In his career, Mr Grbic has enjoyed a string of successes in leading operations against various kinds of crime, from drug smuggling and extortion to the rapid investigation and solving of murder cases.

Ante Raic, a journalist with Croatian National Television and Balkanalysis.com correspondent in Zagreb, recently spoke with Chief Director Grbic to get his insights on various issues of interest and new developments in the areas of technological capacity-building, regional security cooperation between Croatia and its neighbors, and the major security threats facing Croatia today. In the interview, Chief Director Grbic also discloses that new borders are being created, and that cooperation with EU police continues to improve in anticipation of Croatia’s planned entry into the Schengen zone.

On the New Croatia-Serbia Police Video Link

Oliver Grbic, Croatia's Chief Director of Police, in his office.

Ante Raic: A direct and secure video link between Zagreb and Belgrade was established three months ago. What is the importance of this link for the cooperation of the police of both countries? Have there been any direct benefits from it so far?

Oliver Grbic: The secure conference link between Zagreb and Belgrade was established as a part of an initiative for forming a center for the fight against organized crime and terrorism among the police of Croatia and Serbia. We presented it to the public on September 6. It should be seen as a tool which the two interior ministries and police can use, to maintain direct cooperation on the strategic and operational levels.

The establishment of this communication channel provided for secure daily communication via a VPN tunnel, which will help in fighting organized crime. However, that’s only one of the activities on the way for establishing this center for the fight against organized crime and terrorism. It is important that both countries, Croatia and Serbia, are working on accomplishing the whole set of measures so that this center can work effectively. Forming it will open a new space for direct and operative cooperation and exchange of all criminal and intelligence information between Croatian and Serbian police. The center should also soon start to work on making mutual estimation of terrorism threats.

The establishment of a video link is extremely useful for work of the Croatian and Serbian police because it provides quality every-day communication on all the mutual issues, enables faster decision-making on important subjects, and lowers the costs of cooperation. Teams of detectives working together on cases are using the video-link daily. This is the main benefit that this communication channel has brought so far.

Regional Police Cooperation: Details and Estimates

AR: Are you satisfied with the cooperation with the police in neighboring countries? With which is cooperation the best at the moment?

OG: Cooperation among police in the region is at an extremely high level. I’m very satisfied with the quality of cooperation. But, at the same time I see additional opportunities that are available, and personally I’m doing my best to take advantage of them. First of all, the duty of myself and my colleagues (ie., the chiefs of police in the other countries in the region) is to create legal precedents. Thus our experts from all the fields of police work can cooperate to attain a higher qualitative level, and use all the available instruments in the field of international police cooperation, such as exchange of information, making mutual investigative teams, liaison officers, mutual border patrols and others.

It is hard to say with which country cooperation is the best, because it is on a high level with all of our neighboring countries. I’m in contact with the chiefs of the neighoring countries’ police on a daily basis, and I’m proud that I can say that we all share the same goals – the unconditional fight against all sorts of crime, especially organized crime and corruption, and in achieving a high level [of results] for the citizens of our countries.

The thing that is really important is the fact that cooperation is not good only on the highest, strategic levels, but on the operative ones as well. And we have numerous joint actions to prove it.

Despite the general high level of cooperation, I woouldn’t be wrong if I say that we’ve gone furthest in our cooperation with the Serbian police. Our cooperation has its legal basis in a modern agreement signed in May 2009. Its operationalization happened through a series of successful criminal investigations in both Croatia and Serbia.

Successful Recent Joint Police Operations

AR: Can you name some of the most successful joint actions with neighboring countries’ police? Is one of these, perhaps, the case of the murders of journalist and publisher Ivo Pukanic and his associate, Niko Franjic?

OG: There has been a series of succesful joint actions on the part of the Croatian and neighboring countries’ police forces. Of course, the murders of Ivo Pukanic and Niko Franjic were the most interesting for the media. That case proved the existence of an intensive cooperation between criminal groups from Croatia and Serbia. It also proved that any succesful fight against crime can be based only on joint work between police in the countries in the region.

We have a lot of cases in which we cooperate with neighbouring countries’ police, such as the case of a clash between two members of the [Serbian mafia group] the “Zemun Clan” in Zagreb. There was also the case involving international smuggling of drugs and weapons in which, through well-organized smuggling channels, weapons from Bosnia & Hercegovina were smuggled through Croatia to EU countries, particularly to the Netherlands and Germany. Drugs travel in the other direction.

I don’t want to get into specific cases, because there are a lot of them. Rather I’d like to point out that I am really very happy that some of these cases have reached their epilogue in front of the law. And that is the final goal of our work, and a sign that we’ve successfully done our part of the job.

Emerging Priorities in Police Investigation

AR: In which fields has regional police cooperation been the most intensive? Which kinds of criminals or criminal groups in your focus? Is it smuggling drugs, trafficking or perhaps terrorism?

OG: Police cooperation in the region is most intensive in the fight against international organized crime, but it is significant in other fields as well, such as with the cooperation of the national border police, addressing the violence of football hooligans, in the field of forensics, and so on.

Of course, we can’t forget our cooperation in the fight against terrorism, to be more precise, in regards to the estimation of terrorism threats. Here it is important to mention an original Croatian police project called “Secure Touristic Season,” in which we are cooperating with the police of seven EU-member nations. During the crucial summertime tourist season, their policemen are working in mixed patrols with their Croatian colleagues. This project received numerous recognitions from the domestic and international public, and it was recognised by INTERPOL, which has also been involved in the project.

If we speak about the kinds of crime that are especially intense in this region and internationally, smuggling is number-one: from smuggling drugs and weapons to people and all sorts of luxury goods.

Over the last period, we intensified cooperation in the field of financial investigations focused on tracing dirty money that had been earned illegally, and that was later laundered and transacted into legal businesses, both in the countries in which it was earned and in the neighboring countries. Other kinds of crime, especially violent crime like murders, threats, extortions and so on are very often the result of clashes between the criminal groups involved in smuggling. This is most often due to changing relations inside one of the groups or because of the fight for the power between two or more groups.

Challenges at the Border

AR: Croatia is getting closer to the EU. One of the biggest challenges will be the Schengen border system, especially the border with Bosnia & Hercegovina, which is 1,000 kilometers long. Are you taking steps to improve control of that border?

OG: We can say that Croatia is now approaching the entrance of the EU, and the Croatian police have done a lot to fulfil the criteria for entering the EU. Safeguarding the border is one of the most important subjects and I can say that the Croatian border police have been intensively preparing for many years for the second phase- Croatian entrance into the Schengen zone.

The [specific] activities undertaken here include getting more of the right people into the needed positions, buying techical equipment, education of the border police, building the infrastructure, informatization of the outside border so it can be connected with the Schengen info-system, and improving the coast guard. In addition, we’re taking steps to solve the issue of the Neum corridor, which comprises about 10 kilometers of the Adriatic-coast road from Split to Dubrovnik, passing through Bosnia and Hercegovina, and the town of Neum, as well as Metkovic.

The Republic of Croatia has performed a detailed analysis of the situation on the border. That analysis provides the basis for defining the activities that will improve the quality of the control and protection of Croatia’s border. Before entering the EU, we will reconstruct the Klek border crossing, and build a new border crossing at Zaton Doli, in order to control the state border according to EU rules. By the middle of 2011, we’ll build a new international border crossing called Metkovic II, with all the needed inspection services. It will be in line with all the European standards for that category of border crossing.

Here it is important to mention that we started estimating missions in this segment four years ago, and the latest reports show a significant improvement in the field of managing the border. After Croatia enters the EU, the evaluation will take place to decide when we will enter the Schengen zone. We curently estimate that we’ll need 2 years after we enter the EU to fulful all the Schengen standards.

Conclusions

AR: The police and the army are the basis of security of every country. What are the biggest security threats facing Croatia today?

OG: In peacetime, the police is the basis of security for every country, that is, the police and an efficient judiciary system. Today, our main security challenge is to continue the fight against corruption. We have been very successful in this area so far. On the other hand, the fight against organized crime should be high among our priorities until we manage to reduce it to the minimum, as with the other kinds of crime as well.

I personally think that one of the main challenges is to form efficient mechanisms for taking away illegally-purchased property. Without this, it will be hard to fight against crime. Of course, it is a benefit to us that Croatia is not at the moment directly exposed to terrorism, as are other European states, but we are aware of its danger and unpredictability.

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