A priority that moves the country forward: the systematic fight against organized crime and corruption in Serbia
By Joakim Frendin
It is not a unique assessment to say that criminal groups are often well organized, in the Western Balkans and beyond.
This notion was especially true during the conflicts on the territory of the former Yugoslavia. While the former republics were trying to establish relations as new independent states in an atmosphere of volatile political and economic change, criminal groups had an open path towards increasing their influence and were able to co-operate as well-oiled machines. Smuggling and trafficking of people, goods and drugs were thriving.
“The situation has since then largely improved,” says Denise Mazzolani, Head of Police Affairs Department at the OSCE Mission to Serbia. “Bi-lateral relations between the formerly warring countries have improved, as well as increased awareness of the importance of co-operation between the prosecutions, judicial services and police in the region.
Complex criminal investigations
Investigating organized crime and corruption remains a very complex task. These crimes often involve complex financial transactions and structures, meaning a financial investigation will have to be carried out in conjunction with the criminal investigation.
“This requires specialist knowledge on the part of both police and prosecutors, even more so as these crimes typically include cross-border elements,” says Alberto Pasquero, Senior Organized Crime Advisor at the OSCE Mission to Serbia. “For example, proceeds of crime tend to be transferred abroad, meaning investigators have to take into account different jurisdictions, laws, and procedures and co-ordinate the actions of police and prosecutors in multiple states.”
“This requires specialist knowledge on the part of both police and prosecutors, even more so as these crimes typically include cross-border elements. For example, proceeds of crime tend to be transferred abroad, meaning investigators have to take into account different jurisdictions, laws, and procedures and co-ordinate the actions of police and prosecutors in multiple states.
Alberto Pasquero Senior Organized Crime Advisor at the OSCE Mission to Serbia
Specialized knowledge and efficient co-operation between relevant authorities are requirements for the successful investigation and prosecution of organized crime and corruption. To achieve this goal, a number of regional and international mechanisms for co-operation between police and prosecutors have been established. However, successful co-operation might still be impeded by technical or legal factors, or by a lack of professional connections between counterparts. “This is where the OSCE Mission to Serbia offers its expertise,” says Pasquero.
Improving Capacity and Regional Cooperation
“The OSCE has a longstanding commitment of supporting Serbia and other states in the Western Balkans in their fight against organized crime and corruption,” says Mazzolani. “We have recently trained 27 members of the Serbian police and prosecution in advanced techniques of financial investigation. Thirteen of them obtained international certifications as money laundering specialists, forensic accountants or anti-fraud examiners.”
Moreover, in order to improve regional co-operation, the OSCE Mission to Serbia organized a conference on the topic “Managing data in complex financial investigations”, which took place in Belgrade on 26-27 May this year.
On 26 May 2016, a joint declaration to enhance co-operation was signed by representatives of prosecution offices from across the region. The declaration of intent will facilitate the exchange of information between prosecution offices in the Balkans through existing mechanisms of co-operation, in order to make them function better instead of creating new ones.
“The conference was extremely useful in understanding the urgent needs for mutual cooperation between regional law enforcement authorities and prosecutorial offices,” Aleksandar Petković, Forensic Accountant at the Police Directorate of Novi Sad states. “The emphasis on new informational technologies for big data management and the exchange of such data to assist investigators and prosecutors was the highlight of the conference, as this approach is a necessary requirement in the fight against sophisticated fraud, corruption and organized crime”.
Towards the goal: A society free from organized crime and corruption
“The combined effect of training and increased regional co-operation has already presented a positive effect,” says Pasquero. “Investigators now have a better idea of exactly which information to ask for and when, making international information requests more efficient than ever before.”
As a follow up to the conference and declaration, the OSCE will host a regional prosecutor’s meeting on 7-8 November 2016 in Belgrade. An international conference, hosted by Italy, will take place in April 2017 in Rome.
“Repression, however, is only one part of the overall strategy,” says Pasquero. “Given the time and effort required to bring perpetrators to justice, prevention of crime is the only sustainable means to fight organized crime and corruption”. “A transparent and comprehensive legal framework makes it easier to detect and more difficult to carry out corruptive offences. The OSCE Mission will continue to support activities to achieve this aim. The goal of Serbia is the goal of the Mission - a society free from organized crime and corruption.”