In 2002 the Serbian Interior Ministry published, for the first time, an assessment study on organized crime threats in Serbia. This document raised considerable awareness and the resulting social concern paved the way for the first ever organized crime law in Serbia. Ever since then, the OSCE has assisted in its implementation to subvert the influence of organized crime on the political establishment.
In the nineties, organized crime and corruption bore down on Serbia, as in the rest of the region. An underground infrastructure operated under the umbrella of the State Security Service, working hand-in-glove with the customs authority. Criminals and shadowy “businessmen” engaged in the large-scale smuggling of cigarettes, oil derivatives and drugs, amassing huge fortunes along the way.
Several organized criminal gangs emerged, managing to retain their hold on political parties, law enforcement agencies and the judiciary even after the ousting of former President Milosevic in the October 2000 elections, and change of regime in Serbia.
A law unto themselves
The assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic in 2003, proved to be a turning point in the fight against organised crime. “It was then that the Serbian government requested OSCE assistance in implementing comprehensive police reform, and strengthening the criminal justice system,” says the Head of the OSCE Mission to Serbia Human Rights and Rule of Law Department, Ruth van Rhijn.
From 2005 to 2009, the Mission assisted in drafting and implementing laws on witness protection, the seizure and confiscation of the proceeds from crime, the criminal liability of legal entities, international legal aid in criminal matters and a special imprisonment regime. This last Act, drafted with extensive Mission support, regulates the treatment of convicted organized-crime bosses to restrict their contact with the criminal world, while respecting their human rights.
Crime doesn’t pay
“There’s nothing worse than getting all your assets seized”. The covertly-recorded lament of incarcerated Italian mafia boss Francesco Inzerillo resonated with the Serbian authorities in 2004, when they embarked upon amending and enacting legislation to combat organised crime and its proceeds more effectively.
The OSCE engaged international experts to give recommendations to the government on existing legislation concerning the forfeiture of criminal assets. Study visits to relevant institutions abroad, expert debates and international conferences, all organised by the OSCE, resulted in the adoption of the Law on Seizure and Confiscation of Proceeds from Crime in 2008.
After the adoption of the Law in 2008, the OSCE Mission facilitated the implementation of the new law via targeted training sessions for the judiciary and the police. The latest of these events was a seminar on effective and transparent methods for managing temporarily-seized assets, held in April 2011. This helped, along with study visits to Italy, to forge direct and firm ties between Serbian organised-crime prosecution and the Italian authorities—which now communicate directly on techniques and strategy.
Miljko Radisavljevic, the Organized Crime Prosecutor appointed in 2007, commented that thanks to OSCE assistance, the results “exceed the expectations which the legislator had when the Law was adopted.”
Further challenges ahead
“We will wait to see whether the commitment of the Serbian authorities will remain firm in dealing with more complex and dangerous crime schemes, such as international drug trafficking, white collar crime and money laundering,” says Marco Bonabello, Senior Co-ordinator for the Rule of Law and Human Rights, OSCE Mission to Serbia.
The OSCE Mission remains actively engaged in promoting a comprehensive response by state authorities to organized crime, which means addressing both its repression and prevention. The Mission is fully committed to fostering economic transparency and inhibiting corruption in public institutions—which will be of benefit to ordinary people in Serbia, and contribute to long-term stability.
Written by Ulla Saar