Croatia Sets Up Special Anti-Mafia Courts

Zagreb – Croatia has launched special courts, pledged improved witness protection and to rebuild the police force in an offensive against organised crime after last week’s murder of a journalist.

Last Thursday a car bombing in central Zagreb killed high-profile journalist Ivo Pukanic and his marketing chief, Niko Franjic.

The killings were the latest in a string of violent incidents in Croatia which have cast a shadow over its plans to tie up European Union accession talks next year.

Dealing with organised crime and corruption is among the main requirements Zagreb has to meet for conclusion of the talks.

“The situation is serious and there is no time to lose. Organised crime has spread so much that it is threatening our citizens’ security and our European ambitions,” Justice Minister Ivan Simonovic told parliament on Wednesday.

Simonovic said four specialised organised crime courts had been set up with instructions to hold quick and efficient trials.

Another law would curtail benefits enjoyed by convicted criminals in prison, where many have free weekends and regular access to laptops and mobile phones.

He said Croatia would also improve witness protection programmes and move swiftly to confiscate criminals’ property.

“That will hit the mafia where it hurts the most – on their wallets,” he said.

Prime Minister Ivo Sanader declared all-out war on the local mafia after the murder of Pukanic, editor of weekly newspaper Nacional which lifted the lid on corruption.

In other violent incidents, the daughter of a prominent lawyer was shot dead in Zagreb earlier this month.

Sanader appointed Simonovic and Tomislav Karamarko as Interior Minister after that killing.

Karamarko told parliament on Wednesday that he would seek to rebuild a police force that was headed by police chiefs who were professional law-enforcment officers rather than political appointees.

He said the police in Croatia had been mismanaged and politically controlled since the 1991-95 war of independence.

Criminal police would be told to take a much more active approach “so we can be one step ahead of criminal gangs,” he said.

Cooperation with Interpol and neighbouring countries would be boosted, while some 250 extra policemen had already been deployed in Zagreb, scene of most crimes this year.

Police said this week it had detained dozens of suspects after combing the local underworld for clues in the high-profile murders.

But nobody has yet been charged.

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