ZagrebÂ – Croatian police are bringing murder and conspiracy charges against five suspects in the high-profile killing last week of a newspaper editor and his murder chief.
Cracking the case, which involved criminals from across the Balkans, was made possible by police from different Balkan states co-operating with one another, Croatian police said.
“During the operation, there has been intense co-operation with our neighbours…The operation was code-named Balkan Express,” spokesman Krunoslav Borovec told a news conference.
Three Croatian suspects are in custody, state television said, while one with Bosnian citizenship and another with Serbian citizenship are fugitives.
The five are suspected of killing Nacional weekly editor Ivo Pukanic and his marketing chief in a car bomb blast in Zagreb on October 23. The police did not give a possible motive for the murder.
Pukanic’s Nacional had written extensively about crime and corruption in the Balkans and Pukanic himself was believed to have contacts with the local underworld.
Balkan Express was a rare case of a co-ordinated police action against organised crime in the Balkans, where criminals have co-operated across borders, even during the socialist Yugoslavia’s bloody disintegration in the 1990s.
Fighting organised crime and graft is one of the main conditions Zagreb must meet as a criteria for European Union membership. Croatia hopes to conclude membership talks next year and join in 2010 or 2011.
Serbia’s Interior Minister Ivica Dacic said the countries had to co-operate to stamp out the local mafia.
“We have to co-operate with all countries in the region in fighting organised crime….Organised crime is our common problem. Criminals from across the region co-operate well so we need to co-operate in fighting organised crime too,” he told reporters in Belgrade.
Croatian police started sweeping the underworld after last week’s murder. They questioned dozens of people and arrested 10 members of criminal gangs.
Zagreb pledged an all-out war against organised crime after a wave of unresolved violent incidents in Croatia, which have cast a shadow over its EU membership bid.
In other incidents, the daughter of a prominent lawyer was shot dead in Zagreb earlier this month. Prime Minister Ivo Sanader appointed new justice and interior ministers and a new police chief after that killing.