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Multi-Agency Task Force Moves on Organized Crime Rings Across Balkans and Eastern Europe
Last week a joint police operation involving 28 different countries moved to take down a web of networks spread across the Balkans and Eastern Europe. Led by officers from Interpol, Frontex, and EUROPOL, the aim was to tackle the Balkan cartel of gangs trafficking drugs, people, and weapons into Western Europe along the so-called “Balkan Route.” The route is commonly associated with the flow of migrants into Western Europe. However, it is also exploited by mafia organizations who exploit the situation for their own gain.
According to EUROPOL, the operation, which took place at the start of November, led to a total of 382 arrests and the confiscation of a large amount of drugs and weapons. This included 304g of heroin, 147kg of cannabis, and 1.3kg of cocaine, along with 106 firearms, 2 anti-tank missiles, and an “air defense system”.
Some of the highest-profile arrests took place in Bosnia where the international operation represents the culmination of months of smaller raids and police actions aimed at rooting out corruption. Earlier in the year, a dozen or so officers from Bosnia’s Interior Ministry, as well as police and security personnel, were taken into custody after a wiretap revealed their involvement in organized crime.
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Amongst those arrested in the November operation is Denis Stojnić, a prominent Bosnian UFC fighter. Stojnić is also the owner of the Tesla Pub in downtown Sarajevo, a popular local bar, and several other establishments in the city center. He was detained at Sarajevo airport on return from the Netherlands on October 28th and is currently being investigated for involvement in international prostitution.
Stojnić’s connection to organized crime is an open secret. He is the godfather of Elvisov ‘Elvis’ Keljmendi the son of Kosovar-Albanian crime boss Nasser Keljmendi, who is serving a six-year sentence for drug trafficking. Elvis was recently arrested by Bosnian police in July in the coastal town of Neum for his alleged involvement in organized crime. His father, who has Bosnian citizenship, faces charges in the country but was not extradited as the two countries have no formal extradition treaties. The mass arrests in Bosnia also included police officers and prominent officials, such as Mladen Milovanović, the inspector of the Ministry of Internal Affairs for the Republika Srpska. Milovanovic was charged with drug trafficking and aiding and abetting criminals.
Elsewhere in the region, a police operation in Istanbul led to the arrest of the Serbian crime boss Zeljko Bojanić who was wanted for murder. Turkey has become a haven for drug cartels who use it as a vital hub for trafficking drugs into Europe according to analysis by Insight Crime.
According to “The Little Black Book of Balkan Crime Groups” by Dušan Stanković, compared to its neighbors Bosnia has a comparatively small number of organized crime groups operating within its borders. However, the assessment, published by the Belgrade Center for Security Policy, states that those involved in organized crime take part in the most varied activities. Partaking in drug trafficking, people smuggling, trading in illegal guns, and money laundering; while gangs in neighboring Serbia are involved almost exclusively in drug trafficking.
Bosnia has sought to crack down on organized crime which has flourished due to the country’s institutional malaise during the most serious political crisis since 1995. The former state prosecutor Diana Kajmaković was dismissed after being sanctioned by the U.S Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets for corruption. In a statement released in September Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson said that Kajmakovic “has continued to undermine democracy and the rule of law in Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
Bosnia’s new chief prosecutor Milenko Kajganić has made it clear that he is serious about tackling the country's organized crime problem. In an interview with Bosnia TV station N1 News, Kajganić stated that all the country’s justice institutions have some level of corruption that needs to be rooted out. However, until that task is fully completed it is unlikely Bosnia will be able to fully deal with the problem of organized crime within its borders for some time.