Since 2001, the fight against organised crime has strengthened co-operation among regional countries.
By Biljana Pekusic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 25/06/12
Eight customs officers were recently arrested in Subotica, suspected of financial crimes. [Reuters]
Serbian police said they are making headway against organised crime over the past four years. Since 2001, they have broken up ten financial organised crime groups and 35 drug gangs.
The police also caught up with the mafia in the pharmaceutical industry, which for years had profited from illegal sales of cancer medications. Elsewhere, the criminal ring in the mining industry through the country's largest coal mine, Kolubara, damaged the state for 10m euros.
"Organised crime in Serbia is almost destroyed," Slobodan Homen, the justice ministry state secretary told SETimes. Since the implementation of the 2009 Law on the Confiscation of Property Acquired through Crime in Serbia, more than 350m euros in assets have been seized, he added.
Zoran Dragisic, professor at the Faculty of Security in Belgrade, however, said that the state does not conduct a consistent and substantial action against organised crime.
"Systemic corruption, monopolies and the power held by a few parties are the main levers of organised crime in Serbia, but there are no arrests in those high circles," Dragisic told SETimes.
Since 2001, the fight against organised crime strengthened co-operation among regional countries.
Serbian Interior Minister Ivica Dacic said organised crime knows no borders and that the regional operational police co-operation is necessary.
At a joint meeting with the interior ministers of Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Ivan Brajovic and Sadik Ahmedovic in April, Dacic said that co-operation among the interior ministries in the region is much better than political co-operation.
"We promote regional co-operation and for us, the key relations are with BiH, Montenegro and, of course, Croatia," said Dacic.
Interior ministers of Serbia, BiH, and Montenegro then signed a joint statement on strengthening co-operation in the fight against terrorism and organised crime.
The Service for Combating Organised Crime in Serbia recently arrested eight customs officers in Subotica and 14 company owners from several other cities in Serbia, suspected of financial crimes damaging the state budget by more than 10m euros.
Milorad Veljovic, the head of the Serbian police, said that this criminal group is suspected of lowering the cost of goods imported from the EU and Turkey.
"Arrested customs officers in collaboration with the owners of trading companies issued false documents, reduced the price of goods, which lowered customs charges and taxes," Veljovic told SETimes.
The Serbian customs mafia has been conducting business at the border crossing with Hungary since 2009. The price of textile goods from Hungary and Turkey is often lowered.
The prosecutor's office launched proceedings against suspects charged with bribery, money laundering, abuse of office, and tax evasion.
The Service for Combating Organised Crime made the arrests in co-operation with the prosecutor. The operation brought together more than 200 police officers and arrests were conducted in more than 40 locations. Weapons, cars, and large sums of money were confiscated.
Serbia's interior ministry announced that the criminal group illegally earned money injected into the legal financial flow, setting up new companies, buying luxury cars, and real estate.
Late last year, police in Serbia, Montenegro, Republika Srpska, BiH, and Albania arrested 56 drug dealers and seized 367kg of narcotics, in the last big drug bust.