Croatia Pursues Organized Crime

Less than a week after Croatia's prime minister responded to the murder of the daughter of a prominent Zagreb attorney by sacking his justice and interior ministers, the country's parliament appointed successors and the government mounted a new offensive against organized cime. The moves were a response to the murder of Ivana Hodak, the daughter of a prominent Zagreb attorney.  Hodak, 26, was shot three times, twice in the head and once in the neck, outside her apartment, which was within blocks of Zagreb's Police Headquarters in downtown Zagreb.

Prime Minister Ivo Sanader linked the murder to organized crime and dismissed his justice and interior ministers and the head of the national police. He indicated he dismissals were part of a new approach to organized crime.

“Organized crime gangs must not be given the impression that they can do whatever they want and enjoy impunity. We are committed to an unrelenting battle against organized crime and the mafia,” Sanader said.

Now parliament has approved Ivo Simonović, a law professor and formerly Croatia's ambassador to the United Nations, as the new justice minister, and Tomislav Kamarko, who until his appointment had been head of the Security Intelligence Agency (SOA), as the new minister of the interior.

Members of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), the leading opposition party, abstained from voting on the appointments, and plan a no-confidence vote against Sanader in parliament.

Hodak's father, Zvonimir Hodak, is currently representing former Croatian General Vladimir Zagorec, who was recently extradited from Austria on charges of embezzling €3.25 million worth of diamonds from the country's treasury.

With Croatia hoping to join the EU by 2011, the moves by Sanader and the parliament were seen as a means of reassuring the European community of Croatia's commitment to combating organized crime and avoiding the fate of new EU member state Bulgaria, which last July saw €800 million in funds from the EU frozen for its failure to adequately address the same issue. A European Commission progress report on Croatia's reforms will be released in November.

Krisztina Nagy, a spokeswoman for EU Enlargement Commissioner Ollie Rehn, called on Croatia to take “all the necessary steps to secure a comprehensive and adequate fight against crime.”

In choosing replacements, Sanader said he would reach outside his own center-right party, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ).

“I decided on non-party people because ... they were top experts with a good reputation among the Croatian public [and] can cope with the problems we have in Croatia.”

Hodak's murder came after three assaults in Zagreb since May on people involved in investigations on organized crime caused mounting public frustration with government inaction.

In September, Josip Galinec, the chief executive of the Croatian construction company Industrogradnja, was beaten with metal poles in broad daylight on a busy Zagreb street. At the time he was cooperating with an investigation into bribery and corruption charges connected to his firm.  

Earlier in the year, within a two week period from the end of May, Dušan Miljuš, a crime reporter for the Jutarnji List daily, and Igor Rađenović, a former director of the public works company Zagreb Roads who had launched an investigation into corruption by his predecessors, were both attacked wth metal poles in front of their homes in Zagreb.