The big bust
Amongst the big stories this week in Croatia, the biggest have been about drugs. On Thursday, police seized illegal drugs and weapons in a series of dawn raids on apartments and lock-up garages around the capital, Zagreb. Three people were arrested. Included in the haul were grenade-launchers, machine guns and hand grenades. Officers also found 71 kilogrammes of marijuana.
Apart from those people seized during the raids, five others were charged with smuggling and other offences. Two of those named were Bosnian Croats, who were accused of smuggling weapons worth USD750,000 into Western Europe over the past five years. The weapons mostly came from factories in Yugoslavia, said police, and were taken through Croatia and Slovenia to Italy and then on to other EU countries. Police forces in several Western European countries have recently reported an increase in the use of guns from Eastern Europe by criminals, rather than the previous "normal" source, which was the Middle East and East Asia.
The Croatian connection
Jutarnji list carried out an investigation into the Croatian connection with the illegal arms and drugs trade, and concluded that most of the weapons ended up in France. Večernji list reached a different conclusion: it said Austria, Italy, the Netherlands and Slovenia were the final destinations. It's a fair guess that the huge quantity of weapons built up during the Communist period, plus those shipped into the Balkans or manufactured there in the 1990s, are now flowing out fast, and can be expected to appear just about anywhere that guns are hard to get by legal means.
Details later emerged of those arrested. Among them is a retired colonel from the Croatian Army, Bruno Zorica, who was once a Legionnaire in the French Foreign Legion. He came back to serve his country in 1991 when the war broke out in Knin Krajina between rebel Serbs and the newly independent state of Croatia.
Higher and higher
Drugs smugglers are doing pretty good business at home in Croatia too, it seems. This week the government gave figures for the level of drug abuse in the country; they make mind-blowing reading. Dope heads smoked 12 tonnes of marijuana last year, got through a half-a-tonne of heroin and 150 kilogrammes of cocaine. The interior ministry reckons about 51,000 illegal drug sessions take place every day. The annual income from drug trafficking and illegal sales is estimated to be around 800 million kuna, USD 100 million.
Some news media criticised the government for not spending enough on educating children about the evils of drugs and how to say "no." The US spends around USD 600 million per annum just on advertising and marketing the anti-drugs message, said the HINA news agency.
The state prosecutor reported to parliament this week on an investigation by the finance police into some of the sales of former state property by the previous regime. They failed to find any obvious irregularities with the sale of the Zagreb daily Večernji list—which the paper was glad to report, naturally.
There had been accusations that the cash for the purchase of the newspaper's shares had been part of a money laundering operation by organised criminals. But the finance ministry said there were no grounds to proceed further with the investigation and no link to criminal activities had been found. The Prosecutor's office concluded that the sale price of the newspaper's stock was realistic. Last March, a parliamentary commission raised doubts about the deal and about the involvement of senior officials.
The authorities did find something suspicious further down the chain of the transaction, however. The ministry reported that a loan arranged to enable the purchase of the newspaper stock, taken from money earmarked for a loan to Autocentar Zubak, was irregularly executed. An unnamed "accountable person at Autocentar Zubak" has been charged with fraud.
Finally, the popularity of President Stipe Mesić will no doubt by enhanced by an addition to his official website. Log on there and you can challenge the father of the nation to a martial arts contest in cyberspace. Try to invade his excellency's private webspace, and he will challenge you to a battle in the martial art nanbudo!
The President's skills in this gruelling combat are more than virtual. He has been an exponent of the art for many years in real life. He attributes his continued fitness and mental agility to his devotion to the sport. He says it will be very hard for any intruder to beat him. You can try your luck at www.stipemesic.com/zabava.asp Good luck. But remember, the latest opinion polls show the President is still very popular, with 80 percent thinking Mr Mesić a much more charming and clever man than his predecessor, Franjo Tuđman. You wouldn't want to upset that many Croats by flooring their hero, would you now?
Dan Damon, 29 January 2001
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