Simulation exercise on real-time exchange of information on critical infrastructure protection

Simulation exercise on real-time exchange of information on critical infrastructure protection

A real-time information exchange exercise for the Western Balkan region was taking place in Ohrid, Republic of North Macedonia from 12 to 15 September 2021. The exercise is organized with joint coordination and support of the Ministry of Interior of North Macedonia and the OSCE Mission to Skopje with participation of representatives of the relevant institutions of the Western Balkans. The event was opened by the Assistant Director of the Department for Uniformed Police, Mr. Shefik Bajrami who emphasized that the Ministry of Interior of Republic of North Macedonia remains fully committed and works with undiminished intensity and commitment to implement all activities aimed at uncompromised fight against crime.

The project Countering Serious Crime in the Western Balkans – IPA 2019 Project (CSC WB) was also taking active part in the exercise: two experts of CSC WB are directly participating and gaining on-spot insight of the dealings and actions within the exercise. As a follow up, the experts will draft an analytical report on the real-time exercise. This analysis will highlight good practises, however, also highlighting eventual omissions and improvements to successful tackling challenges of effective information flow through all international and regional channels of police cooperation.

“I would like to express special gratitude to the CSC WB whose representatives will prepare the report on the manner of real-time information exchange, which will represent a kind of a Roadmap for the way forward”, pointed out Assistant Director Bajrami.

On behalf of the CSC WB, the Resident EU Police Officer in North Macedonia, Ms. Elisa Di Ballo noted that the effectiveness of the structures and the organisation of information exchanges within the Western Balkans law enforcement agencies, as well as between agencies within the region, is very important in evaluating current situations and future opportunities, especially in the prospective of a future access of the Western Balkans to the European Union. “In this regard, the project CSC WB, through its experts in the field of information exchange, will participate and provide its contribution to carry out an analysis that allows identifying any strengths and weaknesses of the information exchange activities and continue to build together the foundations for obtaining a future model of success”.

High-level cooperation between FAST North Macedonia and FAST Germany

High-level cooperation between FAST North Macedonia and FAST Germany

V.K., a Macedonian national, wanted for a robbery case back in late 2013, for which he was sentenced five years imprisonment, was arrested in Hamburg (Germany) on 10 September 2021. The arrest was executed by the local police, when the fugitive was trying to buy narcotics. V.K. was also being searched on national level with six other warrants mainly for several theft cases, possession of drugs and violence, with an overall conviction seven years of prison.

The arrest comes after a month since a team from FAST North Macedonia held an operational meeting in Hamburg during which operational information and related criminal intelligence was shared about the fugitive on the run.

The project Countering Serious Crime in the Western Balkans – IPA 2019 (CSC WB) provided support to the Macedonian FAST Unit to arrange and participate to the gatherings with the Hamburg Police. More importantly, CSC WB provided the beneficiaries with the possibility for further gaining investigative expertise in concrete processes by enabling effective cooperation at international level through building connected networks of experts.

 

Photo source: Shutterstock

Macedonian fugitive on the run arrested in Kosovo*

Macedonian fugitive on the run arrested in Kosovo*

At the beginning of September, FAST Kosovo* Police arrested a targeted individual, a citizen of the Republic of North Macedonia, with two active search warrants to his name and being internationally searched for attempted murder, extortion and racketeering – one of the most wanted Macedonian criminals. The arrest came as a direct result of the fruitful and extensive bilateral cooperation executed between the competent Macedonian and Kosovar* Police services in charge of active fugitive searches and international police cooperation.

In the months prior to the arrest, FAST units of North Macedonia and Kosovo* exchanged relevant operative intelligence and concrete information on the wanted person which led to the result of him being tracked down and arrested in Kosovo*. The project Countering Serious Crime in the Western Balkans IPA 2019 (CSC WB) provided direct support to the respective police units of the beneficiary countries as part of its efforts to further enhance and upgrade the beneficiaries’ capacities for applying the best EU standards and practices for active fugitive searches and international police cooperation.

The project CSC WB continues to provide valuable support to the Western Balkans law enforcement agencies to fight serious and organised crime, locate and arrest wanted fugitives on a national, regional and international level.

 

Photo Source: Shutterstock

*This designation is without prejudice to positions on status and is in line with UNSCR 1244/1999 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo Declaration of Independence.

 

SEPCA Workshops, Podgorica: Effective International Police Cooperation

SEPCA Workshops, Podgorica: Effective International Police Cooperation

On September 2-3, 2021, two workshops were held in Podgorica, Montenegro, with representatives of the South East Europe Police Chiefs Association (SEPCA) Member States. The objective of the first workshop was  updating the SEPCA Threat Assessment document related to criminal phenomena affecting the region, while the second workshop targeted setting up an Operational Task Force (OTF) to tackle high-risk criminal groups. The overall objective of the events was providing competent authorities concrete insights to utilize effective international police cooperation tools for analyzing, preventing and combatting major criminal organizations.

The event took place under the Montenegrin SEPCA Presidency-in-Office with opening remarks by the SEPCA National Coordinator Ms. Selma Mehović. The projects Countering Serious Crimes in the Western Balkans – IPA 2019 (CSC WB) and ATHENA 2[1], both led by the Department of Public Security – Central Directorate of the Criminal Police of Italy provided support for organizing both workshops. Along with the Montenegrin Police Directorate the project CSC WB was the promoter of the initiative to organize such workshops with a crucial impact on future SEPCA development.

The Ambassador of the Republic of Italy to Montenegro Mr. Luca Zelioli underlined the Italian commitment in cooperating with SEPCA Member States, expressing the expectation of achieving concrete operational outputs aimed at reinforcing effectiveness of the fight against organized crime at the transnational level, following the solid results commonly achieved so far.

On behalf of the Chief of Police of Montenegro, Mr. Zoran Brđanin, the Head of International Police and Operational Cooperation Division Mr. Dejan Bolijević expressed that planned activities are pivotal in the framework of a new strategy conceived for the SEPCA: “The event we are opening today is of huge importance for connecting the Heads and the Analysts of the Criminal Departments in the SEPCA Region, as well as the SEPCA’s National Coordinators which will contribute to the more effective exchange of information and the best practice”.

 

The Project Leader of the CSC WB on behalf of the Italian Ministry of Interior, Senior Director of the State Police Mr. Carlo Verdiglione detailed the specific goals to be achieved in line with the project’s outputs, stressing that the criminal intelligence analysis and effective responses are even more important when we refer to High Risk Criminal Networks, which is among the most insidious and pervasive organizations.

 

 

 

 

ATHENA 2 – project action aiming at ensuring effectiveness to the police joint activities managed by the Schengen Countries, through a tailored plan of operations, monitoring and analysis which will proactively support a more coordinated risk assessment. This 24 month-activity will provide a proactive training program (through the use of CEPOL ad-hoc platform), along with an exchange of staff program. It will also improve the training availability in the medium/long term in favor of LEAs officers employed at the border areas. The project partners (Bulgaria, Italy, Latvia, Malta, Romania, Slovenia and SELEC) will involve their neighbors/partners, including the Western Balkan Countries, ensuring proper dissemination of good practices and wider sharing of experiences. Joint investigation Teams, cross border observations and joint patrols in border areas will be financially supported by the ATHENA 2 project.  The ambitious goal of the project is the strengthening of mutual trust among EU and neighbor countries to reduce the requests of temporary internal border checks.

 

Photo Source: SEPCA

 

National SOCTA Development in Bosnia-Herzegovina – Working Group Results

National SOCTA Development in Bosnia-Herzegovina – Working Group Results

The project Countering Serious Crime in the Western Balkans – IPA 2019 (CSC WB) has organized a workshop of the Working Group for the Development of the Strategy for Combatting Organized Crime in Bosnia-Herzegovina 2021-2024. The workshop was held on September 1st – 3rd in Sarajevo with the working group consisting of representatives and experts of state and entity prosecutor’s offices, law enforcement agencies and the Indirect Taxation Authority.

In March 2021, the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina adopted the Decision on the Establishment of the Working Group for the Development of the National SOCTA and the Strategy for the Fight against Organized Crime in Bosnia and Herzegovina 2021-2024. The working group has now completed an important phase in the development of the threat assessment, related to analyzing the data collected during the previous months.

The final data analysis is the “crown” of the previous hard-working phase of the working group, which lasted for several months. In previously working meetings, the working group developed and disseminated questionnaires, assessing the basis of data collection and making an significant step forward in the development of models for collection of the highest quality data.

The results of the Strategy for combatting Organized Crime in Bosnia-Herzegovina will be an Integral part of the European Union (EU) Serious and Organized Crime Threat Assessment (EU SOCTA) and will parallelly serve Bosnia and Herzegovina in the prediction of crime trends  as well as an overview of the current state of knowledge on criminal networks and their operations.

The CSC WB supported the Working Group for the Development of the Strategy for Combatting Organized Crime in BiH with the aim to strengthen the Western Balkans` capacity to conduct strategic and operational criminal analysis in an EU-harmonized manner.

Links to the Decision on the Establishment of the Working Group for the Development of the National SOCTA and the Strategy for the Fight against Organized Crime in Bosnia and Herzegovina 2021-2024:

Bosnian language: Službeni List- Pregled Dokumenta (sluzbenilist.ba)

Croatian language: Službeni List- Pregled Dokumenta (sluzbenilist.ba)

Serbian language: Službeni List- Pregled Dokumenta (sluzbenilist.ba)

 

Photo Source: Shutterstock

High-Impact Cross-Border Operation “Dobra” – Spain

High-Impact Cross-Border Operation “Dobra” – Spain

The project Countering Serious Crime in the Western Balkans – IPA 2019 has supported the cross-border operation, named “Dobra” between Spain, Germany and Albania.

The investigations led to the arrest of over 100 suspects running the industrial cultivation and trafficking of cannabis in Spain, and to the following dismantling an organised criminal network of Albanian-speaking criminals, with the support of Europol.

During the action day (on 13th July 2021) which involved law enforcement authorities from Spain, Germany and Albania, 107 persons were arrested; on the same day, almost 400 police officers deployed on the ground carried out simultaneous police searches in 42 different locations in Spain (Tarragona, Barcelona, ​​Girona and Castellón). An additional 9 searches were carried out a few days later at the same locations.

The above-mentioned police activities led to the following results:

107 suspects arrested

51 cannabis farms uncovered

25 000 cannabis plants seized

€70 000 in cash and two-high end vehicles seized

The dismantled clan-based organised crime group, were charged to have been managing cannabis plantations in Spain where they cultivated and processed the marijuana, before its transfer to other European countries for the distribution, was hierarchically structured, with branches operating internationally.

The criminals, some of which with records for drug trafficking in different countries, were diverting the electricity supply to illegally cultivate the plants indoors. It is estimated that the stolen electricity amounts to over €1.6 million in lost utility revenue.

Europol supported this investigation by providing tailored expertise and extensive analysis support and facilitating the exchange of information through its secure channels. On the action day, a virtual command post was set up by Europol to ensure seamless coordination between all the authorities involved. One of its experts was deployed on-the-spot to Spain to allow for crosschecks against Europol’s databases of the data gathered during the action.

Three Albanian investigators were also deployed to Spain in the framework of the project Countering Serious Crime – IPA 2019. In the following stage, the project has also supported a high-level Albanian State Police delegation to Spain for further information exchange meetings.

Europol reported about the DOBRA operation, mentioning our project as follows:

https://www.europol.europa.eu/newsroom/news/over-100-arrests-in-crackdown-against-albanian-clan-running-industrial-cannabis-operation-in-spain

Law enforcement authorities that took part in this investigation are listed below:

Spain: National Police (Policia Nacional), regional Catalan Police (Mossos D’esquadra)

Germany: Federal Criminal Police Office (Bundeskriminalamt)

Albania: State Police (Policia e Shtetit)

Europol: European Serious Organised Crime

Photo Source: Spanish State Police

 

Macedonian and Kosovan* Ministries of Justice to strengthen legal cooperation in criminal matters

Macedonian and Kosovan* Ministries of Justice to strengthen legal cooperation in criminal matters

During the respective Minister`s formal meeting on August 25th 2021 held in Pristina, the project CSC WB organized a side event on International Legal Cooperation (ILC) between representatives of Ministries of Justice from Kosovo* and North Macedonia. Boosting the ILC implementation was already initiated during the previous project phase in 2018 and 2019, where specific recommendations to implement the bilateral agreement on ILC were defined.

The lively discussion between the representatives of both ministries of justice resulted in a fruitful exchange of views and experiences on specific updates of bilateral legal cooperation concerning judicial cooperation in criminal matters, recognition and execution of judgments and arrest warrants. Furthermore, the establishment and operation of Joint Investigation Teams (JIT) along with the practical challenges in implementation of the JIT’s was elaborated and lessons learned exchanged. The participation in European Networks (EJN and Eurojust) and the importance of the transboundary networking was highlighted as well, including the exchange on international legal cooperation in terms of cybercrime, bilateral agreements with 3rd countries – extradition of nationals and the data collection – concretely the methodology of keeping criminal records.

Providing support to bilateral legal cooperation in criminal matters of WB countries aiming at enhancing regional cooperation is one of CSC WB project`s priorities in combatting serious and organized crime.

 

*This designation is without prejudice to positions on status and is in line with UNSCR 1244/1999 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo Declaration of Independence.

Databases and information systems, law enforcement cornerstones – IT expert mission to North Macedonia

Databases and information systems, law enforcement cornerstones – IT expert mission to North Macedonia

A delegation of experts of the project Countering Serious Crime in the Western Balkans – IPA 2019 (CSC WB), specialists in IT and police databases, in the period from 23 to 27 August are performing an exploratory mission to the Ministry of Interior of North Macedonia (MOI), becoming the fourth WB country to be visited by IT experts of CSC WB led by the Italian Police Colonel Antonio Montanaro. The mission is targeting the existing information systems and police data bases in use in the Ministry with a view for providing future support to the improvement of the institutions’ abilities in the field of interoperability and SPOC (Single Point(s) of Contact).

The IT experts of CSC WB are executing meetings with representatives of competent units of the Ministry of Interior in charge of establishment, implementation and maintenance of various databases and system interoperability on operative and strategic level, being the Department for EU and International Cooperation, Department for IT and Telecommunications, Sector for International Police Cooperation and the Department for Border Affairs and Migration. “I fully support the idea of evolving national tools in order to improve the level of international police cooperation”, Assistant Minister for EU and International Cooperation, Mr. Muamet Rexhepi said in the occasion of the introductory meeting within the mission.

CSC WB and MOI experts are jointly assessing and elaborating the current state-of-play of affairs, focusing on the existing databases of the North Macedonian Ministry of Interior and the level of interoperability between them; architecture, structure and functionalities of data bases; access to the data bases and user privileges; available application functionalities; modernization/upgrade of existing IT infrastructure and other related issues. In this regard, the IT experts also visited the premises of the Sector for International Police Cooperation, where on-spot insight was provided into the Interpol, Europol, FAST and 24/7 Duty Service channels for information exchange and the installed respective equipment.

“The path to interoperability is key to the effective exchange and process of information, thus to success of police action” stated Antonio Montanaro, Component Leader for the specific output.

With a view for deepening the cooperation, as well as for successful implementation of the planned activities, the MOI will continue and intensify the support and communication with CSC WB and will stay committed to the core goals of the Project.

Cross-border coordination and operational meeting of Kosovo* law enforcement delegation with its counterparts in Bamberg in “Call Center case”

Cross-border coordination and operational meeting of Kosovo* law enforcement delegation with its counterparts in Bamberg in “Call Center case”

The project Countering Serious Crime in the Western Balkans – IPA 2019 constantly supports the Special Prosecution Office of Kosovo* (SPRK) in the so-called “Call Center case” in which in co-production with the Office of the Public Prosecutor General in Bamberg – Bavarian Central Office for the Prosecution of Cybercrime (BCOC) – an action day took place on 31 March 2021 as reported on 13 April 2021. The perpetrators of the criminal group using call centers in Kosovo* with personnel speaking almost accent-free German were continuously acting together in a transboundary way so as to commit a large-scale fraud at the expenses of a large number of victims in Germany.

After an immediate evaluation of the evidence collected during the action day, a cross border coordination meeting supported and arranged by IPA 2019 project took place in Bamberg on 21 and 22 July 2021. This was participated by representatives of the SPRK, the Ministry of Justice Kosovo*, Kosovo* Police and representatives of the BCOC Bamberg and police investigators of Neu Ulm and Würzburg.

During that meeting further activities were discussed and coordinated. Furthermore, insights were merged that were related to the online cyber trading fraud that has been spread Europe-wide in the last years. Kosovo* and German authorities have conducted successful investigations to prevent and tackle this type of crime. During the aforementioned action day carried out in Kosovo*, 17 locations (call centers) were searched, 18 suspects arrested as well as a considerable amount of cash and electronic devices were sequestered, seized and frozen.

Based on that outcome, a roadmap for the upcoming activities was set up during the meeting on 21 & 22 July 2021.

Evidence was shared and an agreement was reached on how to assign the tasks of upcoming steps to finally bring the case to court.

The added value of this tool of the project is not limited only in significant operational results but also in terms of the sustainability of best practices and development of capacities, especially in the field of financial investigations.

 

 

 

*This designation is without prejudice to positions on status and is in line with UNSCR 1244/1999 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo Declaration of Independence.

Seizure of more than 400 kilograms of high purity cocaine and almost half a million EUR in cash

Seizure of more than 400 kilograms of high purity cocaine and almost half a million EUR in cash

A criminal organization belonging to the dangerous mafia group of the Skaljari Clan from Montenegro was successfully dismantled on the Canary Islands by the law enforcement officers of the Civil Guard and National Police on August 8, 2021, based on a well-planned joint action with the Department for Combatting Against Drug Trafficking of Montenegro.

The arrests and house searches resulted into the seizure of 408 kilograms of cocaine and almost half a million euros in cash, a vehicle, a yacht-type boat, 12 encrypted telephones, electronic security devices, machines banknote counters and vacuum packers, as well as various tools and documentation related to criminal activities. Among the four people arrested, three are Montenegrin citizens. The four detainees are members of the Skaljari Clan, the dangerous drug trafficking mafia originating from Montenegro.

The criminal network had established a channel for storing cocaine in the Canary Islands, where they collected it in rented houses in luxury residential units. The members of the group went completely unnoticed, and from these houses they proceeded to distribute the narcotic substances to local organizations. Investigators detected in November how members of the organization handed over 250,000 and 155,000 EUR in cash respectively to third parties on different days, with the purpose of removing that money from the Canary Islands and laundering it into the legal market.

After an arduous investigation, it was possible to detect an alleged transport of narcotic substances that started from the south of Tenerife. Once the two vehicles that participated in it had been identified, it was found that 70 kilograms of cocaine were being transported, for which the two drivers were arrested. The police investigations led the agents to a property located in Costa Adeje, where a third member of the organization was arrested, who was currently guarding the rest of the drugs.

Furthermore, on Gran Canaria and Tenerife another 338 kilograms of cocaine were discovered, in addition to 413,000 euros.

Among the four arrested is the leader of the Pink Panther gang, known for its robberies in the most luxurious jewellers in the world in the first decade of the 2000s.

The operation has been jointly developed by four groups from the Canary Islands specialized in the combat against delinquency and organized crime, the EDOA of the Comandancia de Tenerife and ECO de Canarias by the Civil Guard: UDYCO of the Provincial Police Station of Las Palmas and UDYCO of the Provincial Police Station of Tenerife of the National Police.

Likewise, the investigation team had the support of the UDYCO Central of the National Police and the Technical Unit of the Judicial Police of the Civil Guard, experts in the analysis of crime in the Balkans, of the EUROPOL agency, as well as of the Interior Attaché of the Embassy of Spain in Belgrade (Serbia), Albanian police authorities and Montenegrin police authorities. Regarding the operational meetings between the abovementioned authorities, the project Countering Serious Crime in the Western Balkans – IPA 2019 has supported the Montenegrin Police Directorate with an operational meeting in May 2021 in Spain. At this meeting, an exchange of operational information related to the citizens of Montenegro (identification, their affiliation with a particular Organized Criminal Groups, as well as their role in them) involved in this investigation were successfully exchanged and agreements on future result in their arrest could be agreed upon.

Photo source: Guardia Civil (Twitter screenshot)