FAST: Increased Coordination within the Balkan Region

The Fugitive Active Search Team within Serbian Police hosted a two-day operational and organisational meeting in Belgrade on 8 – 9 October 2019. The aim of the meeting was to build cooperation and to improve skills on special investigating techniques, asset recovery and investigations on fugitives among FAST units of the participating Balkan Countries (Serbia, North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia).

Strengthening the “trust bridges” among the countries is fundamental to facilitating the information exchange on activities that often needs to be addressed right away. Moreover, an effective discussion about cases with fugitives suspected to be located in the territory of the above-mentioned countries was necessary in order to avoid dangerous overlappings which could harm the development of investigations.

The main achievement of the meeting was the draft of the regional FAST project, still to be approved by the participating countries, and the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding, based on the existing bilateral agreement’s legislative frameworks. All the participants agreed to reinforce this FAST-net by organising periodical meetings, in order to facilitate the coordination of activities throughout the region.

The meeting was supported by the IPA/2017 Countering Serious Crimes in the Western Balkans Project.

Regional Workshop on Special Investigation Measures

Thirteen police officers from the Western Balkans attended a regional workshop on Special Investigative Measures at the premises of the Central Directorate for Criminal Police in Rome from 23 – 27 September 2019. The objective of the course was to explore the newest investigative methodologies and see them in use in the field, applying theory to practice.

The much-needed workshop acknowledged the importance of creating a pool of experts in the specific field of Special Investigation Measures, and therefore involved well-known experts of Italian Law Enforcement Agencies. The course was an opportunity for Western Balkan representatives to discuss with Italian experts the gaps and main challenges related to such investigation measures, and gain an understanding of what elements to consider when identifying solutions. Another aim of the workshop was to increase awareness of available tools, also at the EU level, and to share best practices and lessons learned.

The IPA/2017 Countering Serious Crime in the Western Balkans Project supported this regional workshop as it continues its efforts to enhance police capabilities within the region. Tailor-made trainings have been offered since the beginning of the project, also in partnership with the International School of Advanced Studies for the prevention and the fight against organised crime in Caserta, Italy.

Serbian and Austrian Police Successfully Support Operation Street Runner

A three-day operational meeting with representatives of the State Criminal Investigation Department in Vienna and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations from Belgrade Police took place from 30 July – 1 August 2019. The purpose of the meeting was to strengthen the cooperation among the operating police investigating organised crime groups trafficking narcotics throughout Austria and Serbia.

During the meetings joint initiatives were coordinated and Serbian investigators were also able to listen to telephone conversations, previously recorded by Austrian colleagues, that shed important insight into the modus operandi of their relevant suspects.

Updated results of the investigation “Operation Street Runner – Cloud Project” were presented and they highlight the efficiency of such collaborations. The investigation pursues crimes on international drug trafficking and murders (committed among criminal groups to manage the drug market) and has been initiated for approximately two years, involving Serbia, Austria and parts of Hungary (as a transit area). It has led to 402 arrests of narcotic dealers, and the seizing of 60 kilograms of heroin, 10 kilograms of cocaine and over 25 pistols and machine pistols. The latest arrest took place on 26 August 2019, when 3 suspects traveling from Serbia were identified and arrested in the center of Vienna with 1.5 kilograms of heroin.

Undercover operations within the investigation produced positive results as well, such as 502 years of final imprisonment, 135 cases in the procedure of preparing court trails, 16 Public Prosecutors in Vienna attached to the above-mentioned cases with suspects (95%) coming from Serbia and Montenegro. Currently 40 interceptions are running, as well as several undercover operations and surveillance measures.

The IPA/2017 Countering Serious Crime in the Western Balkans supported this meeting as part of its effort to support international investigations and to combat serious and organised crime. The meeting was held under the legal framework of the Police Cooperation Convention for Southeast Europe (PCC SEE).

Joint Investigation Team Training: for Bosnian Prosecution and Law Enforcement

On 17 – 18 September 2019, a training on Joint Investigation Teams (JITs) was held at the Federal Judicial Training Center in Sarajevo for prosecutors, judges and police officers from all territories of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The aim of the training was for participants to gain insight into the work of JITs, the possibilities they provide, and the international instruments that can be used for support.

A JIT is a tool for assisting and facilitating a specific cross-border crime investigation, and also for building mutual trust.  It consists of an investigation team established for a fixed period, based on an agreement between two or more countries or other competent authorities, and for the investigation of a specific criminal offence.

During the training Bosnian Prosecutor Diana Kajmakovic presented one of the successful JITs in which the country has participated. Prosecutor Mariana Lilova from the Prosecutor`s Office of Bulgaria described the possibilities of Eurojust support to the work of JITs, as well as her personal previous experience in conducting JITs. Ms. Dragana Stojanovic from the Prosecutor’s Office for Organised Crime of Serbia explained the components of the first regional JIT between Serbia and North Macedonia. Major Francisco Gonzalez Itturalde explained the Spanish framework on the work of JITs and the ways EMPACT can support this collaborative work.

Technical seminar held for recently expanded Special Police Unit

On 19 September 2019 a seminar was held in Podgorica for 19 members of the Special Police Unit of Montenegro to share best practices for effective enforcement of legislation. Topics covered during the seminar included special investigation methods, crime intelligence, the use of analytical tools, and how to work with operational connections (informants). Technical processes and methods to prepare cases in the pre-investigation phase were also discussed. The seminar was particularly relevant because the Special Police Unit, which supports the Special Prosecutor Office of Montenegro, expanded in 2018 and filled 29 new positions.

Ballistic Information Exchange: to improve investigations and prosecutions

Over the last few years, ballistic information exchange has been a major concern at the European level. This is because several ballistic comparison and identification systems are currently in use in Europe, but their compatibility and interoperability have been not attained so far.

For this reason, a meeting of ballistics experts from all of Europe was organised by the Project, in cooperation with EMPACT Firearms, in Konjic, Bosnia from 12 – 13 September 2019.

During the meeting, two of the most commonly used ballistic identification systems were presented in detail, through their technical specifications and the experiences of the countries already using them. The current inability to crosscheck ballistic data between different systems to find ballistic comparison matches hampers the development of new investigative leads and the ability to solve important criminal cases, most of them violent.

The convened ballistic experts explained the main points of ballistic reports to delegated prosecutors working in the Western Balkans region, as understanding of ballistic reports was identified as a missing gap and crucial to improving the number and quality of prosecutions in the region.

The main goal of the meeting was to tailor a document containing recommendations about ballistic systems that the EMPACT Firearms, on behalf of all the EU Member States, will submit before the current Finish EU Council Presidency.

Training on Special Investigative Means: Strengthening Police Security Centers

From 11 – 13 September 2019, 49 police officers from Security Centers in the Montenegrin cities of Herceg Novi, Bar and Budva participated in a training about Special Investigative Means in southern Montenegro.

Police Directorate Training of Trainers delivered the training that covered the best practices for effective enforcement of legislation. The main topics included special investigation methods, crime intelligence, the use of analytical tools and working with operational connections. Practical knowledge of and technical recommendations for preparing cases in the pre-investigation phase were also discussed.

Bosnian Border Police arrest alleged migrant smugglers

On 9 September 2019 the Border Police of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in cooperation with the Ministry of Interior of Croatia and Europol, apprehended five citizens for the criminal offence of “people smuggling” in the International Operational Action “River”.

Those apprehended are thought to have smuggled at least 315 migrants from Serbia across BiH to Croatia, Slovenia and other European Union countries. 2,250 euros were seized by police, as well as other items that will be used as evidence in criminal procedure. The international operational action was realized under the supervision of the Bosnian Prosecutor`s Office and Court, with the aim to identify, detect and prosecute smugglers, and cut off the organised criminal groups.

For more information, please refer to the article published on the website of BiH Border Police or the website of the Bosnian Directorate for Coordination of Police Bodies (in Bosnian).

Slovenian and North Macedonian Ministries of Justice exchange expertise

A delegation of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) of North Macedonia, including the MoJ State Secretary, visited its Slovenian counterpart to exchange knowledge in Mutual Legal Assistance and its EU ramifications. The event took place from 9 – 10 September 2019 and included visits to the Slovenian MoJ and Supreme Court.

The visit was supported by the IPA/2017 Countering Serious Crime in the Western Balkans Project and focused on both the national and EU aspects of international legal cooperation in criminal matters in Slovenia. Special attention was given to the practical implementation of associated EU legal instruments and institutionalized forms of cooperation, along with issues of the European Public Prosecution and its impact on national criminal law systems of EU Member States. The North Macedonian delegation presented the main features of prosecutorial investigations according to the reformed Macedonian Criminal Procedure Act adopted in 2010. The instrumentalities and potentials of EUROJUST were also discussed.

During the visit to the Supreme Court of Slovenia, the North Macedonian delegation had the opportunity to meet the Vice President of the Court, Mr. Đorđević and participate in a constructive discussion with Mag. Mr. Jasa Vrabec about the judicial system in the Republic of Slovenia and the well-devised PR campaign designed to increase the level of public trust in the judiciary.

All in all, the event was perceived by participants on both sides as a natural continuation of a well-established and on-going cooperation between the two Ministries that will continue and deepen in the future.

Operational Center at Europol: 30 countries team up to combat crime in the Western Balkans

From 5 – 8 September 2019, the IPA/2017 Countering Serious Crime in the Western Balkans Project participated in and supported the Joint Action Days (JAD) Western Balkans 2019.

JAD is an international operation, involving 6,758 law enforcement officers: 6,708 officers on the ground and 50 officers in the Operational Centre at Europol’s headquarters. Law enforcement officers from 30 countries, as well as 8 agencies and international organisations teamed up to tackle the 4 EMPACT (European Multidisciplinary Platform against Criminal Threats) priorities: firearms trafficking, illegal immigration, document fraud and drugs trafficking.

The preparatory phase began in early 2019 with several operational meetings and intelligence-gathering activities organised by all the participants, as well as controls at selected border control points. Europol coordinated the deployment of mobile offices on the request of countries to analyse information on-the-spot.

From 5 to 8 September 2019, a coordination centre was set up at Europol’s headquarters in The Hague to support the exchange of intelligence among the participants. During these days, 50 officers from almost all the EU Member States and Western Balkan countries, Europol, Frontex, INTERPOL and IPA/2017 Countering Serious Crime in the Western Balkans Project intensified checks in areas identified as high-risk, based on information collected and analysed in the coordination centre.

In total, 214,147 persons, vehicles, and premises were checked during the JAD. 175 individuals were arrested (26 arrests were made in the intelligence phase and 149 in the operational phase).

The operation was coordinated under the umbrella of EMPACT as part of the EU Policy Cycle, a four-year plan for the fight against serious and organised crime. It brings together police and law enforcement authorities of EU Member States, European agencies and international organisations to jointly strengthen Europe’s borders and internal security. The results and intelligence gathered will help in ongoing and future investigations.

Find the full details on Europol’s website, or on the website of the Montenegrin Police Department.