Police arrested 15 suspected members of a cocaine smuggling gang in Slovenia last week, and found untold quantities and qualities of drugs, weapons and money. The raids were a continuation of Operation Balkan Warrior, which began last year when Serbian and US DEA agents seized nearly three tons of cocaine destined for Europe in waters off Uruguay. The Serbian-Montenegrin leader of the gang, Darko Saric, remains at large.
By Beth Kampschror
Though there was no word on the nationality of the suspects, the arrests themselves were international in character, reported Serbian radio-television B92:
The latest arrests came as a result of cooperation between the Serbian Prosecution for Organized Crime and the Slovenian High Prosecution and its organized crime sector, said reports.
Evidence was gathered from the American DEA, the Serbian Security Information Agency (BIA), and the Slovenian intelligence services.
In other possibly related Saric gang news, a Montenegrin nightclub owner who had reportedly been under suspicion of laundering cocaine-trade money was shot dead Sunday. The victim, Dragan Dudic, was reported to have been a close associate of Darko Saric. Dudic was shot outside a café in the coastal town of Kotor; in a bit of local vigilantism, the friends he’d been sitting with chased down the shooter and put him in the hospital.
And in other Serbia-related South America drug news, the bodies of three Serbian citizens killed in a recent Bolivian shoot-out are slated to be flown home as of this writing. The three had worked as security for a Bolivian drug lord and were killed in a shoot-out between crime groups in mid-May; their boss was kidnapped in the same incident.
Closer to home, a justice ministry official was slated last week to hand over €30,000 in seized criminal assets to the far-south municipality of Trgoviste, which has been recently hit by flooding and landslides. Ministry state secretary Slobodan Homen told Serbian agency Tanjug that the state has seized 8 million dinars (€78,000) since the country’s asset forfeiture program began. The money will be used for in-country aid:
In this way, the justice ministry official explained, the Serbian Red Cross will get RSD 3mn in aid every three months, and an additional RSD 600,000 for providing for soup kitchens, while the rest of the seized property revenue will be used in cases of emergency, such as the one in Trgovište.
In other news from the southeastern Europe neighborhood:
Europe-wide raids target crime gang
Police in Britain, Spain and Ireland conducted simultaneous raids last week and arrested at least 32 people in an attempt to end an Irish gang’s convoluted money-laundering schemes:
"This network has been offering a global investment service, plowing hundreds of millions of pounds of dirty cash into offshore accounts, companies, and property on behalf of criminals," Britain's Serious and Organized Crime Agency (SOCA) said in a statement.
The head of Ireland's Garda National Drugs Unit, Detective Chief Superintendent Tony Quilter, said drugs, cash and guns had been found in the operation, which involved 750 law enforcement officers. "Across the three jurisdictions, money, firearms and drugs have been located," he told national broadcaster RTE.
The so-called Kinahan gang, so named for its alleged leader Christy Kinahan, was investing and laundering its own drug revenues – by investing in companies doing work in various sectors, from renewable energy to infrastructure projects – as well as laundering and investing money for other Irish gangs. The Kinahan gang’s property portfolio in Brazil alone is estimated at around €500 million; other properties are located in Belgium, Dubai, England, Ireland, South Africa and Spain. The Irish Times reported that the group had apparently been well under the radar of the Spanish police until two Irish men were shot dead and another was wounded in separate gang-related attacks in 2008 and 2009.
Also last week, the US indicted two US citizens and one foreign national over a Ukrainian-based “scareware” fraud scheme that caused $100 million in losses to victims worldwide. The FBI had details:
The charges allege that the defendants, through fake advertisements placed on various legitimate companies’ websites, deceived Internet users into falsely believing that their computers were infected with “malware” or had other critical errors to induce them to purchase “scareware” software products that had limited or no ability to remedy the purported, but nonexistent, defects. The alleged scheme is widely regarded as one of the fastest-growing and most prevalent types of Internet fraud.
And finally in international news, organized crime is still around in the built-by-the-mob gambling oasis in the desert that is the western US city of Las Vegas. But today, it’s no longer the Italian-Americans that are solely running the rackets – it’s people who are linked to crime groups in Bulgaria and Israel, writes a columnist for the local Vegas paper. For example:
A few days ago, charges were filed against people allegedly linked to the Bulgarian mob. The indictment contends they were defrauding car dealers in Las Vegas and Phoenix and stealing from bank ATMs. The dollar amounts are big -- $1.6 million in stolen cars and $700,000 from ATMs.
In three indictments, 11 people were charged, but the top guy, Dimitar Dimitrov, 58, supposedly was captured on FBI wiretaps boasting that he could keep a witness in line by tying him to a tree, dousing him with gasoline and standing next to him with a lighter. Wiretaps overheard him saying in Bulgarian: "I'm going to turn him into barbecue."
Russia to seize assets?
Russia may soon allow the assets of corrupt officials to be seized if they cannot prove they acquired the money, land, cars or other goodies legally. Or at least the interior ministry is pushing for the changes, by doing a bit of naming and shaming:
The ministry yesterday published income and asset information for senior officials. The highest paid was St. Petersburg police chief Vladislav Piotrovsky, with total income of 23.8 million rubles (about $762,000) and assets including a house, apartment, dacha and three plots of land.
By contrast, Moscow police chief Vladimir Kolokoltsev said last month that the base salary for police officers in the capital, used to calculate pensions, is about 5,000 rubles a month, and the average take-home pay including bonuses and overtime is about 24,000 rubles.
(Deputy minister Yevgeny) Shkolov reported income of 2.6 million rubles for 2009, while Kolokoltsev earned 1.4 million rubles, according to the ministry’s website.
Lawmakers in the Duma will consider whether to amend Russian law to allow for so-called “in rem” seizure, in which criminal action is directed towards the property itself, and places the burden of proof on the owner, to prove that he or she acquired the assets legally. One Duma member, however, told Bloomberg that he expected a great deal of opposition to the plan.