High profile killings create panic in Croatia

25th October 2008, Comments 0 comments

The grip of an overwhelming crime wave threatens Croatia's potential EU membership.

Zagreb -- Amid fears of surging crime, another high profile murder comes at a most inopportune time for Croatians who hope to win an invitation to join the European Union.

Shortly after a bomb killed journalist, editor and publisher Ivo Pukanic and marketing director of his NCL Media Group Niko Franic, Croatia's top security body met in an urgent meeting on Thursday evening.

Among the participants were President Stjepan Mesic, Prime Minister Ivo Sanader and security ministers along with leaders of all parliamentary parties, emphasizing the sensitivity of the issue.

"Croatia will be a secure country," Sanader said after the meeting. However, he did not propose concrete measures against, "terrorism, or organized crime, whatever you call it."

President Mesic also spoke of "terrorism" in relation to the killing of Pukanic, 47, and Franic, 38.

Eariler, the weekly Globus had published a confidential report in which prosecutor Mladen Bajic admitted that authorities were losing the war against crime.

Just 16 days before Pukanic and Franic's murder, the mafia-style execution of Ivana Hodak, the 28-year-old daughter of a prominent criminal lawyer, had left the nation in shock.

After Hodak's murder, the prime minister  sacked the interior and justice ministers and promised a crackdown on organized crime.

The Hodak killing was one of dozens in recent years that remain unsolved.

A nationwide protest against rising organized crime was held after Hodak's death, with protesters displaying slogans such as "each country has a mafia, but in Croatia, the mafia has its country." 

Police refused to comment on possible motives behind Pukanic's murder.

As founder, owner and long standing editor of the weekly Nacional, Pukanic had developed links with figures on both sides of the law.

He and his reporters have investigated sensitive, dangerous topics, including the pan-Balkan smuggling of cigarettes, weapons, drugs and people: All activities alleged to have ties to the government.

Pukanic had won the 1999 Journalist of the Year award for his investigative reporting but he was also branded a mouthpiece for President Mesic and the presently imprisoned head of the Croatian underworld, Hrvoje Petrac.

Some also questioned the credibility of Nacional's often anonymous sources.

Reacting to the killings, Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said, "The European Commission strongly condemns the criminal attack. We trust the Croatian authorities will duly investigate  – and bring the perpetrators to justice."

The South East Europe Media Organization (SEEMO), a regional organization of editors, media executives and leading journalists from South East Europe, also condemned the killing. "SEEMO views this bombing as one of the most serious attacks on press freedom in recent years, not just in Croatia, but in the entire South-East European region."  

A few months before Pukanic was killed, a reporter covering organized crime, Dusan Miljus, was brutally beaten with baseball bats.

The violence extends beyond attacks on journalists. Between the Hodak and Pukanic murders, a real-estate developer was also murdered. The director of a state-run enterprise in charge of roads was also attacked with a baseball bat.

Many analysts say the attacks can be tied to the billions of dollars that organized crime across former Yugoslavia seek to launder: a frequent topic that Pukanic and the Nacional often addressed.

Boris Raseta/DPA/Expatica

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