AIM: start

THU, 22 NOV 2001 00:08:12 GMT

A Clinch: Police vs. the Judiciary

AIM Zagreb, November 10, 2001

In a raid carried out at the end of last month the Croatian police arrested a group of twenty-one individuals suspected of alleviating the state budget through various criminal activities for 21 million kunas (over DM 5 million). Shortly after the arrest, all twenty-one were released from custody because the Zagreb County State’s Attorney Dunja Pavlicek-Patak refused to sign a court order for their further detention. That was just the beginning of a scandal which shook the very foundations of the Croat judiciary system in the next ten odd days. Police chieftains ran amuck when the rogues they had put behind bars so triumphantly were set free, voicing their rage in statements given to the press which ran something like "while we arrest, the district attorney’s office sets them free". The media joined in, mercilessly denouncing Dunja Pavlicek-Patak. Prime Minister Racan felt obliged to have his say. State Attorney Radovan Ortynski made his contribution to the whole affair by an on-the-spot change of mind. The conclusion to the story was the relieving of duty of the County State’s Attorney and the instituting of disciplinary proceedings against her because of - to quote State Attorney Ortynski - her "interviews to the press", rather than any negligence or breach of duty on her part.

Although Prime Minister Racan obviously believes to have solved the problem by removing Dunja Pavlicek-Patak from office (a decision reached after a meeting with the State Attorney Ortynski, Minister of Justice Ingrid Anticevic-Marinov and police Chief Simo Lucin: a rather unconstitutional piece of decision-making for a PM), in reality it seems this has not contributed to things settling down in the least. For one thing, the PMs’ decision has changed nothing in the problematic relations between the police and the district attorney’s office which - at least at the moment - seem to be based on the rivalry between the two institutions, both equally interested in not putting the criminals behind bars. It could be said that the police are beefing up their efficiency numbers by large-scale arrests lacking necessary material proof, thus leaving it to the judiciary to set the culprits free for lack of evidence. This gives way for the forming of a misconception in the public according to which the ever-alert police is carrying its task with exceptional success, while the district attorney’s office is made up of incompetent and corrupted mobsters who are to blame that in this country hardly anyone has yet been convicted for a major crime. Particularly so when the offence committed concerns fraudulent handling in the economic sphere. If there is a grain of truth to the claim, a much greater amount of hard facts speak on behalf of the thesis that the incompetent mobster are, in fact, to be found among police ranks. These people - and that no one can dispute - seem to be incapable of gathering material evidence which could send even the most obvious offenders to prison for any period of time worth mentioning.

"For years now, the police have carried out investigations on their own, never bothering to contact the district attorney’s office for necessary legal backup... If the case in question concerns organized crime and major instances of corruption, no district attorney however able he might be can hope to thoroughly examine the evidence in mere 48 hours of custody proscribed by the law. If the police do not do their job properly, the public prosecutor should refrain from instituting charges against the detainee, since there is no way for him to establish in such a short period of time whether the evidence submitted by the police is strong enough to uphold the indictment in a court of law. If the police evidence is unsatisfactory, no state prosecutor should go for an indictment; but, what happens in reality is that some succumb to the pressure and that is unacceptable", said Dunja Pavlicek-Patak in an interview to daily Globus.

Although truly unacceptable, in practice this does happen often: the police arrest someone, the media blaze it abroad, succumbing to pressure the district attorney institutes an inquiry, the investigative judge, himself under pressure, opts for custody, the detainee remains in jail for months on and then the whole thing comes to an inglorious end in the courtroom: there it turns out that the police evidence is inadequate, meaning that the person has to be set free. However clear it may be that the man is a notorious criminal, nothing can be done because the investigative work was carried out sloppily. Guess who is likely to be accused of corruption by the public in the end?

"How else is the public to react on hearing bombastic police announcements of its arrests of entire criminal gangs, if the district attorney fails to put them into custody afterwards? The only possible conclusion is that the district attorney is either mad or corrupt", said Dunja Pavlicek-Patak in an interview to Globus. Explaining the case of the twenty embezzlers of the state budget released from custody she said: "The police obviously counted on my yielding to the pressure. What I did was done not out of spite, but because I refuse to succumb to pressure of any sorts concerning my decisions of instituting inquiries or committing someone to custody. After all, what we are dealing with here are human rights, a constitutional category obliging the district attorney to act in accordance with the principles of legality". Of course, the police could care less for the concerns voiced by the Zagreb County State’s Attorney: it seems all Interior Minister Lucin truly cares about are the numbers of arrests made, so as to leave an impression in the public (and, especially, circles close to the top of the government) that he is, in fact, doing his job; the fact that there is hardly anyone in the entire police force capable of conducting a quality inquest or of filing a coherent police report does not seem to bother the worthy minister much. Neither is Radovan Ortynski overly concerned with what Dunja Pavlicek-Patak has to say. He seems to be set on keeping the seat of the State Attorney at all costs and the price asked is not too steep for him to meet: all he needs to do is to continue being as subservient as always concerning PM Racan’s requests, forming his view on any given topic only after being instructed by those above him in power. As for Prime Minister Racan, his main concern is that all internal feuds be swept under the carpet and all of his police and judiciary civil servants keep their lips tight sealed. That is why only Dunja Pavlicek- Patak had so much to say to the press, while everyone else - just as Racan instructed them to - wisely kept their silence.

Still, the core of the problem remains unsolved. Croatia continues being a police state wherein people are arrested without solid evidence, while the arresting officers are utterly indifferent as to the chances that the criminals in their custody be convicted later on or not. "My removal from office and the pardon granted to the police in this case have merely served to cover up the true origins of the whole problem; to my opinion, at the end of the day, all this will result in is a further deterioration of already strained relations between the police and the judiciary. Already, many of my colleagues feel offended, but the real impact of the whole affair concerns the future: what if our younger colleagues, for fear of losing their jobs, decide to simply copy police reports and review incoming requests for custody uncritically? I doubt that will contribute much to the establishment of a truly legal state or to the furthering of civic rights of our citizens", was the comment of County State’s Attorney Pavlicek-Patak.

As things stand, current police actions seem to have ever less to do with even a semblance of legality. Just as an example, the war crimes suspect General Ante Gotovina - according to Racan’s deputy Goran Granic - has fled the country and the police know nothing of his whereabouts. To add insult to injury, without winking an eye, Prime Minister Racan made it known that the government is not to be held responsible for the flight of the general. What he forgot to mention at the time was that his government was presented with the warrant for Gotovina’s arrest a whole month prior to the Hague indictment being made public. In the course of that month-long grace period, Croatian police authorities exhibited little interest as to the whereabouts of the alleged war criminal, giving way to assumptions that someone close to the very top of the establishment had good reasons for enabling the disputed war hero to disappear. Need it be said? Of course no one is to be held responsible for the fact that the general has somehow managed to disappear into thin air in the meantime....