Bosnia Cracks Down on International Drug Cartel; Police Officials Among Suspects

Published: 22 April 2024

SIPA Black TIE2State Investigation and Protection Agency's (SIPA) officers targeted suspected associates of the Tito and Dino cartel's boss. (Photo: SIPA)

By Zdravko Ljubas

Police in Bosnia and Herzegovina detained 22 people, including high-ranking police officers, suspected of being linked to an international drug cartel led by Edin Gačanin, a Bosnia-born man last seen in Dubai and believed to have orchestrated massive cocaine hauls from South America to Europe.

Gačanin was sentenced in the Netherlands in absentia for drug trafficking, and the U.S. government blacklisted him in March 2023 as one of the key players in the global cocaine trade.

U.S. authorities dubbed Edin “Tito” Gačanin the “European Escobar” and described him as one of the top 50 drug dealers in the world.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) also alleged that his Tito and Dino clan has been closely linked to the Kinahan cartel, a significant Irish transnational organized crime syndicate and one of the world’s largest organized crime groups.

Gačanin’s connections extended to Raffaele Imperiale, arrested in 2021 – a notorious figure in the Camorra, one of Italy’s largest organized crime networks. Imperiale’s notoriety included involvement in the high-profile 2002 theft of two early van Gogh paintings from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

The police operation on Monday was conducted in three cities and targeted individuals suspected of involvement in “organized crime, the illicit trafficking of substantial drug quantities, money laundering, and related offenses,” according to the Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA) said that the operation, codenamed “Black Tie 2,” was carried out with the help of the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the European Union law enforcement agency Europol.

The Sarajevo daily Oslobođenje reported that among the detained were Mustafa Selmanović, the head of the Special Police Unit of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, one of the country’s two regions, and Vahidin Munjić, the acting director of the Federation’s Police Directorate.

Businessmen Gordan Memija from Sarajevo and Haris Behram from Mostar as well as Tarik Zulović, the manager of a hospital in the central Bosnian city of Zenica, were also apprehended as suspects with links to Gačanin and his Tito and Dino cartel, according to the Dnevni avaz daily newspaper.

Several special police officers who allegedly served as bodyguards during Gačanin’s visit to Sarajevo in 2016 were also detained.

The cartel reportedly recruited many from Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as neighboring countries to set up companies across the Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain, and Bosnia and Herzegovina to launder the proceeds of its drug trafficking operations worth billions of dollars.

Gačanin was apparently running everything from Dubai, where he was arrested in 2022 at the request of the Netherlands, where he started his business.

Dutch authorities requested his extradition, accusing him of orchestrating two major cocaine shipments in 2020 via Rotterdam and Hamburg ports. He was also accused of involvement in procuring substances for the production of crystal meth.

In November last year, a Rotterdam court sentenced Gačanin to seven years in prison in absentia and imposed a one-million-euro (US$1.065 million) fine after he struck a deal with the Dutch state prosecutor.

But instead of extraditing him, Dubai authorities released Gačanin on bail in January this year, and his whereabouts remain unknown since then.