Reuters: E Europe “Blighted by Corruption”

Anniversaries ending with zeroes tend to prompt a good deal of news coverage, as illustrated by the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s fall on Nov. 9. Among the celebration coverage and foreign correspondents’ “I was there ” memories was a Reuters article noting that the former Eastern Europe is still “blighted by corruption and poor governance,” and that its justice systems has been hampered by the old guard. 

Aviezer Tucker, a philosopher researching totalitarianism, said communism was more effective than other authoritarian orders, such as Spain's Franco, in eradicating dissent and destroying institutions that form the web of a democratic society.

When communism collapsed, the elites that could take over were very narrow. Many from the former ruling circles stayed in charge, and with them graft and poor practice persisted.

That leads to a situation where "police do not investigate, the prosecutors do not prosecute and the judges do not convict members of the current or former communist political elites. The rule of law is weak," Tucker said.

The article also noted that most of the former Eastern Bloc countries lie at the bottom of Transparency International’s European corruption rankings. Others have long pointed out that the Wall’s fall, the Soviet Union’s collapse and the end of the Cold War aided in the spread of what was formerly Eastern organized crime.

The reach of these and other crime groups have not only spread around the world, but also are becoming more entwined with terrorist groups, warns US Army Col. (retired) Robert Killebrew in an article last week in Small Wars Journal.

The merger of crime and terrorism means that insurgents will have access to virtually unlimited cash and that widespread attacks on the fabric of civil life – bribes, extortion, kidnapping, murder – have already become common fare in insurgencies. As the proper answer to this kind of challenge is effective civil institutions, including uncorrupted and efficient police, the U.S. must be capable of effectively and discretely helping our allies when asked, without opening our friends up to charges of “selling out” their countries’ interests to the Americans.

The paper was written for an audience of American policymakers; hence the focus throughout the paper on what the US can do to fight the crime-terrorism nexus, and not more on how all countries need to work as well together to fight the nexus as the transnational bad guys are working to create and nurture it. Killebrew is just one of a recent spate of experts who have pointed out the connections between international drug trafficking and terrorism. He is, however, a senior fellow at the new but influential Center for a New American Security. He might have the ear of some people who matter.

In other news on global problems, the UN is attempting a global solution to corruption as envoys meet this week in Qatar. They’ll try to put some enforcement teeth in a four-year-old anti-corruption convention backed by more than 140 countries.

Russia: Arrests in Murders of Journalist, Lawyer

Police arrested two suspects last week for the shooting murders of a human rights lawyer and a journalist in January. The lawyer, Stanislav Markelov, had worked on many high-profile cases, and was shot by a masked gunman on January 19 after giving a press conference on a case involving a Chechen woman killed by a Russian army officer in 2000. Journalist Anastasia Baburova, who worked for the independent Novaya Gazeta, was injured in the attack and died later at the hospital. 

The two suspects are believed to be affiliated with the banned far-right group Russian National Unity. A lawyer for the group’s founder told the New York Times that the organization had never killed anyone, and that the founder didn’t even know if the two suspects were members.

In legal news, Russian law now makes it a crime to lead an organized crime group. President Dmitri Medvedev signed the amendments into law last week, saying:

"The very fact that a person is part of a criminal community is already a legally defined crime, and this is enough for him to be brought to justice," he said. "The ones with a high status in the criminal hierarchy will be jailed for between 15 and 20 years, or for life, according to the law."

Also now illegal? Meeting to discuss operations or plans for criminal activity, which can get a mobster up to 20 years in jail. But will the laws do any good? Time magazine reported last month:

According to a report that accompanied Medvedev's proposal, the number of criminal incidents linked to the mafia increased 32% from 2006 to 2008. Last year alone, the number of "grievous or especially grievous" offenses committed by the mob — contract killings and kidnappings — climbed almost 10%. So even if the reigning dons do get locked up, replacements will likely be easy to find and the violence will probably continue, says Yury Fedoseyev, former head of Moscow's Criminal Investigation Department. "The men I put away in the early 1990s for extortion, racketeering, murder — they're all getting out now," he says. "And I doubt they're going to retire."

Serbia: More on Morava

Serbia’s recent and massive drugs sting managed to reel in some big fish, police directorate head Milorad Veljovic told the press last week.

"In Novi Sad, we arrested a very strong branch of the Montenegrin dealer mafia," Veljović said, and named the suspects as Radoslav Cvijović aka Cviko, Predrag Opačić, and "Alibašić from Tutin" (in Sandžak).

The clean-up operation after the sweep, named Morava, included the arrest of another alleged Novi Sad-area dealer, who was found with 800 grams of heroin, a digital scale and an unspecified large amount of foreign currency, which the police believed the dealer had come by from selling narcotics and weapons.

Unrelated to Morava, but a heroin bust all the same was the arrest last week of a man holding a Serbian passport and carrying 24.5 kilos of heroin in his Austrian-plated car. Slovenian customs authorities arrested the man last Thursday on the Slovenian-Austrian border.

Japan: Montenegro Holds Ginza Robbery Suspect

Montenegro arrested a suspect wanted by Japan for a 2007 jewelry robbery in September, Tokyo police announced last week. Radovan Jelusic, 39, is allegedly part of the Pink Panthers diamond-robbery gang, and was wanted for allegedly stealing a $2.2 million diamond tiara and a necklace worth just under $1 million from a Tokyo jewelry boutique in the Ginza District in June 2007.

Japan and Montenegro have no extradition agreements, and Japanese authorities have asked that Jelusic be tried in Montenegro. The other suspect in the case, Montenegrin national Rifat Hadziahmetovic, was arrested in Cyprus in March. No word on the location of the jewelry.

Bulgaria: Borissov’s First 100 Days

No major mafia bosses or high-ranking Bulgarian officials have been charged with crime or corruption in the 100 days since Prime Minister Boyko Borissov took power, but Sofia news agency Novinite ran a lengthy article on what has been done.

Some of the items on the list: The government called a moratorium on the notorious land swaps, in which the powerful and/or wealthy and/or connected exchanged prime Black Sea plots and mountain resorts for plots in the less-attractive interior, enriching themselves off state-owned property in deals that reeked. A former agricultural minister and an ex-head of the state’s forestry agency were charged in alleged abuses related to the swaps. The interior ministry has looked into several other ministries and sent evidence for cases to the prosecutor’s office, and replaced the heads of agencies allegedly involved in siphoning money away from EU programs. A former anti-organized crime cop was appointed head of customs.

The list, taken altogether, is impressive. Or maybe that’s because the last government did nothing. I would bet that the European Union, which is dangling hundreds of millions in development aid, has noticed the contrast.

Italy Opposition: Courts Won’t  Convict Berlusconi

Though Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has seen his immunity from prosecution recently revoked, Italian courts will never convict Berlusconi on any of the corruption charges he once again faces, an opposition politician told Reuters last week.

(Antonio) Di Pietro, a prosecutor in the Clean Hands corruption investigations of the early 1990s that tore apart Italy's Cold War political system, said the prime minister would find ways to avoid conviction, as he had done with past trials where statutes of limitations expired.

"The court cases will never succeed because Berlusconi, who entered politics to block cases against him, will always invent a way to prevent a final verdict," Di Pietro said in an interview on Tuesday.

Di Pietro, who founded the Italy of Values party, said that the only way to get rid of Berlusconi is to defeat him at the polls. Unfortunately Di Pietro’s party only has about 10 percent of the vote, but he has been in talks with another opposition party to start a new alliance against the prime minister. Also unfortunately, Berlusconi controls three of the country’s four national private television channels, which Berlusconi says is irrelevant, as he doesn’t make their editorial policies. Di Pietro compares it to something all Italians can understand:

"It's a bit like the mafia. A mafia don never needs to order a killing or a blackmail. It's enough for him to say: 'I don't like that person', and someone else will do it," said Di Pietro.