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Observatory of Illicit Economies in South Eastern Europe


Summary highlights

  1. Burning rubber: Trebinje as a hotspot for organized crime.

    The city of Trebinje, at the southernmost tip of Bosnia and Herzegovina, has a reputation as a hub for trafficking. Due to its proximity to both the Croatian and Montenegrin borders, during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, Trebinje was an active route for the smuggling of a wide range of goods, including weapons, oil and cigarettes. After the war period, the municipality became a crossroads for the smuggling of drugs, cars and migrants. In addition, over the past decade, a number of cars have been burned in what appear to be targeted attacks. This story looks at why Trebinje is a hotspot for organized crime and what can be done to reduce its vulnerability.

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  2. Passports and protection: the Macedonian connection of a Turkish crime boss.

    In May 2021, fugitive gang boss Sedat Peker made headlines with allegations of crime and corruption against people close to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a much-watched series of videos supposedly filmed in Dubai. An interesting detail in this case is that Peker was arrested in Skopje in January 2020 and had acquired a North Macedonian passport using a stolen identity card. Instead of being extradited to Turkey, he was sent to Kosovo and from there seems to have disappeared to the United Arab Emirates. This story looks at the strange case of Sedat Peker and his links to North Macedonia.

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  3. Crime does not pay: confiscating and reusing criminal proceeds.

    Millions of euros flow through south-eastern Europe every year as so-called illicit financial flows – money stemming from organized crime, corruption and tax evasion. Yet only a fraction of this money is confiscated or seized. This article looks at what the countries of the Western Balkans are doing to go after illegally-gained assets and what happens to those assets once they are recovered. In particular, it focuses on the public reuse of criminal assets, for example to support civil society.

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  4. Cell of a Montenegrin criminal group discovered in Slovenia.

    Since 2014, a bloody clash of clans has claimed the lives of dozens of young men from rival Montenegrin criminal groups, including the notorious Kavač clan. In 2021, in a complex operation, Slovenian police arrested 60 people suspected of being connected to the Kavač clan. This article looks at what is known about the activities of this cell operating in Slovenia and also examines an Austrian connection.

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  5. More than microphone holders: the Association of Professional Journalists of Montenegro.

    Journalists in Montenegro, as in other parts of south-eastern Europe, face pressures including harassment, threats and violence, particularly when reporting on cases of corruption and organized crime. We talk to Mila Radulović, the secretary general and one of the founders of the Association of Professional Journalists of Montenegro, about the group’s work, what it is like to be a journalist in Montenegro, the challenges that she faces in covering stories related to organized crime and corruption, and her thoughts on the country’s new government.

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About this issue

Welcome to the eighth issue of the Risk Bulletin produced by the Observatory of Illicit Economies in South Eastern Europe of the Global Initiative Against Trans-national Organized Crime (GI-TOC). We are grateful for funding from the United Kingdom, which enables us to produce this unique publication. We also appreciate the hundreds of readers who download the Risk Bulletin every month.

As usual, we start the Risk Bulletin with a profile of a hotspot of organized crime – this time in Trebinje, the southernmost city in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This city, which was a hub for smuggling during the Yugoslav wars in the 1990s, is now known as a place for smuggling stolen cars. It has also grabbed attention for a series of firebomb attacks on cars. We look into why Trebinje is vulnerable to organized crime and what is going on there.

Earlier this year, a major scandal in North Macedonia revealed that over 215 passports with false identities were sold by officials in the Ministry of the Interior, including to known criminals. It turns out that one of these passports was sold to Sedat Peker, who recently released a series of videos containing outspoken allegations of crime and corruption by high-ranking officials close to the president of Turkey. We look at what this Turkish crime figure was doing in North Macedonia.

Over the past year, the GI-TOC has been paying increased attention to illicit financial flows (IFFs) in south- eastern Europe. In August 2020, we produced a report on IFFs in Albania, Kosovo and North Macedonia, while the report ‘Spot Prices: Analyzing flows of people, drugs and money in the Western Balkans’, released in May 2021, included a section on money laundering in the Western Balkans. In September 2021, the GI-TOC will launch a report on IFFs in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia. Furthermore, the Observatory has been working with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe to look at the financial and economic aspects of organized crime, particularly asset seizure, confiscation, management and reuse. In this issue, we share some of the information that we have uncovered on the latter topic, particularly on the reuse of seized assets.

The Observatory has been closely following the violent clash between the Kavač and Škaljari clans from Montenegro. We were therefore interested to see reports from the Slovenian police that the Kavač clan has had a cell in Slovenia since 2018. In this issue, we reveal some of the main findings of an investigation into the group that led to the arrest of over 60 people in May 2021, as well as the operations of the group in Austria, which came to light as a result of this case.

In every issue of the Risk Bulletin we feature the work of a civil society organization that is strengthening resilience to organized crime in the Western Balkans. In this issue, we talk to Mila Radulović, the secretary general and one of the founders of the Association of Professional Journalists of Montenegro. The Association is a recipient of the GI-TOC’s Resilience Fund.

As we look ahead to future issues, we would welcome potential contributions to the Risk Bulletin. As we intend to widen our focus from the Western Balkans to all of south-eastern Europe, any stories on relevant topics in Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Romania, Slovenia and Turkey would be most welcome and remunerated. If you have a proposal for a story or would like to provide feedback, please contact almedina.dodic@globalinitiative.net.