Speeches, Remarks, and Interviews
Remarks by Ambassador James B. Foley at the Opening of the Counter Corruption Best Practices for Europe Conference - Zagreb
March 8, 2011
Respected members of the Croatian and regional governments, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is an honor to address you today and welcome you to this beautiful city for such an important conference.
During my eighteen months in Zagreb, I have seen remarkable progress in the development of Croatia's institutional capacity to fight corruption. This effort begins with political leadership. Prime Minister Kosor’s directive that there are no untouchables in Croatia has had a profound impact. I realize that for the citizens of Croatia the results of recent investigations and prosecutions, and the everyday revelations of corruption in high places, have been dismaying, and understandably so. But I believe that history will look back on this period as a turning point, when impunity stopped and accountability began. The fact that a former prime minister now sits in an Austrian jail awaiting extradition to Croatia for a corruption investigation is indicative of a big problem to be sure. But it is at the same time a powerful warning that ought to send chills down the spine of any politician in Croatia and hopefully the region who may think about committing corruption in the future.
As will be discussed, the Croatian Government in recent years has strengthened the tools available to police, prosecutors, and courts, and especially to USKOK, the State Prosecutor's Office for the Suppression of Corruption and Organized Crime. Yet much hard work remains to be done, in Croatia and I expect in many of your countries as well, to enhance financial and cybercrime investigation capabilities, fully implement a system to manage seized assets, and develop effective interagency coordination. I hope this conference will generate useful ideas and contacts to assist you in these areas.
The United States has spent the last decade helping Croatia build its anticorruption institutions in line with Croatia's own vision and priorities. From the establishment of USKOK in 2001 to prosecute organized crime and corruption cases, to the creation in 2009 of a dedicated national police unit and specialized panels of judges to hear these complex cases, the United States has worked closely with these institutions as they developed and became the success stories they are today. Our efforts, while diminishing in terms of funds, remain strong in terms of support and advice, and when needed, concrete assistance. And we have reached the point where today American law enforcement and judicial institutions are cooperating productively with their Croatian counterparts in a number of sensitive ongoing corruption investigations.
It is sometimes overlooked that Croatia further strengthened its institutional capabilities by passing in 2009 a major revision to its Law on Criminal Procedures. The new law gave prosecutors and police many new tools to fight corruption, which Mr. Cvitan and his USKOK colleagues will describe for you during this conference. Two of the important changes were strengthened asset seizure laws and the ability of the Prosecutor to grant limited immunity to cooperating witnesses. Both of these are already having positive impacts on investigations. As has been the case in the United States, asset seizures and grants of immunity are proving to be formidable instruments that help shift the balance of power away from the corrupt and to the police and prosecutors, especially in cases against top-level suspects. Another change, which took effect in just the past month, is the creation of new State Judicial and Prosecutorial Councils. The corps of judges, prosecutors, and law professors now elect their own representatives to the councils. These independent councils will help minimize political influence in the appointment and oversight of judges and prosecutors and thereby consolidate the rule of law on an enduring basis.
Of course, at the end of the day what is crucial are not only investigative tools, but the willingness of police and prosecutors to use them. It takes a great deal of dedication and indeed professional courage to investigate high-level corruption, especially when a suspect is a powerful politician, a colleague, a friend, or even your boss - and I salute in this regard Chief State prosecutor Mladen Bajic and his outstanding colleagues for their courage and professionalism. It also takes courage on the part of witnesses willing to testify about corruption, but as we have seen recently in Croatia, they will take courage if the same is demonstrated by police and prosecutors. This is indeed the process by which the rule of law can become institutionalized.
I would like to point out that one of the U.S. expert advisors who worked with Croatia on developing many of these tools to fit its needs and its legal system is Jeff Palmer, who is here today and will speak to this conference about interagency efforts to fight corruption. Jeff is now assisting police and prosecutors in Podgorica, and I want to thank USKOK for their willingness to partner with Jeff and our Montenegrin colleagues as they develop their own anticorruption institutions.
I know that corruption investigations are often complex, resource intensive projects. They tend to involve international and internet-based transactions and communications requiring cooperation with numerous foreign authorities. Today, one requires a great deal of financial and computer expertise, and sometimes a little luck, to track economic crimes, money flows, and hidden assets. Countries throughout the region need assistance building financial and cybercrime skillsets within police and prosecutors offices. This conference has panels on best practices for combating corruption and money laundering. I hope that you, the participants, will use these sessions to learn both the resources that are available to assist you and also to build personal ties across borders in order to foster cooperation on transnational cases.
Corruption is a fact of life. It will never be completely eliminated. This is just as true in my country as it is in Croatia. What we need to strive for, however, is a system where corruption is the exception rather than the norm. Where it is not accepted as the easy way to get things done, but instead is viewed as the crime that it is. This change is starting to take hold in Croatia With all of our efforts, it can happen throughout the region.