Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Croatian Drug Czar Busted?

The usual way of making money out of illegal drugs is to supply the stuff to dealers and users or pretend that such trade doesn't exist if you happen to be government official. Dr. Ante Barbir, director of Croatia's Office of Narcotics Abuse Prevention, belongs is government official, but he found the new way of making money out of people's drug addiction.

At least this was the charge against him and two other individual. The second individual is his friend Mario Puljiz, chairman of HELP, Split NGO specialised for providing clean needles and counselling to heroin addicts. The third individual is Vedran Mardešić (Vedran Mardesic), head of City of Split's Office of Addiction Prevention Office.

According to complaint filed by Vesna Pilić (Vesna Pilic), founder and former chairman of HELP, Puljiz have paid between 25,000 and 65,000 HRK (between 3,300 – 8,600 €) to Barbir – out of the subsidy that HELP had received from Office of Narcotics Abuse Prevention, the very institution chaired by Barbir. When questioned by investigating magistrate, Barbir claimed that he only "borrowed" money from Puljiz in order to buy himself a new flat and that the money borrowed didn't come from the subsidies.

Mardešić, apparently not a player in Barbir-Puljiz connection, was accused of blackmailing HELP. According to complaint, he promised City of Split's subsidies to HELP, but only if HELP later paid 30 % of the sum to him directly. HELP refused and thus lost 110,000 HRK (14,500 €) of municipal subsidies.

It is too early to say where this story would lead. All three men were released after being questioned by investigating magistrate; indictments, if brought, could damage Račan's (Racan's) government few months before elections. They could also damage NGOs – institutions that used to handle drug problem in Split and the rest of Croatia more efficiently than government's offices burdened with bureaucracy, incompetence and corruption.

In any case, all three men can comfort themselves that their illicit gains hadn't been directly connected to young Croatians ruining their lives. And their gains were relatively small – only thousands of euros. If they wanted real drug money, they could fare much better – heroin trade in Split alone is estimated to bring tens of millions of euros to local dealers.


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