By Sgt. Kerensa Hardy
First published in
SFOR Informer#112, May 3, 2001
Sarajevo - Under cover of darkness early April 18,
SFOR personnel played an integral role in yet another operation
involving the bank believed to be connected with the Croatian
Democratic Union (HDZ).
An Office of the High Representative (OHR) spokesperson and Public
Information Office chief addressed the issue and answered questions
from local media during a press conference later that day. SFOR
offered strong support to the OHR as they entered the main branch
of Hercegovacka Banka in Mostar to collect necessary documentation
for the provisional administrator.
This second effort went much more smoothly than the first, which
took place on April 6. This time SFOR forces were fully equipped
to deal with potential mobs that might gather to discourage investigators
and Toby Robinson, the provisional administrator, from accomplishing
"On this occasion then more military presence was used in
order to assure that entry to the bank could be secured,"
said Ambassador Ralph Johnson, principal deputy high representative.
"This was a very peaceful effort; a very well-organised military
effort and well-organised effort by our own personnel. There were
no injuries; there was no violence."
"SFOR was asked to support the high representative by providing
a safe and secure environment for this operation," said British
Col. Ian Mackenzie, chief PIO. "This we did and all those
people with nothing to hide from the investigation surrounding
the bank will be pleased that the (provisional administrator)
now has more material to allow her to carry out her job."
Mackenzie made reference to a statement made by COMSFOR Lt. Gen.
Michael Dodson April 7 when he commented on the lack of "tremendous
force" used by SFOR. "You all saw the results of that
approach and some of you have criticised SFOR for it. In terms
of our use of capability this time, therefore, we were not prepared
to be as generous in our approach as we were last time.
"But I believe that with the memory of the vicious, indiscriminate
and organised thuggery that we were faced with on April 6, all
reasonable people will understand our desire to limit the risk
to others on this occasion," Mackenzie said. "You will
note that also with the well being of others in mind, this time
around, the operation was carried out in the dark hours."
Johnson explained that this type of operation became necessary
after the bank refused to voluntarily grant access to the bank
or bank records. He also said that bank officials declined an
offer to meet with Robinson.
"Technical means" were used to enter the bank and gain
access to safes and vaults, Johnson said. "We felt that we
had no choice but to take action immediately in order both to
safeguard the interests of the legitimate clients of the bank,
but also to secure the information that (Robinson) requires in
order to go about her work.
"She, for example, did not have before this the basic information
necessary to establish who had legitimate claims on the bank's
assets. Of course this is vital information and the quicker she
has access to it, the quicker it will be possible to begin to
address those claims."
Although it seems the method used to obtain entry to the bank
and retrieve essential documents were necessary, Johnson said
he regrets that they had to resort to those means. He added that
without the co-operation of Hercegovacka Banka representatives,
"there was absolutely no alternative but to take the steps
that were taken."
The OHR principal deputy reiterated that Hercegovacka Banka is
the sole target of this investigation, no other financial institutions
OHR will continue to seek co-operation from current and previous
management, as well as from shareholders. Johnson added that the
lack of co-operation thus far only further complicates the job
of the provisional administrator and will consequently prolong
He noted that the needs of individual small account holders are
being taken into particular consideration since they "presumably
are innocent victims" in this matter. However, due to the
lack of co-operation from bank representatives, Johnson said he
cannot be sure how long any of this will take.
Once the information seized has been subject to analysis, it will
be determined what action will be taken. "If we find that
there were illegal accounts or that moneys were being used in
a way that either violates BiH law or
is being transferred
to support illegal structures, obviously the objectives would
be to hold those accountable
associated with this kind
of activity and to bring them to justice," Johnson said.
"(The) operation was a success for many, and hopefully will
help to move this country one step closer to being a truly free
society," Mackenzie concluded. "Whilst attempting to
remain as unobtrusive as possible, with the help of the people
of BiH, SFOR will continue to support the rest of the international
community and the legitimate government of BiH in doing their
best for the people here, and will do that through the provision
of a safe and secure environment.
"That is what we are committed to, that is our mission and
we are resourced to do it."
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