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Officials discuss Hercegovacka Banka operation

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 their mission.
"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 are suspect.
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 the process.
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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