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One-year anniversary of the accession of Croatia

30/06/2014

Interview with Josip Čule

What did you do before joining Eurojust?

The first 20 years of my professional life were spent at the County Court in Split: first I was an intern, then court advisor and then a judge. When I left Split I went to Zagreb, where I was appointed Deputy State Attorney General of the Republic of Croatia in 2005. At that point, my contact with Eurojust started and in 2013 I became National Member.

Was Eurojust new for you before you were posted here?

Yes, in 2005 when I was the Eurojust Contact Point for Croatia, I encountered Eurojust for the first time. And it looked fantastic, so fantastic that I did not really believe that it works. I soon discovered that it is not just a tale, but a very alive and active organism. Today I'm proud that I have been a small part of this successful system for several years now, since last year as National Member and since 2009 as the Liaison Prosecutor for Croatia at Eurojust.

Please name two famous Croatian cases and tell us what your involvement was.

In almost all significant cases in recent years, mutual legal assistance was also executed through Eurojust. That happened in the most famous corruption cases, such as the ‘Spice case’ (annual report 2010) and the ‘Prime Minister case’, as well as in numerous drug trafficking cases. Some of these cases are still in the trial stage.

In the very beginning of the Spice case, we needed fast cooperation from the Czech Republic and UK and, in particular, Malta. In the end, my colleagues from Croatia were present during the interviews in Malta of all the witnesses. Also, a house search was carried out, where a lot of documentation was found. It was a very successful example of cooperation, all carried out within one month.

In the Prime Minister Case, our former Prime Minister was sentenced for two indictments: one for 10 years and one for 9 years. The case is now in the Supreme Court for appeal while he is in detention. When we started the investigation in 2010, we were informed that he and his relatives had a lot of bank accounts in Austria. We succeeded to freeze that money within 16 hours. One bank account had more than EUR 1.2 million in it. Without Eurojust it would have been impossible to do it in such a short time. The National Member for Austria called over 20 people in her country to advise me on how to compose the mutual legal assistance request and to add the orders from the investigating judge.

Does the Croatian Ministry of Justice have priorities in the same way the European Union has priority crimes in its policy cycle? What crime types do you deal with the most?

Not in the same way. However, there are priorities such as cases where defendants are in detention, where juvenile offenders are involved, and cases of family violence. These priorities are in the Criminal Procedural Code.

What crime types have you seen most in your work here at Eurojust?

Corruption cases are the most frequent, followed by economic crime and drug trafficking cases.

Since Croatia joined the European Union, have you experienced any change in cooperation between your country’s national authorities and those of other countries?

I have to point out that I have always had excellent cooperation with colleagues from the European Union. Cooperation now is more complete and simpler.

I expect cooperation to continue to improve. Namely, Croatia ratified the MLA Convention 2000, but we are still awaiting the approval of Brussels for the application of the Convention. Implementation of the Convention will make cooperation simpler and, I assume, more efficient, because we can then directly cooperate, which will lead to far more cases. Now we have cooperation via the Ministries of Justice, causing a huge delay; going directly through the Prosecutors General will result in a true speed increase for cases.

Do you foresee any change in the crime types you deal with because Croatia is now in the European Union?

No, not yet. However, I have some cases regarding the European Arrest Warrant. I expect the type of criminal offence will change: Croatia is still not in the Schengen zone, and won’t be for the next few years. Therefore, it is still not attractive as a destination country for trafficking in human beings. At this moment, it is a transit country. An increase in the number of such cases can be expected.

Has being the first National Member of Croatia proved to be different to your former role as Liaison Prosecutor? How would you describe your first year at Eurojust as National Member?

Yes, the role of Liaison Prosecutor is different from the role of National Member. I almost liked my work more as the Liaison Prosecutor: I only worked on cases, while all administrative parts were undertaken elsewhere. Being directly involved in operative work is nice.

Since I became National Member, the number of cases has increased. That is because the regulations and legislation are now different than when Croatia was not in the European Union. In particular, I can refer to the European Arrest Warrant as a tool, issued by or towards Croatia, which replaced extradition.

Also, I now have access to the Case Management System (CMS), where the information of the case is centralised. The system before, when I was still Liaison Prosecutor, was: opening a case in the College of Eurojust and exchanging information directly with the involved Eurojust Desks. In Croatia, we don’t have a CMS; we have a Case Tracking System.

In the first couple of months as National Member, I was busy with setting up the Desk; resolving CMS access issues, recruitment of an administrative assistant, etc. Now that these obstacles have been overcome, things are much easier.

How do you see Eurojust’s future from your perspective?

I hope Eurojust will have fewer and fewer cases. No, I'm not joking. I think we should concentrate only on the most significant cases, and leave different types of assistance to the European Judicial Network. I believe we should deal with cases where operative work and our active contribution are needed.

I think that the role of Eurojust will become even stronger. Already now, judicial cooperation in significant cases is unimaginable without the participation of Eurojust. I believe that there will be more and more ‘international crime’ and this will be more subtle and dangerous. It will be more difficult to detect and prosecute such forms of crime, and the role of Eurojust will become even more important.

How do you see your future at Eurojust?

I seem to be doing everything in four-year cycles: 2005 – 2009 Contact Point; 2009-2013 Liaison Prosecutor, and now: 2013 – 2017 National Member. I look forward to this latest cycle, and for the future.