A Chance for Judiciary to Recover a Failing Grade

Mate Šimić, a car dealer from Grude, was arrested again after the BiH Prosecutor’s Office changed a prosecutor on the case under the police pressure.

Since1991, at least 23 criminal reports for serious crimes have been filed against Mato Šimić. Yet, he did not spend more than a few months in jail. (Photo: CIN)

On April 18, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH) police arrested Mato and Blago Šimić because they allegedly planned an assassination of Zoran Galić, the police commissioner of Zapadna Hercegovina Canton (ZHK). The Šimić brothers who own a car scrap yard in Grude, are also suspected of organizing a skunk drug ring from Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) to Croatia according to the state Prosecutor’s Office.

Zoran Galić, West Hercegovina Canton’s Police Commissioner, said that Mato Šimić planned to assassinate him. (Photo: CIN)

The brothers and eight of their collaborators were arrested on Dec. 17, 2012 during a major police bust against car steeling mafia in the Western Herzegovina. However, a day later all of the suspects were released from jail.Information on the preparation of the assassination of the police commissioner has rejuvenated an investigation against 47-year old Mato Šimić that had lingered for three months.

The state prosecutor Saša Sarajlić signed a release order despite the police’s warning that Šimić might tamper with witnesses or hide evidence and in this way endanger the investigation.

This is why the Federation Police Authority (FUP) filed a complaint with the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council (VSTV) in BiH against Sarajlić.

The complaint alleges that the prosecutor did not interrogate the suspects, even though was obliged to do it within 24 hours, according to the Law on Criminal Procedure.

“His release caused a wholesale panic and distress of public across the West Herzegovina Canton”, said Dragan Lukač, director of FUP, adding that this decision has caused an irreparable damage to the operation code-named Meteor.

Lukač told The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIN) that the Šimićs are reoffenders in the organized crime, have a reputation of trigger-happy persons, causing arson, intimidating witnesses and assaulting police officers and judges.

Complaint against Sarajlić

After Šimić and his group were handed over to the BiH Prosecutor’s Office, Sarajlić invited the inspectors who had worked on the case to help him interrogate the suspects.

In 2007, police found a steering wheel with an unopened lock on Šimić’s scrap yard. (Photo courtesy of police department.)

During the December raid, the police searched Mato Šimić’s scrap yard, his estate in a village of Borjani near Grude and the other locations. They found 29 cars and three motorbikes, blank forms for vehicles and 12 kilograms of drugs, explosives and various weapons.

However, when the inspectors arrived at the BiH Prosecutor’s Office, Sarajlić told them that the interrogation was cancelled and that he would not keep them in jail, according to the documents obtained by CIN.

The inspectors were surprised by turn of the events and they asked the prosecutor to extend jail for another 30 days saying that Šimić’s could intimidate witnesses and hamper investigation. Nevertheless, Sarajlić did not change his opinion.

At that time, the police was still raiding his facilities and some members of the group were getting ready to cooperate while the police had yet to interview many of the witnesses.

Among the records that the police had attached to the complaint was a document in which Sarajlić stated that he made a decision to release the suspects after consulting with Nenad Šaleda, a judge conducting pretrial procedure.

The Office of the Disciplinary Prosecutor at VSTV wrote to CIN that there was a complaint against Sarajlić, without revealing any details.

The Meteor Operation – police raids Šimić’s scrap yard in Grude. (Photo: CIN)

The Court of BiH denied any “oral consultation between the prosecutor on case and a judge” in a statement sent to CIN. The Court said that the Prosecutor’s Office has not sent any request regarding jail.

Sarajlić has not responded to CIN calls while his secretary explained that the prosecutor could not comment on an ongoing investigation.

Threat to Commissioner Reopens the Case

Commissioner Galić told a CIN reporter that he met with the police and intelligence officers who told him that they had evidence that Mate Šimić intended to assassinate him. Earlier Galić reported with the authorities that Šimić had threatened him, but the ZHK Prosecutor’s Office threw out his complaint for lack of evidence.

For years, the police agencies in BiH and Croatia have been investigating the Šimićs for car theft, drug trade, assaulting witnesses and police. The brothers were jailed in 2007 and 2012. The Cantonal court in Široki Brijeg acquitted Mato Šimić for lack of evidence last year.

Galić said that the representatives of the police agencies participating in this investigation asked the BiH Prosecutor’s Office to change the prosecutor in the case of Meteor.

After a part of the case was handed over to a prosecutor Dubravko Čampara, the brothers were arrested again.

In 2007, FUP, Republika Srpska and ZHK police conducted a joint operation against the car steeling mafia. Their targets were Mato and Blago Šimić, and a group of people connected with them.

Apart from the cars, the police found various documents for identifying vehicles, blank ownership forms and other evidence that the police thought proved that Šimić was involved in theft and resale of stolen cars.

In its last operation, police seized 29 suspected stolen cars at Šimić’s scrap yard. Five years earlier, 87 cars were seized at the same location. (Photo: CIN)

At the time, police found at Mato Šimić’s scrap yard—and other places owned by him or his associates—eighty-three vehicles – in parts or whole. Forensic analysis revealed that these cars were stole from BiH, Croatia and the countries of European Union. Some of the vehicles were returned to their owners, while the Federation police has kept under lock the rest.

Šimić managed to flee then.

According to a statement from one officer involved in the operation, Mato Šimić’s bed was still warm when the police entered his house.

Who are the Šimićs?

Since 1991, 24 criminal complaints have been filed against Mato Šimić, according to the documents CIN obtained.

He was sentenced nine times in BiH and Croatia while Blago was sentenced eight times. They have not spent more than several months in jail.

According to the complaints, Mate Šimić assaulted police officers at least 10 times.

Galić said that he was often on the receiving end of Šimić’s group. He said that Mate threatened him over the phone.

“A man threatened me, Mate Šimić himself, that he would take my head off“.

However, when he reported the threat to the Prosecutor’s Office of ZHK he was told:

“There are no elements of a threat – it’s his word against mine“.