Justice Minister Ivan Malenica said on Wednesday that a new hearing should be held on Thursday for eight Croats suspected in Zambia of attempted child trafficking, and although the court in Ndola discontinued the process two days ago, they are being charged again with the same offence.
The arrested eight Croats have been in Zambia since mid-December when they were first arrested. The prosecution accused them of forging the documents of four children from the Democratic Republic of Congo whom they adopted and intended to bring to Croatia.
After the indictment was dismissed, the four couples intended to return to Croatia as ordered but were arrested again at the airport and charged with the same criminal offence as in December.
“We have no new information, we hope to know something more at the hearing set for tomorrow and why they were re-arrested. It is a very strange situation. They were given 48 hours to leave the country and their travel documents were returned, yet they were stopped at the immigration office for the same criminal offence and were sent back into custody,” Malenica told a press conference in Zagreb today.
He added that he is “communicating with their defence attorney, and Ambassador Ante Cicvaric is on his way there.”
When asked whether the adopted children are Croatian children, given that they have valid Croatian documents, but that Zambia’s authorities believe that some of the personal documents may have been forged, Minister Malenica said that they have valid Croatian travel documents and that Croatia is continuing to take care of them through diplomatic channels.
“They have valid travel documents. We are continuing to care for them through diplomatic channels,” said Malenica.
As far as the information I have from the hearings that took place, the question of the validity of the documents was not raised, nor was the legality of the documents themselves.
“Those documents were issued in Croatia according to a valid procedure. In addition to the adult Croatian citizens, naturally, we are continuing to care for the children as well,” Malenica said, adding that the newly created situation was “very serious.”
‘It is strange’
He said that for now he has no information about any charges from Croatia and cannot confirm that information.
He reiterated that the relevant Zambian law has a provision that after charges are withdrawn, they can be brought again and he thinks that is exactly what has happened in this case.
“It’s strange that they were released and that they were given 48 hours to leave the country, and then they were arrested again. It’s certainly strange,” said Malenica.
“Given that those are Croatian citizens, I am concerned about this situation,” added the minister and underscoring that Croatia was fully involved in this case and that it is in touch with the Zambian ministers of foreign affairs and justice, and that the permanent representation of the EU is also engaged in the case.
He reiterated that Croatia is trying to help the Croatian citizens in all possible ways.
When asked about the initiation of an investigation in Croatia regarding the issuance of documents, Malenica replied that he had no information about such an investigation.
“That is a question for the state attorney (DORH),” said Malenica.
He confirmed that the Ministry of Justice and Public Administration sent an inspection to the courts that issued court orders recognising foreign court decisions and that within the scope of jurisdiction, it was established that the case allocation algorithm was respected.
“The cases were assigned randomly,” Malenica said, adding that the President of the Supreme Court confirmed this.
The Lusaka Times media outlet reported on Wednesday that “the Zambian Department of Immigration has rearrested the Eight Croatian nationals discharged by the Ndola Magistrate Court regarding the case of child trafficking involving four juveniles from DR Congo.”
“On Monday morning, the State discontinued the matter of attempted child trafficking of four children from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) charged on the four couples.”
“Department of Immigration Public Relations officer Namati Nshinka said the department received instructions from the National Prosecution Authority (NPA) to have the 8 Croatians rearrested,” this meda outlet reported on Wednesday.