Group America: Investigation a US-Serbian Drug Gang with Friends in the Shadows

Summary

The job of journalists can be dangerous sometimes: reporters may have to deal with criminals that can seriously harm them. It is the objective of several investigative consortia to deal with the burning issues and unreported networks such as Group America, a largely unknown criminal gang involved in corruption, organized crime and drug smuggling.

Project

KRIK and investigace.cz seek to improve investigative journalism and reporting on criminal and controversial topics which journalists risk their lives for. Data gathering for those working within the field of investigative journalism is essential to offer readers a first-hand experience on issues linked with criminality, however, occasionally the reports are the result of a dangerous connection in terms of its sources with vengeful, criminal bands and organized crimes. Dojčinović’s and Holcová’s projects report stories between security and crime & organized gangs and states’ deviated sectors; caution must be exercised when handling these stories. The role of the sources is also important, and sometimes it must remain anonymous or at least not openly exposed.

Impact

Consortia of independent non-profit investigative journalists dealing with topics such as corruption, organized crime and other criminal operations are extremely impactful on social levels since they offer exclusive services to the societies and the states they work in, making underground and submerged worlds emerge between crime and state, legal and illegal, thus allowing the public itself to have opinion and fresh information on mysterious and opaque parts of the society. Reporting by investigative journalists is very risky potentially but readers often understand the importance of shedding light and clarity on the hidden aspects of organized and criminal gangs.

Limitations

The risks of certain type of insightful investigative journalism are closely related to the issues it intends to cover. It is very dangerous to investigate and report on (under)worlds related to drugs, organized crime, disappearance of people, corruption, trafficking of every kind and illicit materials. Journalists working and reporting on these issues put their lives in danger; the stories they produce can cost them years of work and sacrifices as well as threats and the inability to be protected.

Takeaways

1. (Investigative) journalism can help states with fighting organized crime.

2. Several journalists risk their lives to expose to the public criminal worlds that are often hidden and that many do not intend to expose.

3. Investigative journalists must structure their research phase very well in order to enhance their ability to produce connections between events, things and people of the criminal gangs.

(Published on Prague Media Point)

Report

Group America has been active for years in various illicit and criminal activities; it has been accused of murder, drug trafficking, and collusion with intelligence agencies. For many years the group has been targeted by some journalistic consortia, such as OCCRP (Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project), KRIK (Serbia), and investigace.cz (Czechia), which accurately reported through cross-border investigation the illegal activities and stories all over the world linked to many criminal networks. The job of the reporter working in the field of investigative journalism is to know that his or her safety is constantly at risk. To offer to the audience a quality product he or she must be able to accumulate quality information and link it to names, faces, and situations. Sometimes journalists act as investigators, trying to expose corruption and illegal criminal activities, reporting from the most disparate global scenarios including Chile, Serbia, Italy, Kosovo, Slovakia; moving from crimes such as drug trafficking and corruption. Stevan Dojčinović, editor in chief of KRIK in Serbia, has been dealing with stories related to Group America for many years: «I spent years hunting them», he says. The stories on the gang he reports imply a good understanding of criminals’ mentality and the psychology of criminal networks. Group America «is the best well-connected criminal gang I’ve dealt with», he says; therefore, one must be careful when writing his or her story, since life itself is at risk. Indeed, «when you talk and report on organized crime it is difficult to acknowledge the risks.» This also depends on the country journalists report from, as well as whether the conversation with the sources is a face-to-face one or is mediated. «The most difficult thing», Dojčinović explains, «is to prove the connection between the gangs and the law-enforcement structures». As the KRIK’s editor, investigative journalist, and founder of investigace.cz Pavla Holcová too reported on Group America for many years, founding the organization’s links and traces in Slovakia. When dealing with reports on criminality, investigations, she explains, «could take five years as well as five lives». After travels in South America and the Balkans, as well as many stories written about criminal gangs, Holcová admits that personal exposition during the whole investigative process is highly risky for journalists. But this testifies that journalism can help states and societies in fighting organized crime: indeed, several investigative reporters risk their lives to expose worlds and networks that are often forgotten – and invisible – to the public.

(Published on amedeogasparini.com)

Pubblicato da Amedeo Gasparini

Amedeo Gasparini, class 1997, freelance journalist, managing “Blackstar”, amedeogasparini.com. MA in “International Relations” (Univerzita Karlova, Prague – Czech Republic); BSc in “Science of Communication” (Università della Svizzera Italiana, Lugano – Switzerland)

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