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WORLD REPORT PROFILE : Juergen Storbeck : EUROPE'S POLICE CHIEF : Terrorism. Drugs. Illegal entry. If a crime crosses national borders, it's on the beat of Europol's soft-spoken leader.

June 13, 1995|TYLER MARSHALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BRUSSELS — Juergen Storbeck has a vision that makes sense: expanding the fight against organized crime across national borders. As head of Europe's newest law enforcement agency, Europol, he's making a start.

"At present there are no international police investigations on international [criminal] groups," Storbeck said in an interview at European Union headquarters here. "We can't create a European FBI, but my hope and expectation is that we can encourage and coordinate cooperation between EU states, where a British member of a task force investigates a group in Britain, a German the same group in Germany and a French team in France, so we can develop a more complete picture."

For outsiders, the surprise is that such cooperation doesn't already exist. But that's the case. In the past, trust often stopped at the frontier.

Storbeck, 48, is a rare breed in the world of law enforcement--a man whose nature is to follow crime beyond his own country's borders.

Born in the north German city of Flensburg, he studied law at universities in Bonn and Tubingen and developed an urge to travel. His soft-spoken, barely accented English, in addition to his native German, good French and a passing skill in Dutch and Italian, help him move easily in international circles.

He worked with special groups of European justice and interior ministers that, in the mid-1970s, constituted the Continent's first attempt to coordinate national efforts to combat crimes such as international terrorism, drug trafficking and illegal immigration.

(While Interpol, the global police information exchange agency, also functions as a platform for common discussion, its resources are limited, its responsibilities restricted and its staff hard-pressed to focus on its 176 member nations.)

More recently, Storbeck provided technical assistance to architects of an agreement that threw open many of Western Europe's borders in March, enabling passport-free travel between seven countries. In the early 1990s, he headed the Interpol unit at the German Federal Criminal Investigation Office in Wiesbaden.

He still communicates frequently with old contacts at Interpol.

"You can't fight organized crime nowadays only from a national standpoint," Storbeck said. "That's why I applied for this job."

While Storbeck's comment is irrefutable, old habits die hard in Europe, especially the deep-seated suspicions police often hold toward outside agencies. The strength of these prejudices has made the birth of Europol agonizingly slow.

Created under the terms of the 1991 Maastricht Treaty on European union, Europol came into being officially two years later, when the treaty ratification was completed. Since then, haggling among the EU's 15 interior ministers has blocked agreement on the legal convention needed to give Europol its full potential as an investigative agency.

A newly renovated building in The Hague has become Europol headquarters, but a majority of the offices remain vacant as the agency fills out its staff.

For its first 1 1/2 years, Europol was limited to narcotics enforcement, but in March it began working on the smuggling of nuclear materials, illegal trafficking of stolen cars and illegal immigration.

However, even with the early constraints, the absence of a central database and only a modest staff of around 90, Storbeck has gotten Europol off to an impressive start.

"In the first 15 months, we've been involved in more than 1,000 international cases," he said. And he believes that, despite Europol's restricted mandate, its credibility is growing with national law enforcement agencies.

"If we don't show our quality, or promote our work, they won't use us," he said. "It's as simple as that."

In both words and demeanor, the man who could arguably be labeled Europe's top cop displays no Kojak-like bravado.

Storbeck is a family man with a 15-year-old son, a daughter who is 10 and a direct, personable manner. Above all, he is a team player--someone who not only prefers to work away from the limelight, but who considers it a prerequisite for success.

Outsiders believe these characteristics, in addition to his language skills and experience, make Storbeck an ideal operator in an environment where turf battles between law enforcement agencies are often taken as seriously as crime itself.

"In the end, we're just here to serve them [national law enforcement groups], so if they want to take the credit for a case with the press and the politicians, we're not going to get in their way," Storbeck said. "We're not competing against anyone, and that's very important. It's our main advantage."

So far, much of Europol's work has been aimed at accelerating the exchange of important information, passing details of criminal activities from one member state to another in a few hours, a process that once took weeks or even months.

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