by Drago HEDL
What could be a possible motive for the attack? Ferdinand Jukic's biography is sufficiently colorful to defy an easy answer to that question. Before the war Jukic owned a gas station in Germany; during the war he smuggled weapons to Croatia, in large amounts. "I led several large ships through Otranto straits, all full of weapons. One delivery was worth $35 million. But, I did not make any money from weapons smuggling. I did not do that to make money," Jukic says. Before the war, he pulled Antun Kikas from Belgrade. "As usual, others were credited with that," Jukic says. In Vukovar, as an SZUP agent, he personally investigated crime, plentiful at that time in the town. After the war he bought Badel company. "I returned from Germany with $10 million. I bought a majority stake in Badel from Zdravko Mamic, and paid for it in cash. Later I increased my stake by buying shares from small stockholders. I paid everything in cash." Jukic tried to maintain good relations with the Tudman family, which he proved by buying paintings for Ankica Tudman's fund. "I admired the President, but when his wife got involved, it all went to waste". Today, Jukic is a trader and investor.
FERAL TRIBUNE: A few days ago a second attempt on your life took place in Vukovar. What did actually happen?
JUKIC: It happened on Friday, around 6:15am, in front of my parent's home in Vukovar. I left earlier than usually, because I had some early meetings in Osijek and I did not want to be late. As soon as I left the house, I heard a bang. The bullet missed my legs, pierced the door and hit the wall behind... I suspect Miroslav Mercep. Later I found another bullet case, which probably means that the attackers shot from an automatic weapon, which possibly got stuck. My guess is that they got scared because they believed I was armed.
Last year, there was another assassination attempt on your life, while you were being treated at a hospital?
I was being treated at KBC Rebro [in Zagreb]. I was immobile, with broken backbone. At first I received an anonymous tip, that I may be attacked in my hospital room. The attackers arrived in the afternoon; there were two of them and they pulled hoods over their faces when they entered the room. The first one pulled out a 50cm [2 feet] long machete and started towards me. But I kept a gun under my pillow with an infrared target mechanism. That infrared light scared the attacker so much that he obviously believed that he was already gone, so that he fell over his accomplice. Then they ran away and the investigation failed to produce any information. As an active SZUP agent, I had five official pieces of weaponry. Then, after the attack, I was ordered to return all of them. Therefore, someone has deliberately exposed me to further attacks.
Do you fear for your life?
Naturally, I do. I don't go out. Hardly anyone dares be seen with me outside anymore.
You can probably guess the motives of those who want you dead?
I think that I am the only one left who hasn't said anything. I don't have anything definite, but I am convinced that this is only the start of the final "accounting" of the period of the creation of our state.
Do you suspect that Tomislav Mercep is involved?
I will suspect him as long as I live. My suspicions are always justified, because I am convinced that he will never forgive me for arresting him in August 1991 and taking him to Zagreb. By the way, he should be happy because of that. After all, after that his friend Ivan Vekic appointed him for an advisor to the Minister of Internal Affairs (Police) and thereby Mercep de facto avoided a personal catastrophe. If he were caught in Vukvar he would have been torn to pieces... By either side.
What would be the motive of the Croat side to do something like that?
He did not organize the defense well; he did not organize anything properly; he fought like an Indian [Native American]. He had no strategy. It is not to be expected that a civil engineer, a road builder, be capable of organizing a defense of a town surrounded and bombarded from all sides, including by aviation. Besides, there were many Serbs in the town. They lived together with us, there were many mixed marriages... He did not know what to do about that, and he should have. Several times there were negotiations with Serbs. But, no one could negotiate with Mercep.
He was stubborn and always radical in everything. At times it seemed that he was convinced that he was capable of conquering all the territory to Zemun [in Serbia] while in the end we even had difficulty holding on to Vinkovci. Our defense nearly collapsed. By the way, I personally attended several sets of negotiations with Serbs, together with Bosnjakovic, representative in the Parliament, then with the mayor and other people. I lot more could have been done for sure. But Mercep obstructed all our efforts. If there were more negotiations, there would be less graves in Vukovar today. I am sure of that. The truth must come out; it has been recorded, taped on several audio tapes, compiled and written down. Whatever happens, those materials will be examined sooner or later.
What do you know about abductions and executions of Serbs in Vukovar, before the beginning of open armed clashes?
A lot, but I cannot talk about that. If I did, I would not be valuable anymore.
What was Mercep's role in all that?
Tomislav Mercep was not removed from Vukovar because the local climate was not good for his health, but because his behavior could not be tolerated anymore. As a SZUP agent, I was aware of that. I had a warrant, about which Mercep knew nothing, a permission to take him out at any time. After consultations with the President and the Prime Minister, I was instructed to remove him from Vukovar, because everything had gone too far and the town could not be saved. Even then, promises turned out to be false. There was no weaponry, and Mercep kept causing more trouble and inciting violence; it was hard to see what the consequences could be. The Police did not have courage to remove him. His headquarters, in the Territorial Defense building, resembled the Hitler's bunker. He had all sorts of stuff inside. No one was allowed inside. I did go inside and I caught him.
As a SZUP agent in Vukovar, you conducted an investigation about murders of Serbs. Did you collect sufficient evidence for an indictment, in the Hague or in Croatia?
I'd rather not discuss that at this point.
The material collected by the Serb side claims that the cellar of the Territorial Defense building was used as a makeshift prison and that about one hundred Serbs were held there. Allegedly, they were all executed by Croatian guard members, under command of Tomislav Mercep. It is also said that you conducted an investigation about those murders. Can you confirm or deny these claims?
They are correct.
During the most recent visit by Carla Del Ponte to Prime Minister Racan, several special Police officers guarded the building where Tomislav Mercep lives. Do you think that those two events were related?
You said that you discussed the Mercep affair with Tudman and [Prime Minister] Greguric?
Yes, Mr. Greguric is a very nice and civilized gentleman. Only he understood the situation. But, Mercep was out of control and nothing could be done anymore.
What about Tudman? And, besides, has any Croatian judicial institution ever invited you to testify about Mercep?
I talked with Tudman on one occasion for about two hours. I told him everything, but he always said: "I can't believe that, that can't be..." No one has ever invited me to testify for the Croatian judiciary.
What was the role of Josip Manolic in Mercep's arrest?
He approved the arrest.
Who ordered the arrest?
In 1991, you saved Milos Vojinovic and took him out of Vukovar. How did that happen?
I received orders from Zagreb to save him at any cost. I received a fax from the President's Office with such instructions. Vojnovic came in his car to my villa, drove the car into the garage. I moved him to a different car, an armored jeep, and took him to Novi Sad [in Serbia].
That happened in July?
Yes, in July.
Was it possible then to cross the border?
No, it wasn't.
Then, how did you cross it?
I have German number plates and a German passport.
Why was Vojinovic then saved, while some other [Serb] judges, such as Kalanj in Gospic, weren't?
I don't know.
What about judge Sremac, who was arrested and taken to Osijek?
General Roso is responsible for that. He was kept in custody in Osijek, and judicial authorities were to decide whether he was guily or innocent.
One of the theories about you says that the people trying to kill you want to remove you because you've had contacts with the investigators of the Hague Tribunal.
I had two interviews with the investigators of the Hague Tribunal. They were mostly interested in who and when, had command responsibility in Vukovar.
Did Mercep act in Vukovar based on orders of the state leadership, or on his own accord?
Always on his own, although I assume that he must have had some sort of approval from above. But, I cannot talk about that today, because one is alive and the other one dead. Everyone knows the truth, but no one wants to say it. Everyone is scared. And why should I talk about that? They could murder my family. Mr. Mercep has no reason for fear, he has retired.
What about his connections with Minister Vekic?
Mercep, Glavas, and Vekic declared themselves for mothers and fathers of Slavonia. Media reporting is one thing, while orders, jurisdiction, instructions, are something else. That was something else. I've heard that president Tudman told Vekic that he had to keep an eye on Mercep to make sure he does not do anything stupid again.
Media have accused you of theft of more than $500,000 earmarked for the defense of Vukovar?
In August there were discussions regarding whether Vukovar Bank should assist the defense of the town. They wrote a guarantee for the purchase of replacement parts for weapons, worth up to $600,000, on an ordinary piece of paper. I could do you know what with that piece of paper. The town was in flames; the bank had practically disappeared... Its funds had been frozen abroad. Entrepreneurs, including myself, contributed financially for the defense of the town, but that thing with the bank is simply a lie.
When will the full truth about the events in Vukovar before the war be known?
People keep quiet because everyone is involved. Politicians from the current authorities also knew what Mercep was doing. They were informed about everything that was going on at the time. The current deputy president of the parliament Mato Arlovic, current president of the Parliament Tomcic, as well as current Prime Minsiter Ivica Racan. All of them knew about that. I've sat down several times with Mato Arlovic and talked to him about what was going on. Arlovic always responded by saying "Glavas also does that, everyone does that". No one had the guts to do or say anything. Now they are in power, in trouble, and don't want to deal with that.
Are you prepared to testify in a possible future war crimes trial?
Yes, I am. I was born, and lived my best days in Vukovar. I was educated here. I left Vukovar several times, but I always came back. There is only one spot in the town I still can't go to. To the cemetery. Every time I think about that I get nervous, ill at ease, because every time I recall the man who is responsible for all that.