used without permission, for "fair use" only

Target of Unknown Assassins

by Dragoljub Petrovic

Nasa Borba, Beograd, FR Yugoslavia, April 20 1997

"Cosa Nostra is like a vampire, it sucks everything out if its victims," said the Italian state prosecutor from Palermo at the commemoration of the three years since the murder of Italian judge Giovani Falcone; judge Falcone had been murdered by the Sicilian Mafia just before he was supposed to assume control of the Italian anti Mafia agency. His death became a symbol in the struggle against crime all over the world. "We all must become heroes in the struggle against Mafia and must never forget other lonely and isolated heroes of that struggle," said at the time many Italian officials; the police and judiciary arrested many bosses of Cosa Nostra in a harsh counter offensive.

"Nasa Stvar" [Serbian Mafia] is somewhat different. Serbian police chief, Radovan Stojcic Badza was buried a week ago in Belgrade; he'll be remembered by his statement that there was no organized crime in Serbia, and therefore he didn't find it necessary to fight something which didn't exist. A day after he was murdered (professionally and in cold blood) in pizzeria "Mama Mia", all the Serbian top officials gathered at his funeral; the officials from the Ministry of Internal Affairs [police] promised "even more intense fight against crime" and quick solution of Stojcic's murder. Many an important politician shed a tear in front of the catafalque and someone gleefully (?) noticed that they cried for their own sake.

Badza's murder is (so far?) the last one in the series of mysterious and spectacular execution style murders which have taken place in Belgrade in the last five years; the "style" of the murders is almost identical, the victims profile as well; the final similarity is that none of the murders has been solved.

"The police and the state have been thrown a gauntlet by this murder in the worst possible way," says for Nasa Borba Mladen Lojovic, former inspector in the Belgrade police. According to him, Stojcic's murder is just an "icing" on all the previous ones and all of them have many common characteristics.

Start of Mystery

Mysterious showdowns began in August 1991 when Branislav Matic Beli was murdered at the threshold of his house, in front of his wife and children; Matic owned a chain of used car dealerships in Belgrade. Two, so far unidentified, men jumped out of a van and fired 27 bullets at Matic from machine guns. He was killed on the spot, while the assassins sped away and entered the history of Serbian crime. This was the first action carried out according to by now familiar recipe.

Politics is Behind it all

De facto, all these murders have to do with politics. "Most likely, there is a lack of political will to prevent some types of crime, above all the economic crime which is the basis of other sorts of crime, and destroy them," says former chief analyst if the Belgrade police, lawyer Vlada Kovacevic. According to him, in the '90s came the UN sanctions and the transformation of the economy. The appearance of privately owned companies, takeover of large state owned companies and transfer of business to private firms produced certain monopolies which are the source of huge profits.

"A police analyst can easily, for example from the newspaper articles, guess the organization of the cigarette smuggling network. However, the real question is how do these trucks [with smuggled cigarettes] cross the border? Obviously, the authorities know about smuggling and are involved in it. The state, actually certain circles within the state, decides when to stabilize exchange rates. When I say certain circles, I mean an oligarchy, a small group of people who influence all processes in the country. All these murders are the result of business deals which involve a lot of money," emphasizes Kovacevic.

Everyone with a lot of money, adds Kovacevic, needs support of criminal gangs, so that in the end classic and economic crime intertwine. "Those deals that cannot be concluded with money are closed with threats, blackmail, rackets, and in extreme cases, murders," explains Kovacevic.

The background of Beli's murder will probably never be made public. However, it will be remembered that at the time he financed a paramilitary unit named Srpska Garda; he also financially assisted the largest opposition party (SPO) and was a disappointed former follower of Milosevic who once upon a time had printed a calendar with Milosevic's picture.

Beli's murder was only a beginning. Matic's old friend, former Belgrade criminal and commander of Srpska Garda, Djordje Bozovic Giska, was killed on the front near Gospic [in Croatia]. Although the official version was that he died in fighting, the circumstances of his death were suspicious: there was no autopsy, so it was not possible to find out where the bullet had come from and whether Giska had been killed from a SAR rifle which at the time was only used by the Yugoslav Peoples Army and State Security forces. An anonymous man told Bozovic's mother the evening before his death: "they have gone to kill him". We still don't know who and why (if there is any truth in this story).

"Giska was one of the people who in the '80s had contacts with the State Security forces and carried out their dirty work abroad. He didn't know, nor did others that they would become disposable," says Mladen Lojovic.

Soon, the public was shocked by the execution of Aleksandar Knezevic Knele, Giska's "boy", who was for a while personal body guard to Vuk Draskovic and then one of the thugs who broke up the [anti government] demonstrations in the center of Belgrade in March 1993. Room 331 in hotel "Hyatt" still hides the secret of Knele's death; it could have been the result of a Mafia war, although some still believe that such a murder could have been carried out only by a specially trained professional with a good back up.

Radojica Nikcevic, a businessman with strong connections in the Serbian and Montenegrin leaderships was murdered in August 1993 by a "man in a blue coat" in front of his company, building society "Sumadija".

"Nikcevic could enter our yard in a car with foreign plates, although officially he didn't work for us," says former Secret Service inspector Boza Spasic.

Nikcevic's life was mysterious and confusing: he brought controversial Giovani Di Stefano [today Arkan's best man and "advisor for foreign policy"] to Serbia, traveled with him to Columbia (with unknown intentions), wore extremely valuable diamond ring and "Rolex" watch with diamonds, and maintained contacts within seemingly very different circles in Serbian society. On one hand, he had been seen in the company of almost all important Belgrade gangsters, while on the other he had had contacts with the police and politicians. "Simply said, he was powerful and was a Yugoslav version of a 'godfather'," recalls a former policeman. His murder hasn't been solved; also the origin of the property which remained behind him is still a mystery.

Removal of Dangerous Witnesses

"All of them were somehow connected with the Police, and therefore with the state. As a rule, all of them had a lot of money and were involved in the war [in Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina]. Because of that, it seems to me that all these assassins have the role of Goli Otok [Communist prison camp] after W.W.II. The purpose of [prison camp on] Goli Otok was the removal of witnesses and rewriting of history. These days, if you will, we are witnessing the removal of dangerous witnesses of many shady deals from the '90s," claims former inspector Mladen Lojovic.

Vukovic's Threat

Goran Vukovic, leader of the Belgrade Vozdovac gang, was the first person to accuse the police of organizing "death squads". On several occasions he spoke about strange coincidences in the press. Later, it turned out that two federal Policemen took part in one of the six assassination attempts he had survived. Also, the arms used in several of these assassination attempts were at the time only used by the police. He said that he didn't know "what he had done wrong" and mentioned that "they will win the war if they want to".

He didn't explain who he was talking about. Vukovic also sponsored the war in the Republic of Srpska, supported an opposition party and was a shady businessman with a lot of capital of unidentified origin. He was murdered in December, three years ago, from a machine gun "heckler" in Serb Rulers street. In the meantime, several closest Vukovic's friends and collaborators had also been murdered.

Toma Fila: Possible Connection with Kosovo

Possible connection with Kosovo?

"I don't think that Stojcic was killed by the organized crime, but the Kosovo connection is very likely", says Belgrade lawyer Toma Fila. "His units were employed in Kosovo. I can say only the best about Stojcic's volunteer units; in the war in the former Yugoslavia they proved themselves as fighters and not as criminals and looters as many others did. I think that the theory that the assassination is the result of the war within the Police is not correct. The Mafia wars will continue in the future because a state which in practice does not have firm, but porous, borders cannot be taken seriously. After Stojcic's murder everyone will be worried about their own destiny. After all, if something like that can happen to a Police chief... I think that the Police should receive special authority corresponding to those they would have under the state of emergency, of course without misuse and within the limits prescribed by law. Today, the situation is that the policemen have to write a report every time they use a firearm. If there is a serious investigation, it is possible that the murderer of Radovan Stojcic will be caught. The authorities should ask themselves who all those people who live in the "Hyatt" hotel and similar luxurious hotels are. How can they afford that under present circumstances? Even if there is corruption within the police, it can be discovered, but only if there is the will to do so."

Murders were becoming increasingly frequent and mysterious. A well known story: a masked assassin, automatic gun, no witnesses, investigation without leads, victims persons with "exotic" biographies.

However, in February last year there was a "surprise": one of the best detectives in the Belgrade police department for serious crimes, Dragan Radisic, was murdered. Soon afterwards, the Police arrested an alleged murderer but it turned out that he had a firm alibi. It seems that Radisic's execution marks the beginning of an agony for the Police. Soon, former inspector Miroslav Bizic was murdered in full daylight. A "Legend" of the Belgrade police, Bizic used to be the main coordinator of the cooperation between the Secret Police and the criminals and was killed in front of hundreds of witnesses.

A definite closure of this, seemingly unrelated circle, began six months ago with the murder of the closest collaborator of Zeljko Raznatovic Arkan, colonel in the Serb Volunteer Guard, Nebojsa Djordjevic Suca. That murder broke the myth that Arkan's people were "untouchable". Another friend of Arkan, Rade Caldovic Centa and the maid of honor at Arkan's wedding to Ceca Raznatovic, Maja Pavic were killed by an assassin with a machine gun in February 1997. Vladan Kovacevic Tref, a business associate and best friend of the Serbian president's son Marko Milosevic, was murdered a week later.

At the time "Black hand" left an unmistakable message: we are more powerful than the state, there are no limits any more. "Stojcic's murder only underlines that message. No one is safe any more, even the political establishment is in danger," claims former inspector Lojovic.

Radosav Nedic, president of the Belgrade Bar Association

Murderer Didn't Act Alone

"It is a very worrisome development. Obviously, even the Police highest officials aren't safe any more. Time will show what is really going on and who is fighting whom. So far, I can't even guess who is behind these murders but as a man and a lawyer, I condemn such attacks on human freedom. Serious measures must be taken to prevent this. There are so many unclear things; I think that such an assassination cannot be an individual action, but a seriously prepared and planned action."

Is there an end to this story? So far it is certain that there is no answer to that question. This state at this moment carries the prefix "Mafia" because it doesn't have (or doesn't want to have) a solution for the prevention of organized crime, unidentified assassins, secret organizations of murderers; it reminds one of a unruly child who floods a house and than doesn't know what to do next.

While the police, paralyzed by the regime's actions from several years ago, is still hunting a petty criminal known as Crazy Djole, and sending a team to a rock concert to arrest "high" heavy metal fans, cocaine barons are walking free on Belgrade streets, together with people who murdered Bizic, Matic, Tref, Badza...

The cooperation of the regime elite with the crime is increasingly obvious; the corruption is turning into an epidemics; many think that the "authority" of crime bosses influences judicial and political decisions... As the pessimists would say, mama mia!

Translated on 6/9/97