Serbs are up in arms about their government's decision to pay $1 million to the victim of an assault by a Serbian college basketball player.Bryan Steinhauer
of Brooklyn is to receive $900,000 of Serbian taxpayers' money in compensation for being beaten into a coma, allegedly by Serbian classmate Miladin Kovacevic, during a barroom brawl near Binghamton University in May 2008.
The Serbian government will also forfeit the $100,000 it posted as Kovacevic's bail.
After being charged with assault in the United States, Kovacevic jumped bail and fled to Serbia in June after Serbian diplomats issued him emergency travel documents. Belgrade has refused to send him back despite U.S. pressure, saying Serbian laws do not allow for extradition.
Not only are Serbia's citizens enraged that they have to pay for Kovacevic's misdeeds, but prosecutors are probing the question of who leaked the "secret" deal, which was reported by the "Borba"
newspaper last week.
The editor in chief of "Borba" did not reveal the paper's source for the story and now the Interior Ministry and state prosecutor have switched their focus to who in the government leaked the confidential information.
Revealing classified documents in Serbia is a crime that can carry a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
Vladan Batich, a lawyer and parliamentary deputy, told RFE/RL that the government's arrangement was unconstitutional.
"I have already sent a letter to Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic, whereby I remind him that all citizens are to be equal under the law, and that everyone must pay for whatever misdeed or damage they did. It is good for Miladin Kovacevic as well," Batich said.
There has been speculation on the U.S. side as to who negotiated the deal.
The "New York Daily News" reported
on February 23 that U.S. officials said the deal was "negotiated between the family and the thug's government."
"U.S. officials denied reports
that newly minted Secretary of State Clinton brokered the deal. Clinton spokesman Andy Laine told the Daily News any negotiations were "a private matter," the paper reported.
While Serbian authorities have said in a statement that negotiations in the Kovacevic case are continuing, and that details will be made public once a solution is found, they appear to be certain that Kovacevic will be tried in Serbia.
However, Karl Duckworth of the State Department, told the "New York Post"
that "Serbian officials have assured us that they will continue to pursue this case vigorously. We continue to work with them to return Kovacevic to face justice in New York."
Regardless of who brokered the deal, or who leaked it to the press, Internet forums are bursting with comments from angry Serbs.
"The only way out of this impudence is for us to STOP PAYING TAX to the state. I am sure they would then be much more responsible about spending our money," one of them reads.
Another said that the state, for that money, could have purchased 100 cheap homes for the needy.
"I have a suggestion: let Mr. Kovacevic take a loan at an American bank, and pay it off once he becomes a super NBA basketball player," one young man from the town of Valjevo wrote.
-- Branka Trivic