10 April 2003, Volume 5, Number 9
SERBIA AT THE CROSSROADS -- CRIME AND THE STATE.
A program of RFE/RL's Radio Most (Bridge) by Slobodan Kostic (in cooperation with Zoran Glavonjic). The program "Kontrapunkt" talks with Dragan Sutanovac, chairman of the Security Committee of the Serbian parliament, and Dragan Jocic, interior minister in the shadow cabinet created by the Democratic Party of Serbia.
RFE/RL: Only after Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic was killed did the state leadership announce that a large-scale arrest of members of the biggest criminal group in former Yugoslavia, the Zemun clan, was under way. To what extent was the postponement of the final showdown with the criminal elements left over from the former regime a result of ineptitude and incompetence?
Dragoljub Sutanovac: ....People in Serbia must be aware that it is not easy to find and catch all those who fought in the wars in former Yugoslavia over the past 10 years and who were trained to hide day and night.
Dragan Jocic: ....Organized crime survived here for two years after the regime change. Is it possible that organized crime has no ties to the present government if [the mafias] proved able to survive for so long?
RFE/RL: Did the government not want or not dare to settle accounts with organized crime until the [prime minister] was killed?
Jocic: Listening to the members of the government and observing the relationships among them, one cannot help thinking that both answers are possible: some of them did not dare, and some did not want to act.
I am not sure that the government has a single, clear position. It now seems so obvious that the members of the government knew everything -- the names [of individuals] and the groups, [and] their past and present activities.... Therefore, it was not necessary to wait for somebody to be killed -- and certainly not the prime minister -- to get started.
Organized crime -- together with terrorism -- was created by the police and security structures. Those structures are very strong and very well linked in a network. They should not have been left untouched for so long.
Sutanovac: The laws tie the hands of the police. We do not yet have the kind of antiterrorism legislation that they have in Western Europe and especially in Great Britain, where the police can detain suspected terrorists for as long as they consider it necessary to do so. I will not say that our legal system is openly on the side of the guilty, but it certainly goes a long way to protect them....
RFE/RL: [And the problems continue.]
Momir Gavrilovic, a former official of the state security service, was killed on 3 August 2001 near his flat in Novi Beograd. The killer was never found. This was no different from dozens of other killings, which had become almost routine during Milosevic's time.
It would have remained so if the newspaper "Blic" had not claimed that a couple of hours before his death, Gavrilovic had met some people from President Vojislav Kostunica's office. According to "Blic," Gavrilovic offered those people information about the connections between organized crime and the government.
Deputy Prime Minister Zarko Korac argues that "anyone making such claims must show proof to the authorities."
Zarko Korac: If mass-circulation newspapers' front pages are used to suggest that the deceased possessed some secret documents and that this was the reason for his assassination, then somebody knows information that is relevant to the investigation. It also means that somebody knows the motive behind this horrible act.
RFE/RL: Vojislav Kostunica recently confirmed that the meeting had taken place:
Vojislav Kostunica: He was worried about the crime rate and wanted to call attention to the penetration of organized crime into the economy.... He was talking about corruption.
RFE/RL: After this, yet another disturbing killing took place. [Major General] Bosko Buha, the deputy chief of the public security service of the Serbian Interior Ministry, was assassinated in the parking lot in front of Hotel Jugoslavija on 9 June 2002. Serbian Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic said at the time that the entire police force was put on the case.
Dusan Mihajlovic: We will turn the entire country upside down to find the perpetrator. We will visit every nest of criminals that we are aware of and bring in every single criminal that we have registered in our files. We will do everything that comes within our competence. This will last until the assassin is found and brought to justice.
RFE/RL: Last October , the police announced that a criminal group suspected of killing Buha was uncovered and that they had plans to kill prominent politicians in Serbia. According to the police, the leader of the group was Zeljko Maksimovic "Maka," who evaded an attempt to arrest him....
Police said that his hit list included Zoran Djindjic, Miroljub Labus, and Vojislav Seselj....
What made these criminals so self-confident that they thought they could kill leading public figures?
Jocic: One must now ask whether some people inside the ministry were involved with the criminals and whether such compromised individuals had links to other agencies and services. This is a fundamental problem that affects the system as a whole.
Sutanovac: The law does not allow us to bring in people just because there are suspicions, or, if you prefer, mere hearsay. Solid evidence is needed.
This poses huge technical problems, including the need for DNA analysis, fingerprint tests, and the like. Moreover, present legislation makes it difficult for us to keep a suspect in detention for very long....
One cannot expect the police to do everything. The security sector can be effective only in cooperation with the citizens, many of whom are afraid of the criminals. That is why the state has become weak in the face of the growing assertiveness of organized crime.