Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Investigative Report: Karadzic Protective Shield Cracking

Seizure of two former Karadzic bodyguards part of concerted NATO strategy to capture Hague indictee.
By Hugh Griffiths

As the net closes round the fugitive former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, NATO’s stabilisation force in Bosnia, SFOR, is emulating the tactics employed successfully in Iraq to net Saddam Hussein, by arresting those linked to the network of people keeping him at liberty.


SFOR in January detained two people, Dusan “Bato” Tesic and Zeljko “Luna” Jankovic, who used to be the bodyguards of the ex-Bosnian Serb supremo and whose detention signals a new phase in efforts to track down Bosnia’s most wanted man.


The seizure of Tesic has introduced another factor into the hunt for Karadzic, namely the involvement of allegedly key figures in Karadzic’s network in foreign non-government organisations, NGOs. Tesic is said to have worked for some time as a fixer or - according ex-employees - as an “enforcer” for a leading Greek NGO, the International Mine Initiative, or IMI. IWPR sources say he was a fixer for the organisation from 2001 to his arrest.


The revelation may embarrass the Greek government and other donors to the NGO. An SFOR intelligence source told IWPR on January 19 that the alliance had been conducting checks on IMI’s role in Bosnia since Tesic’s detention.


IWPR has learned from NATO intelligence that SFOR has adopted a new strategy of going after those believed to be protecting Karadzic. Sources have said that it is being promoted by SFOR’s commander, US general Virgil Packett, who since taking over in October 2003 has made clear his determination to put a stop to the eight-year farce surrounding Karadzic before alliance forces pull out of Bosnia at the end of 2004.


SFOR troops in the Bosnian Serb town of Pale detained Tesic on January 10. The snatch has not given much outside prominence but Bosnian intelligence sources say he is undoubtedly being held in connection with SFOR investigations into the network of Karadzic protectors, and also that he is cooperating. "Bato Tesic is singing like a bird," the source said.


Tesic has no outside appointed lawyer, only officers from SFOR’s JAG (Judge Advocate General) unit to advise him.


The second SFOR snatch - which netted Jankovic - took place on January 28 in the north-eastern town of Bijeljina.


Like Tesic, he had worked in Karadzic’s special police force, and, like Tesic, he had been arrested in 1998 in connection with the murder of a high-ranking Bosnian policeman who was himself investigating Karadzic’s network of supporters. As with Tesic, he is now housed in a secure, undisclosed location.


Tesic is a man with close links to Karadzic’s circle. After serving in a Bosnian Serb paramilitary unit during the course of the 1992-5 war in Hadzici, close to the besieged Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, he joined a special police unit that was established by Karadzic with the task of guaranteeing his security.


As Karadzic’s star waned, Tesic encountered problems. In 1998, he was arrested on the orders of the Bosnian Serb police chief Ljubisa “Mauzer” Savic, in connection to the murder of the Pale deputy police chief, Srdjan Knezevic, that May. Knezevic had been killed after detaining a well-known supporter of Karadzic and had clearly incurred the bitter enmity of the former Bosnian Serb leader’s supporters.


Tesic was released in May 1998, without charge, however. But he immediately started work for a key figure in the Serbia’s nationalist underworld, becoming a bodyguard for the family of Zeljko “Arkan” Raznatovic.


After the notorious paramilitary leader-turned mafia don was assassinated in 2000, Tesic returned to Bosnia where - according to a source in Bosnia’s Federal secret service, FOSS - he worked as a security chief for Dragan Kalinic, the leader of Karadzic’s Serbian Democratic Party, SDS. He was working for Kalinic throughout the November 2000 elections.


Tesic’s international connections date from late in 2001, when he allegedly began working, albeit unofficially, for IMI, to which he was introduced late in 2001 by a Greek national running its operations in Bosnia, named Panagiotis “Panos” Kastoras.


At least two sources have confirmed that Tesic was used by IMI to put pressure on workers who were seen as troublemakers and generally to defend the NGO’s interests.


Another former employee from Sarajevo told IWPR that Tesic was not unknown to the highest authorities in the organisation, and had close relations to the IMI president, Konstantinos Tzevelekos. "Whenever Konstantinos talked with Tesic he used a different translator, who came in from Athens. No one else was allowed to translate during these meetings," the source said. At least one employee said Tzevelekos introduced Tesic to the company at the Sarajevo Holiday on October 22, 2003, as a friend.


Under Tzevelekos, IMI has grown into a high-profile organisation. Founded in 2000, its website describes the NGO as a world leader in the field of de-mining and lists international praise from the UN secretary general Kofi Annan for work in Lebanon. IMI was granted financial aid from the Greek government. An Athens foreign ministry source told IWPR that IMI received 1,660,620 euro in 2003 for projects in Bosnia alone.


Questioned by IWPR, the IMI president has admitted knowing Tesic, though he denied employing him in his organisation. Tzevelekos said he had only met Tesic “for a few coffees”, when the latter was working as a policeman. He also said the NGO investigated the previous job records of everyone joining the organisation. “We regularly check whether our workers have criminal records and ask regularly for the opinion of the UN mining team about them,” he said.


This claim is hard to reconcile with the fact that the UN wound up its de-mining organisation in Bosnia several years ago. Its local successor, the Bosnia and Hercegovina Mine Action Centre, BHMAC, is not required to check the credentials of all the workers of an organisation like IMI. By law it’s only obligation is to examine the certificates and IDs of registered de-miners. It would not have been in any position to supply information about the previous employment history of non-registered de-miners, let alone enforcers and fixers.


The intense interest SFOR have shown in detaining Tesic suggests they believe he retains his place within the network of Karadzic supporters and protectors.


For IMI, the difficult issues raised by its apparent connection with him will be underlined by the NGO's reported involvement with UNIPAK, a Pale-based company run by Karadzic's former minister of police, Radomir Kojic.


Several sources have told IWPR that after Tesic joined IMI, the NGO's former multi-ethnic team was replaced by Serb teams from Pale that were supplied by UNIPAK.


UNIPAK has come to the attention of the international authorities several times as a firm with too-close ties to Karadzic. On July 2, 2003, Brussels banned Kojic from travelling to EU member states on account of his alleged role in protecting the former SDS leader.


The United States was also concerned about both Kojic and UNIPAK. “Concrete steps were taken to ensure that no US funds or support are now reaching UNIPAK or their various subcontractors,” James Cohen, an official at the US embassy in Sarajevo told IWPR.


IWPR sources described the way Tesic’s arrival – and the involvement of UNIPAK - impacted on the composition of the IMI workforce.


Robert Sofradin, an ethnic Croat who worked in Boderiste, Brcko, from October until December 2001, belonged to the multi-ethnic team of de-miners in Brcko that was laid off in the winter of 2001. They were told they would go back to work in spring 2002 to finish their project.


“They never got back in touch with us, ” Sofradin told IWPR, “and they brought in people from Pale. We had contracts, and they never explained why we were not called to finish our job, which we were contracted for. ”


The IMI president has denied this. He told IWPR the multi-ethnic team was not replaced by purely Serbian force, adding that at least one Bosnian Croat remained on his worldwide team.


After UNIPAK was put on what amounted to an international blacklist in July 2003, its operations were curtailed. But three sources in the de-mining community said UNIPAK de-miners continued to work for IMI.


They said UNIPAK workers remained engaged on IMI projects in Bosnia late last year, while others are working on IMI sites in the Middle East. A former IMI employee told IWPR, “We did not subcontract the company, just the workers. For this we needed contact with Kojic.”


“Everyone is scared of him in Pale, so IMI could not screw him. He has connections in the current Bosnian government and with the ‘Big One’,” the ex-employee said, referring to Karadzic's code name.


The detention of Tesic and Jankovic appears to mark an important stage in what SFOR sources are saying is an imminent breakthrough in the Karadzic case. The accelerating hunt is directly linked to the fact that time is running out for alliance forces in Bosnia - they are expected to pull out by the end of 2004.


In the meantime, the arrest of Tesic threatens also to embarrass IMI, and its backers in the Greek government. At best, they stand accused of failing to check the past records of some of their local partners. At worst, they risk being accused of having knowingly cultivated links with people who were part of the network of supporters and helpers of Radovan Karadzic – Bosnia’s most wanted man.


Hugh Griffiths is an IWPR investigations coordinator and Nerma Jelacic is IWPR project manager in Sarajevo.


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