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Montenegro: Authorities Face Murder Cover-up Claims

Families accuse Podgorica officials of trying to protect their childrens’ assailants.
By Hugh Griffiths

The Montenegrin authorities have been accused of attempting to cover up three deaths to conceal the alleged involvement of secret service agents.


The parents of prominent newspaper editor Dusko Jovanovic - shot dead outside his office in the Montenegrin capital Podgorica this year - and those of brother and sister Dario and Marija Surina - who died in what their mother and father say was a deliberate explosion at their home in Budva two years ago - are highly critical of the official investigations into the deaths.


Both the Surina and Jovanovic parents claim their childrens' killers are being protected by elements within the Montenegrin judiciary and secret services. The families cite what they believe to be the unsatisfactory nature of investigations into the deaths and suggestions of involvement of government agents.


The Jovanovic parents, opposition politicians and a former Belgrade police chief claim that certain Montenegrin officials, or individuals close to them, were involved in the killing of the newspaper editor.


Evidence provided by the families of the victims, assessments by official and independent forensic experts and inquiries by IWPR suggest there are serious inconsistencies and failings in the Montenegrin authorities’ inquiries into the deaths.


The authorities have so far made one arrest in connection with the Jovanovic killing: Damir Mandic, who has told his lawyer that he has ties to the state security service. On September 30, Mandic, who describes himself as a sportsman, was charged with involvement in the murder, after a four-month investigation. He denies the charges.


Opposition politicians, however, are unhappy with the Jovanovic inquiry and have called for it to be reopened. They point out that Mandic is accused of being an accomplice to the crime, yet no one else has been named as a suspect.


IWPR reporters have found evidence linking a close friend of Mandic, self-styled businessman Ivan Delic, to the Jovanovic and Surina cases. Mandic’s involvement in the latter case is that he provided Delic, who is also said to have connections with the secret services, with an alibi.


The police have interviewed Delic in connection with the two cases, but say he is not linked to either, despite evidence suggesting otherwise. They are refusing to class the Surina deaths as murder, but the state prosecutor has disputed their findings and reopened the case.


Contacted by phone at a hotel in Sveti Stefan, Delic said he had no involvement in the Surina and Jovanovic cases and denied that he has ever been a member of, or had links with, the Montenegrin security services. He told IWPR that he is the innocent victim of a media and political campaign to blame him for any suspicious, high-profile murder.


IWPR put to him a series of specific questions concerning the two cases, which he refused to answer.


JOVANOVIC KILLING


Jovanovic, the editor of Dan newspaper, was killed outside his office at around midnight on May 27, the victim of a drive-by shooting.


Over the previous twelve months or so, Dan had alleged that Delic was responsible for a string of murders including the assassination of the Yugoslav defence minister Pavle Bulatovic, as well as the deaths of Marija and Dario Surina.


Bulatovic was killed in a Belgrade restaurant in February 2000. As well as his ministerial role in the Yugoslav federal administration, he was a leading figure in Montenegro’s Serb minority community, which was opposed to the pro-independence government of then president Milo Djukanovic.


Delic’s name appeared in Belgrade media reports of the subsequent police investigation into the Bulatovic killing, but in an interview for Belgrade daily Blic in 2002, he denied he was a suspect or that he was involved in the case in any way.


Jovanovic and his newspaper started taking an interest in the deaths of the Surina siblings after their parents, Neda and Mirko, came to his office in early June 2003 and told him of their suspicions that elements within the authorities were trying to cover up the murder of their children.


Dario and Marija Surina were killed in an explosion at their home in the seaside resort of Budva in the early hours of September 22, 2002. The authorities' investigation into their deaths, overseen by investigative judge Radomir Ivanovic, concluded that Dario had probably accidentally ignited home-made explosives with a lit cigarette.


The parents of the brother and sister refused to accept the official version of events, even suspecting that Delic, who was Marija's longtime boyfriend, had engineered the explosion to kill her because he wanted to marry another woman. In an interview with IWPR, Mirko and Neda Surina suggested that Delic feared their heavily-pregnant daughter might go to the authorities with information about his past activities, as Marija had twice provided Delic with alibis in connection with crimes for which he had been questioned.


SURINA INVESTIGATION


The Surina parents undertook their own investigation into the deaths after the deputy state prosecutor who oversaw the official inquiry, Vladimir Vukcevic, said in his report that they would have the right to challenge its findings if they came up with sufficient evidence.


The Surinas say the authorities interviewed Delic once in connection with their childrens' death, but ruled him out as a suspect because Mandic provided him with an alibi, saying that they had been together in Podgorica on the night of the explosion.


But Mirko Surina claimed to IWPR that he had found several witnesses who are willing to testify that on the evening of September 21, Delic was sitting in a parked car near the city bakery in Budva. The Surinas declined to give IWPR contact details for the witnesses, saying they feared this might endanger them.


When IWPR approached Mandic’s lawyer Zeljko Jocic about the Surina claim that his client gave a false alibi, Jocic said, “I have no information regarding the Surina case. I have never talked to my client about this.” When contacted again several weeks later, he said IWPR’s persistent questioning did not relate to his case and refused to comment further.


The Surinas also requested their children's call records - which register incoming and outgoing calls - from their mobile phone company. The data, which IWPR has obtained, show that on the night of September 21, Delic’s handset was used to call Marija 19 times and Dario at least four. The parents believe that Delic was calling them to ensure they were close to the explosives when they were set off. Delic refused to comment on these claims.


Montenegrin forensic experts conducted an inquiry into the explosion and concluded that there was no foul play. Their report found no traces of explosive material, but speculated that Dario may have triggered the blast accidentally.


The Montenegrin investigators then asked their counterparts in Slovenia for their opinion, and provided them with the materials they had examined. The latter came to almost the same conclusion as the former: that the blast was probably an accident.


At the same time, the Surina parents, who were unhappy with the Podgorica findings, handed the latter and items from the scene of the explosion to Dr Mirjana Andjelkovic, a leading explosives expert at Belgrade's Institute for Forensic Analysis.


Andjelkovic conducted her own investigation into the case. The Surinas passed her report in December 2003 to the Montenegrin authorities. The parents say no action was taken until they passed the findings on to Dan and other newspapers.


At that point, state prosecutor Vesna Medenica agreed to meet the parents and study the Andjelkovic report. After doing so, Medenica reopened the case, and requested the Serbian government's Security and Information Agency, BIA, to re-examine the samples that the Montenegrin forensic experts assessed.


Both the Andjelkovic and the BIA reports, which have been obtained by IWPR, point to serious flaws in the original inquiry.


The Belgrade inquiries found that the blast at the Surina home was caused by powerful military-type explosives that could only have been set off by a detonator connected to a remote control or timing device; that Dario was some distance from the explosives when they detonated; and that they were placed next to a load-bearing wall at the precise point where they would do most structural damage to the house.


The Belgrade forensic experts told IWPR of other problems with the Podgorica inquiry. For instance, they said, Montenegrin investigators concluded that Dario may have dropped a lit cigarette into a “closed” container holding explosives; had failed to examine Dario and Marija's bodies at the scene of the explosion; and had not collected liquid samples from puddles of rain which might have helped determine the type of explosive used.


IWPR subsequently attempted to contact those involved in putting together the Montenegrin report.


State prosecutor at the time Bozidar Vukcevic, who had overall responsibility for the inquiry, would only tell IWPR that he retired soon after it was completed and claimed that he was not aware of details of the case.


Deputy state prosecutor at the time Vladimir Vukcevic, whose signature appears at the end of the forensic report, was dismissed by the government in connection with his alleged involvement in an unrelated criminal case. He now works in Podgorica as a lawyer.


Vladimir Vukcevic said forensic experts had produced their report to the best of their ability under difficult conditions, and denied that there had been any attempt to protect Delic.


"We did the best we could with that report under the circumstances, given that it was raining heavily on the night [of the explosion]," he said. "I didn't want to protect Delic, because at that time, I even didn't know that Delic existed."


The man who had conducted the analysis of the explosion, Dusko Raspopovic, told IWPR, “I’m standing behind my report, which was confirmed by the centre for forensic research of the Slovenian police force.”


After Medenica reopened the case in February, Radomir Ivanovic, investigative judge for the first inquiry, was put in charge, despite an official request from the Surinas that he not be involved. Since this new phase of the inquiry got under way, there has been no serious progress in the case, according to the Surinas.


Mandic, Delic and Delic’s wife have all been questioned. Police records of these interviews, which have been obtained by IWPR, provide little or no new insights into the case.


Mandic stands by the alibi he provided Delic, while Delic and his wife make contradictory remarks about the former’s relations with Marija Surina.


IWPR approached Ivanovic but he declined to answer any of our questions.


JOVANOVIC INVESTIGATION


The investigation into the Jovanovic killing, also handled by Ivanovic, appears to have suffered from similar problems. The late newspaper editor's father, Vasilje, told IWPR recently that police and investigative judges only took statements from him and the rest of the family four months into the inquiry.


When IWPR contacted Ivanovic, he would only say, “Don’t think I don’t know where these questions are coming from. This has been cooked up in the Surinas’ kitchen – and I will get into trouble with my bosses if I say more.”


According to both the family and colleagues of the murdered newspaperman, Jovanovic he had told them that he felt threatened by Delic.


The Montenegrin authorities, however, ruled Delic out as a suspect in the case.


"We are conducting a huge investigation into the assassination of Dusko Jovanovic, [which has] never pointed in the direction of Ivan Delic," deputy interior minister Mico Orlandic told IWPR in the summer, prior to charging Mandic in connection with the killing.


Police say that DNA from Mandic indicated that he was present at the murder scene, but IWPR has been told by a Montenegrin interior ministry source that samples taken from Delic confirm that he too was there.


Delic admitted to IWPR that he gave a sample of his DNA to the police, but claimed the results cleared him of involvement in the case.


When IWPR approached Orlandic about the Delic DNA results, he said, "Tell me who these liars are." When pressed further, he said he could neither confirm nor deny the information, adding that only Ivanovic could answer such a question. When the latter was approached by IWPR, he refused to comment on the matter.


LINKS WITH SECURITY SERVICES


Mandic’s lawyer Jocic says his client told him that he had contacts within the security services – and that they had authorised him to distribute weapons in the mid Nineties to followers of then president Djukanovic who was engaged in a dispute with Momir Bulatovic over the leadership of the Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS. Bulatovic was subsequently expelled from the party.


In 2001, Djukanovic, now prime minister, pardoned Mandic for a conviction he received in an unrelated criminal case two years before.


According to the Surina parents, Delic had often boasted to them that he worked for the secret police, showing them amongst other things his identity badge and a mobile phone encryption device used to prevent conversations being monitored.


In addition, retired general Alexander Vasiljevic, formerly head of Yugoslav army intelligence, told IWPR that while investigating the death of defence minister Bulatovic in 2000, it emerged that Delic was a member of Montenegrin state security and enjoyed the patronage of one of its most senior officials, Beli Raspopovic. The latter was assassinated on January 8, 2001, in the centre of Podgorica – the crime remains unsolved.


In addition, the Surina parents told IWPR that Jovanovic had hinted that Delic was linked to the secret services.


Moments after they had their first meeting with the newspaper editor in his office in Podgorica in June 2003, Delic rang up and asked to speak to Jovanovic.


"We were scared - we wondered how Ivan Delic knew we were in Podgorica meeting Dusko, " Neda Surina told IWPR. "Dusko told us he believed that Montenegrin state security monitored the Dan building and that they had phoned Delic, alerting him to our presence."


Speaking about the official inquiry into his son's death, Vasilje Jovanovic told IWPR, "The family are deeply unhappy with the investigation so far. We have been given reason to believe that individuals close to governing circles ordered the killing, and that it was carried out in collusion with people linked to the security services."


Respected former chief of the Belgrade police anti-organised crime unit Marko Nicovic has been following the case closely and told IWPR, "It is clear from the investigation that someone close to the top of the authorities in Montenegro organised the killing. They are now under huge pressure to find the killers, but they cannot arrest those who are truly responsible without investigating what they were involved in previously."


The Jovanovic family’s lawyer, Lidija Bozovic, recently said she had sent state prosecutor Medenica documents which she believed would shed light on the motives of the Dan editor’s killer. She has also appealed for new witnesses, including top state security officials, to be questioned in connection with the crime.


The main opposition party, the Socialist People’s Party, SNP, has now called for a parliamentary inquiry into the Jovanovic case. They want it to establish who was behind the murder and why.


“All the signs are that this case shows the symbiotic relationship between the regime and criminals and that the murder was executed with the logistical help of the police forces,” said SNP vice-president Zoran Zizic.


Of the official probe into his children's death, Mirko Surina told IWPR, "The investigation is going nowhere because Ivan Delic has powerful friends close to the secret police and the interior ministry. If the investigation is genuine, and they believe the Belgrade scientists, why is this case not being treated as a homicide? Why have the police ignored the mobile phone records I obtained? Why are they not interested in my witnesses?"


Delic insisted to IWPR that he was innocent of all the allegations being made against him, “If I was guilty I would not be here. I’m not hiding. All these accusations are just gossip. My name has been blackened for years and there is no end to this story. I’m shocked how injustice can go so far.


“I really don’t know what this all is about, can’t believe that you could have these questions, these are just stupidities…I can’t stand this any more, somebody is playing with me, all these games about me, and around me…this is more than I could ever have expected, I don’t have peace… All this is stupid, funny.


“That Bulatovic murder, which was a political murder, was wrongly pinned on me and since then everything has been pinned on me…I’m a political scapegoat.”


Berislav Jelinic is an investigative reporter for the Croatian weekly magazine Nacional. Hugh Griffiths is an IWPR investigations coordinator. Gordana Igric is IWPR Balkans project manager, based in London.


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