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

Serbia: Monckton Grudges Emerge

Alleged British spy chief roused ire of Serbian politcians and elements of the secret service.
By Zeljko Cvijanovic

The British diplomat, Anthony Monckton, recently unmasked as the alleged head of British intelligence in the country, made a number of enemies in local political circles and ruffled feathers in the Serbian security services, IWPR sources say.


Allegations against Monckton began appearing in the Serbian press on August 11, when Nedeljni Telegraf – a newspaper seen as close to Serbia’s secret police, DB, ever since the fall of Slobodan Milosevic – described the diplomat, political counsellor at the British embassy since March 2001, as MI6 chief in Serbia and Montenegro.


In its latest edition, on August 18, the newspaper published further allegations that looked like a determined attempt to damage Monckton’s reputation.


Without revealing its sources, the Telegraf claimed Monckton had played a major role in the arrest and transfer of Milosevic to The Hague in 2001. It also criticised him for having failed to predict the wave of Kosovo Albanian violence against local Serbs in mid-March 2004.


Allegations of Monckton’s role as an agent first appeared in the British media in June 2000, after a sacked MI6 operative published a list of alleged spies on various websites.


It’s unclear who exactly is behind the Telegraf claims, but IWPR police and secret service sources say that Monkton roused the ire of a number of Serbian politicians and antagonised elements within the DB.


The sources say that one of his biggest critics is the former deputy head of the DB, Zoran Mijatovic - sacked after a November 2001 mutiny by the elite Special Operations Unit, JSO - who blames Monckton for his dismissal. Mijatovic had retired from the DB after Milosevic’s fall but returned to become second-in-command to Goran Petrovic, appointed head of the service by the late prime minister Zoran Djindjic.


Mijatovic had longstanding connections with Telegraf, and even worked for it in 1999-2000, after retiring from Milosevic’s secret police. This spring, the paper published Mijatovic’s book, Requiem for A State Secret, which painted an unflattering picture of the British diplomat.


IWPR’s sources say Monckton was one of the best informed people in Belgrade on the DB. They say he even tried to persuade the service in 2001 to accept his own plans for its reform. “He brought a written draft proposal, which envisaged the secret service cutting its personnel tenfold, down to 300 people,” said one source.


The idea was rejected, the sources say, as the DB feared such reforms would diminish its influence within the political establishment.


In addition, the sources say, the DB leadership worried that Monckton had too much influence over the then police minister, Dusan Mihajlovic, to whom he was close.


When Goran Petrovic and Mijatovic were removed from the secret police following the 2001 JSO revolt, both blamed Mihajlovic and Monckton for their downfall. “I believe Mijatovic never forgave Monckton,” said an IWPR source. IWPR approached Mijatovic for comment but he refused to answer any of our questions.


At the same time, a conflict between Monckton and other individuals in the Serbian leadership also grew in scale after Djindjic’s assassination in March 2003, the source say.


During the police operation to round up those behind the killing, influential figures in the new government of Zoran Zivkovic sought to get their old ally Mijatovic restored to the secret police. They did not succeed – partly, it seems, owing to opposition from Monckton. The sources say that thanks to his efforts, both British and US diplomats lobbied the Zivkovic authorities strongly against such a course.


Some members of the Zivkovic government, which fell in the elections of December 2003, believed British and American diplomats played a key role in discrediting their administration, and that behind the diplomats stood the UK and US intelligence services, amongst them Monckton, say the sources.


In addition to antagonisms with Mijatovic and key members of the Zivkovic government, Monckton is also alleged to have ruffled feathers within the DB because, as one IWPR source put it, he appeared to know too much about the Serbian underworld.


Our sources say that before Djindjic’s murder, Monckton had shown the secret services a document explaining the workings of the Zemun mafia gang - the group later accused of Djindjic’s murder. Monckton, the sources say, showed parts of this draft to senior officers, who then concluded he knew more about this infamous gang than their own operatives.


The sources say that this incident was later to make DB officials worry that - as the official investigations proceeded into who was behind Djindjic’s murder - the Briton might possess information that could be potentially embarrassing to senior Serbian government officials.


IWPR contacted Monckton about the media allegations and IWPR’s findings via email. The diplomat forwarded it on to the British Foreign Office press office where a spokesperson said that it was not prepared to comment on these matters.


Zeljko Cvijanovic is a regular IWPR contributor.


More IWPR's Global Voices