Serbian Leaders Face Mafia Threat

Serbian gangsters are thought to be plotting to thwart investigations into Milosevic-era assassins

Serbian Leaders Face Mafia Threat

Serbian gangsters are thought to be plotting to thwart investigations into Milosevic-era assassins

There are fears that the Serbian government could be blackmailed into shielding assassins who worked for the former regime.

Serbian police chief, Dusan Mihajlovic, claimed last week that Rade Markovic, the former all-powerful boss of the state security service, SDB, handed compromising files on members of the new ruling coalition, DOS, to the Mafia, just before he was arrested.

IWPR sources reported that Markovic's deputy, Nikola Curcic, copied thousands of pages of confidential information onto CD files. Curcic, along with four other SDB officials, is in jail, under investigation.

Meanwhile, three prominent lawyers last week demanded the sacking of the leader of a disbanded SDB combat unit, on suspicion of complicity in three of the most notorious alleged political murders during Milosevic's last few years in power.

One case concerns four members of Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement, SPO, who died in an apparently deliberate traffic accident on the Ibar highway near Belgrade. Draskovic himself survived the attack.

The other two concern the assassination of journalist Slavko Curuvija and the kidnapping and presumed murder of former Serbian president Ivan Stambolic.

Nikola Barovic, the lawyer representing Stambolic's family, accused the SDB of pressuring the police and judiciary to withhold the results of their investigation into the politician's disappearance.

Barovic claimed the SDB remains a leading criminal organisation in Yugoslavia. "Even interior ministers cannot control them," he said.

Barovic and two other lawyers, Rajko Danilovic and Dragoljub Todorovic, have demanded that Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjic sack Colonel Milorad Ulemek, nicknamed Legija, a former commander of the SDB's now disbanded Special Operations Unit, JSO, known as the Red Berets.

A private investigation by Draskovic's supporters indicated that Ulemek was directly implicated in the Ibar highway deaths. They cited witnesses who told the investigating judge that they saw two people at the scene of the incident who identified themselves as SDB members.

The witnesses said the men each had a tattooed red rose on the

right side of their necks - the emblem of Ulemek's unit, worn by Ulemek himself.

Ulemek appeared on April 11 in front of the investigating judge and

testified that Nenad Ilic and Nenad Bujosevic, who had confessed to the

Ibar highway killings, acted on orders from Rade Markovic when he

was SDB boss.

Ulemek denied any personal connection with the murders, claiming that he first heard about them from the media.

Draskovic and his lawyers, however, insist that Ulemek, who served eight years in the French Foreign Legion and fought in Bosnia and Croatia with the arch killer Zeljko Raznatovic, alias Arkan, enjoys the protection of Serbia's new rulers.

Djindjic has repeatedly talked about the important role played by Legija and his unit in helping the opposition to overthrow Milosevic last year.

Draskovic was outraged when Djindjic loyalist Dusan Mihajlovic said the Ibar investigation has been completed and that only Markovic, Bujosevic and Ilic would be charged.

Draskovic's lawyer accused Mihajlovic of trying to hide crucial evidence as a result of "inadmissible compromises between the government and criminals".

And some fear that government officials will soon be forced to protect others if the Mafia chooses to use the secret files to blackmail them.

If Milosevic's successors drag their feet in investigating political

murders, the blackmail theory will continue to grow, leading to a major

government crisis.

Marko Nicovic, a lawyer and former chief of the Belgrade police, believes the coercion could start the moment certain detained policemen are faced with lengthy jail sentences.

Many current DOS leaders could be compromised by their business links

with Milosevic at the time when the state-controlled "grey economy" prevailed in Serbia.

One candidate for blackmail could be Mihajlovic himself. His company

Lutra made huge profits while his party New Democracy shared power with Milosevic between 1993 and 1997.

The outcome of this thriller will become known after the police and

judiciary complete their investigations into alleged political assassinations.

Only then will it be clear whether Ulemek was a slandered hero or some kind of Serbian Markus Wolf, the East German master spy whom

Helmut Kohl wanted to take to court before being shown compromising

files on his own people.

Zeljko Cvijanovic is a regular IWPR contributor

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