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Tribunal Probes Bosnian Serb Tycoon

Hague officials to question key Bosnian Serb financier about links to Karadzic and notorious detention camps.
By Emir Suljagic

Momcilo Mandic, a wealthy Bosnian Serb businessman accused of involvement in war crimes by the United States, is to be interviewed by Hague prosecutors, sources have told IWPR.

Mandic is currently in jail in Belgrade, arrested last month as part of the police dragnet following the assassination of Zoran Djindjic, and is being investigated for several unnamed crimes.

Last March, the US Treasury, announcing it was freezing his American assets, said he "commanded and gave orders to special police units and other forces involved in ethnic cleansing operations against non-Serbs" during the Bosnian war.

Mandic was a justice minister under the wartime Bosnian Serb regime of former president Radovan Karadzic, who is on the run accused of genocide.

Mandic has a multi-million dollar empire including an oil company and a network of hotels and restaurants.

Washington froze his assets after accusing him of being a "major funding source for Radovan Karadzic."

He was arrested April 13 during the state of emergency and is under investigation for "suspicion of committing several criminal acts".

Investigators from the UN war crimes tribunal contacted Mandic several years ago in the hope that he might help with their investigation of Karadzic and Mladic.

But the Bosnian Serb tycoon refused to cooperate because the Serbian security service ordered him not to talk, tribunal sources told IWPR.

Mandic was minister of justice in the Bosnian Serbian government from the beginning of the war in Bosnia until January 1993.

The US Treasury, said he controls "an elaborate network of criminal enterprises engaged in embezzlement, business fraud, fictitious loans" that were used to support the protection of Karadzic. Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb president, is on the run, having been indicted for genocide in 1995.

Bosnia's High Representative, Paddy Ashdown, later followed suit and froze Mandic's Bosnian bank accounts.

Officials hope Mandic will divulge information to try and save his own skin. "Our sources say that he [Mandic] is afraid of us now," said a tribunal prosecution official on the condition of anonymity.

Tribunal documents obtained by IWPR allege that he played a key role in organising detention camps in the first months of the Bosnian war.

He was allegedly responsible for appointing and removing wardens and keeping the camps supplied between May 1992 and January 20, 1993.

The tribunal documents, which were originally obtained from the Bosnian government, also allege that Mandic visited the camps in Svrake and Hadzici, suburbs of Sarajevo. They quote one camp inmate as stating that Mandic came and addressed the prisoners, asked after the conditions there and promised prisoners, as he left, that there was nothing to fear.

The documents also include an intercept of a conversation in July 1992 between Mandic and a Serb commander, Radivoje Grkovic, based outside Sarajevo. The latter asked the former for "30 Turks (a derogatory reference to Bosnian Muslims)" to dig trenches on the frontline, leaving no doubt that he was referring to camp inmates being used as human shields.

Emir Suljagic is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.