By charging the alleged ringleader of a powerful drug cartel, the government has declared an all-out war on drug smuggling in Serbia.
By Igor Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 22/04/10
Darko Saric and his group are suspected of smuggling 2.5 tonnes of cocaine from South America. [Getty Images]
Serbia's Special Prosecution for Organised Crime filed charges last week against Darko Saric and 19 others suspected of smuggling 2.5 tonnes of cocaine from South America. This has ignited a public debate on the safety of top officials, some of whom the group allegedly threatened.
Justice Ministry senior official Slobodan Homen said that the group, after the arrest of some members and the seizure of property worth several million euros, sent death threats to Serbian President Boris Tadic, Justice Minister Snezana Malovic and Special Prosecutor Miljko Radisavljevic. Police are investigating.
Saric, wanted by police since last year's confiscation of 2 tonnes of cocaine from a yacht in Uruguay, managed to flee the country. If convicted, his group's members each face up to 40 years in prison.
His is believed to be one of the most organised criminal groups ever to set up shop in Serbia, Special Prosecutor Miljko Radisavljevic said.
According to police, Saric is hiding in Montenegro, and continues his illegal activities. At the end of March, according to the daily Blic, 100kg of cocaine that was confiscated in Western Europe were allegedly smuggled to Europe for Saric.
"Saric did not have any direct contact with the cocaine, as he has never had. The job was done by well-teamed couriers sent to South America with huge sums of money to purchase drug, and sailors who undertook cocaine and smuggled it by vessels to Europe. The confiscated drug was found on a ship on which there were several sailors from the Balkans," a police source told Blic on Wednesday (April 21st).
The gang -- which invested money in real estate and purchased companies -- is said to hold assets worth tens of millions of euros. So far, several luxury homes and hotels worth millions of euros have been seized.
"All this should be taken very seriously and measures should be taken to protect state officials. The group is so financially powerful, with means to carry out its threats. I also don't think it will give up so easily and just watch the state seize its property," Belgrade Faculty of Security lecturer Zoran Dragisic told SETimes.
After the threats to state officials were revealed, the government announced that a new armoured car worth 620,000 euros was purchased for Tadic. Malovic and Radisavljevic were moved from their residences.
Milos, 22, a Belgrade student, thinks the threats to state officials may have been exaggerated to justify the purchase of new means of security, but also believes the danger cannot be ignored.
"After the assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, no one [can] underestimate danger," he told SETimes.
Dragana, 41, a lawyer from Belgrade, told SETimes that she believes the public should be concerned. "If criminals are able to threaten state officials, what can we, the citizens, say? How protected are we?"