RS arrests Saric associate for money laundering

23/05/2011

Authorities say the businessman bought companies with profits from cocaine sales.

By Ljiljana Kovacevic for Southeast European Times in Banja Luka – 23/05/11

photo

Police arrested Zoran Copic in Banja Luka on April 26th. [Blic]

It may be a textbook example of exactly the kind of law enforcement co-operation the region has long discussed. Late last month, Republika Srpska (RS) police arrested Zoran Copic, one of fugitive drug boss Darko Saric's closest associates.

Then, by the order of County Court in Banja Luka, all assets of Copic's companies -- Agrokop, Aviorent and the Bijeljina sugar plant -- were frozen. Prosecutors suspect the companies laundered Saric's drug money, millions of euros worth.

RS police estimate the assets at roughly 15m euros, and say as much as half of that was laundered drug money.

The case's biggest fish, Saric, remains on the run. Serbia has issued an international warrant for him, and he is being tried in absentia in Belgrade for money laundering and drug smuggling on a behemoth scale, involving more than 2 tonnes of cocaine from South America. Charged with him are a slew of co-defendants.

As for Copic's arrest "this is just the beginning," Police Director Gojko Vasic tells SETimes. "The possibility of verifying all disputed transactions [via the] company owned by Zoran Copic is now created, from Serbia and Montenegro and the Federation ", he notes. Wrapping up the investigation, Vasic adds, requires co-operation with other police agencies in the region.

Copic was arrested in a police operation code named "Machine", initiated by an order of the RS Special Prosecutor's Office. He will stay behind bars at least through the end of May, following a decision by Banja Luka District Court Judge Daniel Milovanovic who cited flight risks and "special circumstances that indicate that, [if free] he might interfere with further investigation and influence witnesses and accomplices".

Until recently, on the surface at least, Copic lived the life of a legitimate businessman in Banja Luka. In October for example, his company Agrokop bought 68% of stakes in the Bijeljina area sugar factory.

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Copic found himself in the crosshairs after Serbian police determined he was on the boards of several companies owned solely by Saric. Serbian authorities issued a warrant for him last year, but were thwarted by his dual citizenship, Serbian and Bosnian. Because BiH does not extradite its citizens to other countries, he will remain in RS. Serbia can however, prosecute him in absentia.

Copic was splashed across headlines nearly a year ago, when police in Banja Luka detained him for questioning, this time suspecting him of planning to assassinate Serbian Interior Minister Ivica Dacic during a June visit to RS. Dacic has been actively pursuing the Saric drug smuggling and money laundering case. Copic, along with a suspect named Drzen Golemovic, remained in custody during the visit, but was released for lack of evidence.

A year before that, in May 2009, Golemovic had been arrested in a move by Croatia's anticorruption office, USKOK, which accused him of serious financial crimes.

After his release from Zagreb, Golemovic fled to his native Derventa, in northern RS, where he got a Bosnian ID card, making him inaccessible to Croatian law enforcement agencies, despite the arrest warrant issued against him. Just last week however, Golemovic surrendered to Croatian judicial authorities and admitted committing the crimes, reportedly to avoid a harsher sentence than if he'd been convicted in absentia.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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