Arrests deal blow to Serbia's organised crime, but may not eliminate it

13/02/2012

Serbian authorities are hoping that with the arrests of four notorious criminals they have dealt a decisive blow to organised crime.

By Igor Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 13/02/12

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Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindic was assassinated on March 12th 2003. [Reuters]

Serbian officials say the recent arrests of four criminals -- one of whom is charged in the March 12th 2003 assassination of the late Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic -- is a major advance in the country's fight against organised crime.

President Boris Tadic said the arrests deal "a decisive blow to organised crime, from which it will not recover for a long time". He added that this could also be important for new investment in the country, because foreign businesses invest money in safe countries.

In Valencia, Spain, police arrested Vladimir Milisavljevic -- known as Budala -- who was sentenced in absentia in 2007 to 35 years in prison for Djindjic's assassination. Also apprehended was Serbian underground leader Luka Bojovic and members of his organization, Sinisa Petric and Vladimir Mijanovic.

"The Zemun criminal clan no longer exists," Serbian Interior Minister Ivica Dacic announced on Friday (February 10th), speaking on Thursday's arrest.

All four are charged with murders, robberies and drug trafficking.

"The four of them were arrested in Valencia thanks to information from the Serbian police. We had information on the movement of the suspects and submitted it to our Spanish colleagues, who carried out the arrests in a highly professional manner, on which I congratulate and thank them," Serbian Police Director Milorad Veljovic told SETimes.

He reported that Bojovic was in possession of a Lithuanian passport, while the other three had forged Serbian documents.

"This is quite a success for our police, because four very important figures of the Serbian underground have been arrested," Veljovic said.

Former Police Minister Bozo Prelevic told SETimes that the Serbian police have achieved conspicuous success in the fight against criminal groups over the last few years.

"All of the important people from the Serbian underground are in jail at the same time -- that hasn't happened in a long time. This shows that Serbia is honest when it comes to the struggle against this type of crime," Prelevic said.

He also said Milisavljevic's arrest could shed light on the background of Djindjic's murder, due to his ties to clan leaders Dusan Spasojevic and Mile Lukovic.

The two were killed in a showdown with the police in March 2003, just outside of Belgrade, where they were hiding after the assassination.

"Milisavljevic was at such a post in the clan that he was able to know many things. Maybe he will decide to reveal some of them in Belgrade when he is extradited, although the other clan members arrested before him as a rule failed to present anything truly new," said Prelevic, who was the lawyer for Djindjic's bodyguard Milan Veruovic in the assassination trial.

However, Assassination of Zoran author Milos Vasic does not believe Milisavljevic will present any significant information.

"I don't think Milisavljevic can become a witness collaborator, because he has already been given the maximum sentence and he was at the very top of the clan. Also, he has to have solid evidence for all claims he potentially offers to the prosecution in exchange for witness collaborator status," Vasic told SETimes.

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Prelevic and Vasic agree that Belgrade's troubles with organised crime are not over.

Prelevic fears the smaller criminal groups that might now fight for dominance in Serbia will clash with each other.

"The large groups are now broken up and the biggest names in crime arrested. In that situation, some of the smaller players may try to form a new powerful organization and come out on top. It is up to the police to stop that," Prelevic said.

"The positions at the top of the criminal world are now vacant. Surely there are candidates ready to take over that top. Big money is in question and as long as the profit is so large the state will not be able to root our organised crime, rather only to keep it somewhat under control," Vasic said.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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