After five years on the run, suspected drug lord Darko Saric is apprehended in a joint operation between Serbia and Montenegro.
By Drazen Remikovic for Southeast European Times in Podgorica -- 25/03/14
A motorcade carrying Darko Saric arrives in Belgrade. [AFP]
The arrest of alleged Balkan drug lord Darko Saric is the result of intense co-operation between Serbia and Montenegro, officials said, hailing the apprehension of one of the region's most notorious suspected criminals.
Saric's arrest on March 18th in Belgrade was an action that included global police and secret service agencies. He is being charged in Serbia with trafficking 5.7 tonnes of cocaine and laundering at least 22 million euros, Miljko Radisavljevic, Serbia's organised crime prosecutor, said.
Saric has been on the run since October 2009, when a shipment of 2.7 tonnes of cocaine that he allegedly organised was discovered by police near the Uruguayan Atlantic coast.
Montenegro and Serbia said they have been working together on the operation for more than a year.
"In August 2013, we formed a common investigative team with our Serbian colleagues, and our co-operation resulted in Saric's arrest," Montenegro Justice Minister Dusko Markovic told SETimes.
On February 24th, Saric's attorney contacted Belgrade officials to offer his surrender. Saric was transported to Podgorica, where he met with his mother and daughter, and was then moved to a Belgrade county jail.
"We would not have been able to locate or arrest Darko Saric without the help of the police and our colleagues from Montenegro," Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic told reporters. "This is another proof of the importance of regional co-operation. Saric's arrest is an indicator of the commitment to regional co-operation and an indicator of the Serbian government's resolve to fight crime and corruption.''
Marko Nicovic, a member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, agreed.
"The arrest of Saric is good news for police, for citizens, for regional security. It is a confirmation of the professional approach by the security information agencies," he told SETimes.
In this image taken from video provided by Info Biro TV on March 18th, Darko Saric is escorted from a government jet in Belgrade following his arrest in Montenegro. [Info Biro TV]
However, he added, "Saric had relationships with ministers from the previous government and he also financed political parties. He also has strong ties with the top officials in the economy and finance sectors. I think that his arrest could be very unpleasant for some previous and current politicians."
In late 2011, the Montenegrin media published a report that former Prime Minister Igor Luksic and former Foreign Minister Milan Rocen communicated with Saric just before the local elections in Montenegro. Both politicians have denied the report.
Serbian daily Blic said in January 2013 that Dacic had several meetings with Rodoljub Radulovic, one of the suspected highest-ranking members of Saric's gang. Dacic has said that he didn't know that Radulovic was Saric's associate at the time. Radulovic was charged with smuggling cocaine as part of Saric's organisation in February 2013.
Civic representatives in Montenegro said the arrest is good news.
"Regional co-operation and European integration in the coming period can change the work of Montenegrin judiciary significantly," Daliborka Uljarevic, executive director at the Podgorica-based Centre for Civic Education, told SETimes.
Citizens also hailed the arrest, and said Saric should receive a hefty punishment.
"If the prosecutors do their job right, there is no doubt that Saric will be in prison for a long time," Milovan Ljusic, a construction worker from Kotor, told SETimes. "However, it is extremely important that the state seize all of his illegally earned property. In that way, the state will show its commitment to fight notorious criminals such as Saric."
The European Commission also welcomed Saric's arrest.
"This has confirmed Serbia's readiness to contribute to the fight against international drug trafficking groups, which was assessed positively in the report on progress in 2013. Now we expect this case to be prosecuted efficiently, in line with the European standards," a March 18th statement from the commission said.
Correspondent Bojana Milovanovic in Belgrade contributed to this report.
How else can regional police agencies co-operate? Share your ideas in the comments section.