AIM: start

WED, 23 JAN 2002 12:37:30 GMT

Political Murders Still a Mystery

Murderers Known, No Evidence

"In Curuvija case, we are actually in the phase of checking the last details in view of the fact that some of the protagonists of the events are dead. Unfortunately, in Stambolic case, the situation is unchanged and I think that here we are the victims of the four months of democratic tripartite authorities and the 'status quo' between October 5 and the Republican elections that were used for destroying the few trails left behind this crime", concluded in his statement for the public Dusan Mihajlovic, the head of Serbian policemen, in the end of 2001.

AIM Belgrade, January 9, 2002

"We know who the murderers are, but we have no evidence". Serbia's Minister of police, Dusan Mihajlovic, repeated this sentence at least five times since he had taken over the seat of the main "sheriff", in explanation of the "status quo" in clarification of the crimes left behind Milosevic's time. Resolving of the cases of the murder of the owner of Dnevni telegraf, Slavko Curuvija, of kidnapping of the former president of Serbia Ivan Stambolic and the crime on the Ibar main road, were all an integral part of all DOS' pre-election promises because they attracted great media attention. Nowadays, a year after Mihajlovic was appointed minister, cases of Curuvija and Stambolic are still a mystery for the public, while the case of the Ibar main road is allegedly resolved for the police, the trial is under way, but nothing was made public about it either.

"What we arrived at clearly shows that these three cases are political crimes, or crimes with political background that members of the State Security Department participated in. In the case of Curuvija we are indeed in the phase of the verification of the last details having in mind that some of the protagonists of these events are dead and we don't want to make any mistakes. Unfortunately, in the case of Stambolic, the situation is unchanged and I think that here we are the victims of those four months of democratic three partite authorities and "status quo" between October 5 and the Republican elections, that were used for removing all traces left behind this crime", concluded the head Serbian policeman in his address in the end of 2001.

Mihajlovic's rhetoric does not differ much from that used by his predecessors from the time of Milosevic. They too spoke about lack of evidence, they too also knew everything but would not say anything, they reminded, just like the present authorities, that the murders of John Kennedy and Ulof Palme had never been resolved, so why should they be better.

The Minister has other problems. "Give me one big organized murder that the police solved after October 5. It is the same as before, only the criminals are caught who either give themselves in or by a miracle remain at the place of the crime longer than necessary", explains Dobrivoje Radovanovic, director of Criminological Institute from Belgrade. Inefficiency of Serbian police in current cases harbours the thesis that all the present team is capable of is making fine speeches and mystifying things in order to buy time because they have not resolved a single mafia-like murder in Belgrade since October 5, nothing to say about crimes from the previous ten-year period, when hundreds of criminals and a few high state officials were killed.

That is how the theory on known murderers but lack of evidence comes to nothing. Experienced policemen say that in investigations they come across a lot of so-called operational facts about the possible perpetrators, but before they put two and two together and collect convincing evidence or testimonies, they do not go around saying that the case is resolved. "Until you have evidence you actually don't know who the murderers are, because had you known, you would have proved it", they say.

It did not take great wisdom to proclaim the cases of Curuvija and Stambolic crimes with political background that State Security Service is involved in. That was the assumption of all journalists that wrote about them at the time they happened. Except for the minutes of secret police on tailing Slavko Curuvija on the day of the murder, neither the new authorities nor the police have stated anything new except for the publication of a photo-robot of one of the murderers. For the time being identification of that skinny creature with a Roman nose is still under way. There is justified suspicion that the perpetrators are dead, but that may be just a mask for easier resolution - to accuse some deceased criminal and put the case ad acta. The key is in revealing who gave the orders, which is the more difficult part of the investigation.

Although the trial to murderers of Zeljko Raznatovic Arkan was completed in October, the public is still deprived of the answer to the central question – what were the motives and who ordered this murder. The same is with the trial for the crime on the Ibar main road. When two associates of state security service who gave themselves in to the police themselves, admitted that they had been sent to action by Rade Markovic, former head of secret police, and when the latter denied this, they withdrew their original statements. Although obsolete, Serbian judiciary permits oral testimonies as evidence, this system of making statements and then withdrawing them can be a double-edged sword if you have nothing more tangible in your hands. Especially at the moment when the police wish to restore by all means the reputation by clarifying the severest crimes from the “rich heritage”. This can bring about fatal mistakes, and they leave a bitter taste. It is much better when you arrest and sentence somebody based on something that is more “solid” – a tape, a video tape, DNK profile, fingerprints, undiscredited witnesses.

The non-existence of the practice of making settlements with the court and protected witnesses in Serbian legislature makes things very difficult in these cases. And it is hard to believe, connoisseurs of the police say, that state security service would allow itself to leave some amateurish trail if it had participated in some crime.

The hastiness under pressure of the media of the new team in Serbia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs has already reached such proportions that some of them not only gave scheming statements, but also even entered quite funny debates. When a Belgrade journalist asked the minister why the statement on the corpses of Kosovo Albanians from the refrigerator truck read that they had been taken over by “unidentified officers”, he got angry: “We will employ you and you make the investigation”. Of course, he could not answer – how did they know that the persons were officers if they had not identified them?

In this sense it is possible to interpret the statements about “evidence and unknown murderers”. Whoever believes the minister will peacefully wait for the denouement. Who does not will repeat the old rule of crime investigation – if you do not resolve a crime in seven days, the chances that you will ever resolve it are 50 per cent; if you do not resolve it in two weeks chances are 10 per cent; if you do not resolve it in a month, there is no chance whatsoever that you ever will, except if you happen to run across a trail by coincidence. After all, in Serbia everything is pure coincidence.

Dragoljub Petrovic