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Criminal Belgrade

With Serbia’s politicians distracted and its police in limbo, the country’s underworld settles some scores. From Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso.

by Cecilia Ferrara 23 July 2012 Thirty-two-year-old Radojica Joksovic was killed on 2 p.m. 3 July on the outskirts of Belgrade by a kilogram of C-4 plastic explosive placed underneath his Audi A6, and remotely controlled via a mobile phone. Predrag R., 35, who was with him,
Radojica Joksovic
was slightly wounded. Joksovic was from Pljevlja, Montenegro, the home city of the now-infamous Darko Saric, a suspected international smuggler and boss of the Balkan Warriors, an organization that is allegedly the supplier of cocaine in Milan for the Italian mafia organization Ndrangheta.


Joksovic’s cousin Nebojsa, arrested in January 2010, was apparently one of Saric’s men in Italy and he is now one of the key witnesses against him. Serbian media recently recounted other sensational attacks that targeted Joksovic last year, including a hand grenade thrown at one of his bars and a bazooka round fired at another of his properties, a printing shop.


Eleven days earlier, in the center of Belgrade, in the Dorcol neighborhood, another car exploded due to a plastic bomb remotely controlled, killing Bosko Raicevic, a “controversial businessman” – as Filip Svarm wrote in Vreme, a weekly publication – suspected of having ties with organized crime. Raicevic was a relative of Andrija Draskovic, sentenced to nine years in prison in 2010 for a murder that took place a decade earlier.


Unfortunately, the two car bombs are not the only mafia-related attacks that have recently taken place in Belgrade. In April, Vujadin Pejanovic, known to be a member of Dejan Stojanovic’s Keka gang from New Belgrade, was shot to death. Stojanovic is a fugitive wanted under an Interpol arrest warrant for drug trafficking. In May, a hit man fired shots at Nebojsa Tubica, a.k.a. “the frog,” another gangster of the “old guard,” associated, according to the media, with Joca Amsterdan, who is jailed in Serbia on charges of murdering journalist Ivo Pukanovic. Tubica survived miraculously despite being hit in the head, and is already out of the hospital.


After the arrests resulting from the Balkan Warriors investigation, the wintertime arrest in Spain of Luka Bojovic, the “last” member of the Zemun clan, and the implementation of new anti-mafia laws such as the confiscation of goods and the use of cooperating witnesses, it looked as if organized crime in Serbia was going to have a harder time. Instead, brutal murders in broad daylight turn the clock back at least 10 years, to when, after Zeljko “Arkan” Raznatovic’s murder, the Zemun clan prevailed in a long mafia war that shed much blood on the streets of Belgrade.


Osservatorio talked about the current situation with Stevan Dojcinovic, from the Center for Investigative Journalism in Belgrade, who has followed the recent developments in the world of Serbian organized crime.


Investigators examine the wreckage of a car that blew up on a Belgrade street 22 June, killing Bosko Raicevic. Image from a video by Vesti.


What is going on in Belgrade?


In the last two months the situation has greatly worsened. We have had three killings and an attempted murder that failed due to sheer luck. This means that significant changes are going on in the Belgrade criminal world, but it is very difficult to understand them. Even if put all together, one cannot find a common denominator. These events involve different groups, with people whose roles are different. It is as if the criminal gangs are settling their internal scores, taking advantage of the political void created by the lack of a government.


Moreover, the media link everything to Saric, the smuggler connected to the seizure of 2 1/2 tons of cocaine in Uruguay but, according to our investigations, he does not even seem to be the leader of the group. We have found out that there are some businessmen connected to the “Balkan Warrior” group whose role is much more significant than Saric’s. He seems to be the expendable character in order to save other, more important, ones.


What is his role in the murder spree?


It’s difficult to say. Lately, journalists are linking anything to Saric, in such a pressing manner that seems almost suspicious. Even for Tubica’s attempted murder, an old criminal, a figure of the 1990s, news reports allege an involvement with the selling of lots of cocaine to Saric. But sometimes the information on which these reports are based only comes from anonymous sources.


Is there too much superficiality on the part of the media or are there other reasons?


A bit of both. On one hand, Saric is a name everyone knows, and it’s a story that readers want to read in the newspapers. On the other hand, it is also convenient for the police to have a sole figure to blame for any organized crime problem. Sure, it’s very likely that the recent murder of Radojica Joksovic is connected to the Saric case, since he was already threatened and had endured attacks on his properties. But I wouldn’t be so sure. The next one because I think more will follow will no doubt be linked to Saric.


This return of violence related to organized crime is certainly worrying.


Yes, it reminds of the years 2001-2002 when, in the underground criminal scene, there was a sensational settling of scores to let some groups expand. In two years there were 20 murders. Now it seems to be the beginning of a similar phase, as if someone in Serbia was trying to get the biggest piece of the cake, killing the competition.


Compared with 2001-2002, however, many things have changed: the fight against organized crime has grown, the political situation is different.


At the moment, there is a political void. There is still not a government and we do not know what will happen. In Serbia, the police cannot function on their own, like in northern European countries. The police are tightly controlled from above, from the Interior Ministry. Right now, we do not know who will become the next minister, and the police are not doing much. They’re waiting to see what happens. Regretfully, the judiciary and investigative system are also significantly affected by the political void. Therefore, this is the perfect moment for criminals to kill one another, because there will be no police officers on their tails and no judges who will press charges.


Who is fighting against whom?


It’s very difficult to say. Many groups have been hurt, many have been arrested. It’s difficult to determine whether these are new or old criminals. The thing we know for sure is that someone wants to take over most of the trafficking traditionally controlled by organized crime.


What are the political reactions?


There are no reactions. Everyone’s problem, right now, is how the government will be created and what Serbia’s future will look like, in terms of social standards, employment, and the fight against corruption. These are the only topics discussed. There is news of the murders, but no comments.


Even though Ivica Dacic, the former interior minister and future prime minister, has been personally involved in the fight against organized crime in the past few years?


I could not find any statements on the murders and, surely, if a journalist managed to interview him, the only questions asked would be how and with whom he wants to form the government. The political tension is high in Serbia; a murder at this point does not attract much attention. People are busier thinking about how to get by.

This article originally appeared on Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso. Translated by Sofia Lotto Persio.

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