Corruption: Let the charges fly!

A bitter and public back and forth of accusations has been set off by a rare interview which the late Zoran Đinđić's confidant Vladimir Popović-Beba granted to Brankica Stanković for Radio B92's program "Insajder." Beba Popović is widely regarded, rightly or not, as having been a grey eminence of the Đinđić government, and hardly ever speaks to the press. In this interview he comes out with some revelations that, if true, are bound to spark controversy.

Mr Popović describes the contacts between Mr Đinđić, former interior minister Dušan Mihajlović, and criminals from the Unit for Special Operations (JSO or "red berets") and the Surčin criminal clan, the difficulty that police had in controlling well-connected criminal groups, and the difficulty that the government had in controlling the police. I will offer a few longish quotations--the conversation was informal, so please excuse the heavy use of ellipses and brackets (also the translation is a little free, check the original before quoting it):

"The key events around 5 October [2000, the day the Milošević regime fell] were a secret meeting of all the leaders of DOS [the Democratic Opposition of Serbia], and a meeting between [then incoming federal president Vojislav] Koštunica, [Slobodan] Milošević, [Russian foreign minister Igor] Ivanov, [head of military general staff Nebojša] Pavković, and now we hear that [head of military security] Aca Tomić and a journalist from the Beta agency were also present. [...] I don't know when the text of that discussion with Milošević from 6 October will be released, but I know that Nebojša Pavković secretly organized the taping of that meeting. [...] There was a fight between Koštunica and Slobodan Milošević. Milošević charged that he had formed Koštunica's party and helped him, which Koštunica denied, but [Milošević] insisted that he gave him publicity, that he allowed the people who financed him to get some contracts which made it possible for his party to receive money, that he allowed him to become popular by giving him access to state television. Koštunica assented at one point, and Ivanov managed to insist to Koštunica that he owed Milošević after all."


"I think it is not fair to mention only [director of State Security] Radomir Marković when talking about politicians who were protected after 5 October. Maybe he was justifiably a symbol of the most repressive side of the rule of Slobodan Milošević, but Koštunica and the people around him did not only protect Marković. If we want to be truthful about it, then we have to say that after 5 October Koštunica protected all of Milošević's apparatus, that means the army, Milošević's media, Milošević's institutions, the members of Milošević's family, and everything else. Koštunica protected them all."


"What none of us knew was that after 5 October there there would be a property fight between State Security, Milošević's politicians and Milošević's tycoons who had for ten years under the mantle of war and patriotism been doing business over the territory of the former Yugoslavia. I mean, we all knew that more or less, but we did not think that relations were the way they were.

"We fell into that and did not know and we needed a lot of time to figure out what was going on. It became clearer to us about a month after Zoran [Đinđić] became prime minister, when Jovica [Stanišić, former head of State Security] at one of our meetings told Zoran, I was present, that Zoran should do something about getting money from [former Milošević confidant] Milorad Vučelić, who had stolen some 40 million marks from State Security. He took out a folded piece of paper from his wallet, it was there with the photos of his kids, and on it were written the numbers of ten bank accounts and the exact amount of how much money was where and he said that that was the money that State Security had got from various business operations and from the donations they had got from individuals who in the war years had given them money to buy equipment, helicopters, and so forth. And Vučelić was some kind of connection between State Security and those people, he was supposed to take half and give the rest, but in the end he took it all and did not give any."


"If you ask me whether [the organized crime figure from Surčin] Ljubiša Buha had some connections by which he got contracts [for paving highways], I will tell you -- yes, he had a connection, but that connection was not anybody from the government but [Milošević confidant] Milutin Mrkonjić, who worked in his firm for a year. A person who for five or however many years was involved with paving jobs in Serbia. Who did Zoran Đinđić know in the paving business in Serbia? Or any of us from the leadership of DOS? Nobody, and still the story goes around that Zoran said to him, okay, that capital you got from crime, fine, I have no problem with that capital, as long as you stop doing crime I will give you the permits to invest that capital in legal businesses. Now, why would he ask the prime minister? Who asked anybody anything, do you think that Ljubiša Buha is the only person who made millions on the black market under Miloševic? From crime, smuggling, kidnapping, whatever. Look at [the luxurious Belgrade neighborhood] Dedinje, in Dedinje there are 500 houses, every one worth 4-5 million euros. How many people do you know about who got there with dubious capital? The Karićes and who else? You don't know about any others. Well, whose are those 400 houses? Who are those people? Are those people who had 5000 euros or marks as a monthly salary under Milošević and earned it? No, those are people who made that money in a suspicious way. Nobody talks about them, and none of them needed permission from Zoran Đinđić to buy into anything."

The story has its incredible moments, and there are times when it is hard to be credulous about Mr Popović's professed naivete. At one point even the reporter tells him, "now you are really talking like you are from Sweden or something." It is also clear that Mr Popović has reason both to argue against the portrayal of himself and Mr Đinđić as being close to criminals, and also to discredit Mr Koštunica.

But the detective-novel elements should not be dismissed out of hand. Less likely stories have proven to be true. Judging from the initial reactions (also in Blic) of people named in the interview, there are a lot of heated denials but no formal charges of slander.


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Anonymous said...


The negotations immediately before and after the fall of Slobo are absolutely fascinating, and still -- as they say -- imperfectly understood.

I would expect /everyone/ involved to give, Rashomon-like, an incomplete and deeply self-serving account. The best we can hope for is to get as many versions as possible, so we can put them side by side and hope for the best.

Doug M.

Eric Gordy said...

Dobrodosli manijaci! Vidi cu sta mogu da nadjem od zanimljivih fotosa, svakako.
And yeah, the Popovic story might be thought of as a first version. I hope whoever tells the next version is a better writer than Plavsiceva. One thing I have learned is never to dismiss stories that sound too bizarre to be true, ever since the bit about the heroin at the National Bank safe.