No Convictions for Radovan Karadzic’s ‘Helpers in Hiding’

20. March 2020.09:55

This post is also available in: Bosnian

A year after Radovan Karadzic was convicted of genocide and other wartime crimes, no one who helped the former Bosnian Serb political leader to evade capture for 12 years has been convicted in Bosnia and Herzegovina or Serbia.

The Bosnian state prosecution investigated 58 people for offering financial support to Karadzic, but its probe was discontinued several years ago because there was no proof that any crimes were committed, and the people under investigation cooperated with the Hague Tribunal.

The Bosnian prosecution declined to respond to BIRN’s questions about any ongoing investigations into Karadzic’s helpers “for reasons of confidentiality”.

Meanwhile three prosecutor’s offices in Belgrade told BIRN that they had not conducted investigations into any individuals who have previously been mentioned as suspects, while another Belgrade prosecutor’s office declined to respond to BIRN’s inquiry, citing personal data protection legislation as the reason.

Representatives of war victims’ associations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which have been struggling for the truth about the 1990s conflicts for more than two decades, expressed disappointment about the lack of progress made by prosecutors in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia.

“We have repeatedly sought information and exerted pressure to see Hague fugitives’ helpers adequately prosecuted, but we have never heard anything about the fate of those investigations,” said Murat Tahirovic, the president of the Association of Witnesses and Victims of Genocide.

Suspects blacklisted, assets frozen

Karadzic in disguise as ‘spiritual healer’ Dragan Dabic while he was on the run. Photo: EPA/HEALTHY LIFE.

In 1995, the last year of the Bosnian war, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia filed an indictment charging Karadzic.

The following year, he resigned as the president of Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity Republika Srpska and of the Serb Democratic Party, both of which he was involved in founding before the war broke out.

He then went into hiding and is believed to have spent his first years as a fugitive in Bosnia and Herzegovina, while NATO’s Bosnian stabilisation force SFOR and foreign security services searched for him without success.

Rumours circulated that he was living in monasteries, or that he had gone to ground in Montenegro, Greece, Russia or Belarus.

He crossed over into Serbia at the end of 1999, and allegedly hid in the northern city of Novi Sad before moving to Belgrade. There he adopted the identity of Dragan Dabic, a self-styled spiritual healer, and started to give lectures and work as a consultant for private health companies.

He was eventually arrested on a bus in Belgrade on July 21, 2008 and sent to The Hague to stand trial.

Scores of people were either removed from public office or had their assets frozen by Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Office of the High Representative, the country’s international overseer, for helping to hide or finance fugitives from the Hague court, including Karadzic.

The Office of the High Representative said that international restrictions were imposed on around 80 officials and that around 40 companies’ bank accounts were blocked.

The Council of the European Union also compiled a blacklist of dozens of people who were barred from entering EU member states because of suspicions that they helped Karadzic hide.

Former Bosnian justice minister and assistant interior minister Momcilo Mandic was on the blacklist. Mandic currently lives in Serbia and is a member of parliament for the Serbian Radical Party, led by Vojislav Seselj, who was convicted of wartime crimes by the Hague Tribunal.

Mandic was sentenced to five years in prison for his involvement in corrupt practices at the Privredna Banka Srpsko Sarajevo, but acquitted of crimes related to assisting Karadzic due to a lack of evidence.

The indictment alleged that a secret fund was established at Privredna Banka to support Karadzic’s legal costs at the Hague Tribunal.

Mandic denied this: “I was sentenced for the bank charges, because they thought that I gave loans to companies which helped Hague fugitives, including Karadzic. No loans were granted for that purpose,” he told BIRN in 2019.

Alleged aides charged with war crimes

Momcilo Mandic, who was acquitted of aiding Karadzic, at a session of the Serbian parliament’s defence and internal affairs committee. Photo: Serbian Parliament.

The list of people suspected of helping Karadzic included several who were later indicted for war crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Momcilo Mandic was one of them, although he was acquitted of running detention facilities in Sarajevo and Foca where several hundred people were held in inhumane conditions.

Another was Tomislav Kovac, who commanded the police in the Serb-dominated Republika Srpska entity when the Srebrenica massacres happened in July 1995. He was charged with genocide and the indictment alleged that police units under his control participated in the capture, imprisonment and mass execution of Bosniak men and boys from Srebrenica.

But Kovac, who lives in Serbia, failed to attend a plea hearing at the Bosnian state court in 2018, and no other hearings have been held since.

Another person suspected of aiding Karadzic was convicted – Predrag Kujundzic, the former commander of the Predo’s Wolves unit, which operated as part of the Bosnian Serb Army, was sentenced to 17 years in prison for committing crimes against humanity in Doboj.

Meanwhile, Milan Ninkovic is still on trial for allegedly participating in a joint criminal enterprise that persecuted the Bosniak and Croat civilian population of Doboj in 1992-93.

A final suspected helper of Karadzic, Ljuban Ecim, was charged by the Bosnian prosecution with committing crimes against humanity against Bosniaks and Croats in the Kotor-Varos area, but in January this year, the state court refused to confirm the indictment. The prosecution has said it will file the charges again.

Meanwhile, a year after he was sentenced to life in prison, Karadzic remains in his cell at the UN Detention Unit in the Netherlands, as it has yet to be decided where he will be sent to serve his sentence.

Admir Muslimović

This post is also available in: Bosnian