April 19, 1997 Vreme News Digest Agency No 289

The Assassination of Radovan Stojicic Badza

The State And The Mafia

by Milan Milosevic and Uros Komlenovic

The assassination of Radovan Stojicic in an uptown Belgrade restaurant makes one wonder for what purpose did the authorities build such a massive police force with a specific doctrine and selection

Last week, foreign politicians and newsmen compared Belgrade to Bogota, Medellin and Palermo. The reason ? General Radovan Stojicic Badza, the chief of the public security sector, the deputy interior minister and the acting chief of police was assassinated on the night between April 10 and 11 in the Mamma Mia restaurant, where he was having dinner with his son Vojislav and one Milos Kurdulija, their friend and a customs officer.

The three were sitting in the smaller of the two restaurant halls - Radovan Stojicic and Kurdulija at one table and Vojislav Stojicic at another. According to media reports, an armed assailant wearing a mask over his head (both the media and eyewitnesses place his height between 175 and 185 cm) walked in and told everybody to lie down. He walked up the three stairs leading to the entrance of the smaller hall and stood between an empty ice-cream showcase and a full 25-liter bottle of Italian wine. Radovan Stojicic and Kurdulija were sitting at the first table to the right. Badza had his back turned to the assassin, barely a meter and a half away from him.

The executor fired seven bullets into the deputy interior minister. Only one of them missed the target and hit the wall right next to the vacant seat opposite the victim. Everybody in the restaurant lied down on the floor, and the assassin was out in a split second. He fired three more bullets into the window on his way out just to make sure no-one tried to stop him, but no-one else was hurt. The whole incident lasted only a few seconds. When the assassin left, Vojislav Stojicic and Milos Kurdulija went into the kitchen and called the police, who arrived in a few minutes. Rumour has it that some of the guests grabbed their mobile phones as soon as they realized they were safe. The police sealed the entire neighborhood, and subsequently the entire city. Patrol units searched passenger vehicles, public transportation, wrote down license plate numbers, questioned people in nearby buildings and everyone who looked suspicious. All hell broke loose in the police and the top ranks of the authorities. All ranking police officials were woken up, a special morning briefing was held, and President Slobodan Milosevic was notified immediately. Some say he hadn't slept all night.

Whatever the investigation comes up with, one thing is certain: the assassin is an extremely composed and bold person. The Mamma Mia is located only a few hundred meters from the federal and republican interior ministry headquarters. The restaurant is also in the immediate neighborhood of two well-guarded embassies, British and Libyan. The Mamma Mia, famous for its vast portions of quality food, is also a popular spot for businessmen, local pop and soccer stars and especially police officers. The constant presence of lawmen made the place quiet and safe from money extortion, at least from criminals. Former Interior Minister Radmilo Bogdanovic and the well-known Zeljko Raznjatovic Arkan were often seen in the Mamma Mia. The assassin was certainly familiar with Stojicic's habits, and it is quite possible that an inconspicuous individual had walked into the restaurant before the murder, located Stojicic's exact position, and tipped off the information to the executor.

Many believe that the assassin was a highly trained professional and that about 10 people must have taken part in the murder (a driver, informers, the getaway crew...), which required at least two vehicles and one apartment. The perpetrators most definitely knew that everyone wearing a uniform in this country would be after them.

However, one must bear in mind that the assassin's job wasn't all that difficult: Badza's regular outings to the Mamma Mia were common knowledge.

Stojicic was without his bodyguards on the fatal night, and they would have ended up just like him if had accompanied their boss. The General Zdanova street is dark apart from the area immediately around the restaurant, and deserted in that hour just like all the nearby streets. The few minutes between the murder and the arrival of the police were enough for the assassin and his companions to disappear without trace. This job required a few people and a lot of money, but Belgrade is full of criminals able to do it impeccably. Therefore, the possibility that the assassination was master-minded by a mafia boss unhappy with Badza's interference in his business can't be ruled out. For quite some time, ranking Belgrade mobsters have been enjoying privileges their peers in civilized countries can only dream of. Virtually all secret services around the world employ the services of gangsters every once in a while, but criminals know where they belong in civilized countries. They get the job done and slip back quietly into the darkness of their underground world, the last thing on their mind being some kind of equality with "government agencies". These relations were completely disrupted in Serbia when the crisis and the war in the former Yugoslavia broke out. Criminals became war heroes, the media portrayed them as such and the police began to turn a blind eye on their indecent behaviour because of what they did in Croatia and Bosnia. Former police chief Radmilo Bogdanovic was seen congratulating Arkan in public on a number of occasions, and Radovan Stojicic Badza also looked happy in his company. Much less is known about Badza's relations with other, less exposed criminals, but he must have had many such contacts. Criminals can be very ill-natured when they turn against their former bosses. That is why it is possible that Stojicic was murdered by one of his former underground "favorites".

The very decision to commit such an assassination reflects either the perpetrator's overconfidence or awareness that he will be completely protected. The latter theory is supported by the fact that rifts and dissatisfaction within the police have been present for a very long time. Stojicic had a lot of friends on the force, as well as people he promoted and did favors (who are now, according to some sources, gravely concerned for their positions), but a lot of enemies too. When he was made colonel-general, he had to promote a whole lot of people and introduce new ranks in the police to keep the dissatisfaction at a minimum. Stojicic was never accepted by circles known as the police elite. Officers with the reputation of utmost professionals started telling jokes about the rise in Stojicic's career and the fact that he made it to the top mostly because of his physical education activities. A Belgrade police inspector, Dragan Mladenovic, told a local newspaper three years ago that the police force was deeply involved in crime. He said there were clans within the police involved in drug dealing, car theft and other such activities. No one ever denied his claims. He mentioned the existence of Badza's clan and a rival Montenegrin group headed by Slavisa Scekic. Mladenovic claimed that the Jugoskandik affair was a front for a showdown between the two clans and accused Badza of selling arms to Moslems and Croats as well as organizing the distribution of drugs in Belgrade.

The late Stojicic told the Novi Sad daily Dnevnik last May that organized crime requires cooperation between criminals and certain politicians and state structures, adding that there was nothing of the sort in Serbia. His theory may have been denied with his tragic and sudden death. The post-mortem statements and condolence messages issued by the government, police officials and the Socialist Party indicate that Stojicic is a victim of crime. If the official rhetoric that Badza was murdered by criminals is true, how and where did his murderers gather so much information on his whereabouts if there is no connection between the state and the underground, as the authorities say? Is there something inside the police ?

Radmilo Bogdanovic, who spent his time in various security boards of the Serbian assembly after being sacked as chief of police, said recently that he "wants to believe that there is no such thing as mafia in these parts". When he was asked the same question in the assembly, he said that such a broad and sensitive issue could not be discussed in the assembly hall.

It must not be forgotten that Stojicic played an important if not crucial role in the war preparations, as well as in arming and training Serb troops in Krajina and Bosnia. He was in charge of troops in Borovo Selo during the Vukovar operations. He knew a lot about Serbia's "non-existent involvement in the war," and reported on delicate issues to directly president Milosevic.

Many reports, witnesses and public statements indicate that Radovan Stojicic was on good terms with Zeljko Raznjatovic Arkan, and that he too was sought by the Hague tribunal for war crimes. On Feb. 3, the London daily Guardian published an article quoting the former "paramilitary commander" Branislav Vakic as saying that Badza provided sophisticated weapons to his troops during the operations in eastern Slavonia. The daily also cited Marko Nicovic, a sacked Belgrade police chief who was close to the left-wing alliance JUL for a while, who said that Arkan is nothing but a former bank robber who became untouchable since he made friends with Badza in eastern Slavonia.

The motive for murdering Stojicic, a ranking police official, is still unknown. However, it is quite apparent that Badza's death has removed an important link in a chain of evidence linking Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic to war-related events in Bosnia and Croatia. Officially, nevertheless, Badza's role in the former Yugoslav war has been qualified as patriotic.

Of course, the assassination of a ranking police official is an attack against the state. It is only logical that the most immediate question is who the message was sent to. As far as protection is concerned, Radmilo Bogdanovic told reporters a few days after Stojicic's death that only the president is entitled to protection, while other officials are treated as common citizens. When asked whether he feels safe, Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Marjanovic said: "But of course, I work hard and honestly, I am straight and I see no reason...

The new Federal Interior Minister Zoran Sokolovic said that 15 police officers were killed and another 52 were wounded in 64 attacks on police units in the past couple of years. Many police officers were sent to the troubled southern Serbian province of Kosovo, as punishment for daring to speak out about the illegal activities of some law representatives. There have been no indications so far that Stojicic's murder might have been organized by ethnic Albanian terrorists from Kosovo, who committed a number of similar acts recently, the most notorious one being the car-bomb assassination attempt against Radivoje Papovic, the rector of Pristina university. The activities of ethnic Albanian terrorist organizations have so far been confined to Kosovo.

The entire incident opens an interesting issue - for what purpose was such a massive police force built in the first place ? One can say with a fair degree of certainty that the police (not including Kosovo) have so far been used as an instrument of preserving political power.