March 15, 1993 Vreme News Digest Agency No 77

Focus: Cops and Robbers

Jezdimir Vasiljevic "Dafina-tely" Gone

by Dimitrije Boarov

Slobodan Milosevic and Jezdimir Vasiljevic were out of the country on Thursday. That was one of the most nerve-wrecking days in the recent Serbian history.The assumptions were presented that Milosevic was almost definitely coming back, while Vasiljevic was unlikely to return. The course of the fight against crime in the state and economic leadership seems to have gotten out of hand. However, the hunt for thieves is still prominent, but it has yet to be seen for how long

If the bare facts are lined up, it can be seen that a storm of the so far unprecedented criminal and financial affair at the Serbia' s top broke last week. After one former minister and his associate, one current minister as well has found himself in prison for an inquiry. One of the leading bankers has left the Republic. In a company, which used be the top back-door importer of oil one director has killed himself under suspicious circumstances, the other has lost his life in a car accident, the third one has several rtimes been interrogated by the police, and the fourth keeps making statements. Ten firms have already been identified in a chain concerning the adaptation of one ministerial flat. Several banks are already on shaky foundations. People, leaving the country with millions on them, are being caught at border crossings. Four million people are panicking over a possible loss of the last capital reserves. But, before we try to give major outlines of the affair, which has, apparently, only started to unravel, we must once again raise the question, which VREME has already asked - Why has the top man in Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic, launched this large-scale settling of financial accounts and the "fight against crime" campaign?

Generally speaking, it should be noted, first of all, that the collapse of the Serbia's production base was "covered" by the international sanctions imposed at the end of May last year. And, now, when the financial sphere has its turn to calliopes, Milosevic was left with no choice. "The cover" for the collapse of the financial sphere is probably being sought among domestic crooks, who have misused the holy national war and outer isolation. Is it all about necessary "Bolshevicisation" of the regime as another way to somehow carry on with war and poverty - simultaneously?

No one knows as yet whether Jezdimir Vasiljevic, the owner of "Jugoskandik", received the information on Sunday, March 7th, that the police was putting Velimir Mihailovic, the Minister of Trade in the Serbian Government, under arrest, thus pursuing the investigation which began seven days earlier when his predecessor Sava Vlajkovic was taken into custody. It is still not known whether it was this arrest, of the one prior to it, or even something else which on that very day activated Vasiljevic's plan on leaving the country. The plan itself was devised and carried out in grand fashion.

Almost witty "attention to detail" shows that Boss Jezda is not green behind his ears when it comes to "big business deals", but has rather learned the trade by working his way up from the street-wise tasks. Yet, it is obvious that Jezda had an amateur-like approach to the major question posed before each financial genius - "How to leave at the right moment?". Here is a possible quick draft of such a plan.

Since the big game concerning the Fisher-Spassky Chess Match of the Century failed to yield main profits, an idea occurred that the game be used for the operation of leaving the site of action. Budapest is, without a doubt, the main "European Gateway" of Serbia. The talented Zuza Polgar is also there. The organization of the Spassky-Polgar Match called for Vasiljevic's constant right of passage through this "Gateway", while every such right, besides other conveniences, also provides a possibility for gradual pulling out of capital. What could not be transferred to foreign accounts through "astronomical fees" could be taken out in several turns, since who could possibly prove what real costs of "cash matches" are? The D-Day dawned, when our her had already become familiar with the Belgrade-Budapest line and with the Horgosz customs.

March 7th was the day to go. It was a pity to leave two beautiful Pontiac-made cruises behind in Belgrade, especially if they may have false chassis. Two hours before the departure, political columnists were rung at their home numbers, and invited to cover the press conference in Budapest, as allegedly there was a new big match organized by Vasiljevic, in which even Fisher and Khasparov might have a go. The journalist of the Belgrade media, "Ekspres politika", "Vecernje novosti", "Borba", "Nin" and Studio B responded to the invitation. The next day these (un)lucky chums were given a gold coin each and heard that Boss Jezda was saying his farewell to this Serbia, promising to return to some other Serbia. Then, they were crammed into taxis to go home, as the vehicles which took them to Budapest were staying in the safe place. It seems that former police officers who had been hired to provide security for the national Jezda were also sacked. Their Chief Ciga Cokic allegedly shocked and embittered after Vasiljevic's press conference, since he had been invited to the Intercontinental Hotel near St. Mary's Cathedral in Budapest to "make plans for the security service for Khasparov, who was coming for an agreement had been arranged" ( in the midst of the Linares tournament ). Thus, the naive policeman left Boss Jezda "the same moment". The Boss was then taken over by his friends from Tel Aviv where he headed on March 9th. Vasiljevic and his logistic base proved technical perfection which the domestic "patriotic mafia" is chronically short of. Even the telephones at a hotel such as the Intercontinental were out of order - until it was ordered otherwise. And, finally, a brilliant move aimed to cause all-out confusion. After he had talked before the journalists in Budapest about the state-racketeering in Montenegro and Serbia, with which he can no longer put up, and laid the blame on the Montenegrin leadership, the Socialist Party of Serbia in Belgrade, the fans and strongholds of the Serbian authorities, the former Prime Ministers, and so forth, in a statement to Vucelic's ( Director of the state television of Serbia) television made within moments Vasiljevic promised that he would return to the country in a day or two and assured his deposit-accounts customers not to worry as the "Jugoskandik" windows would be closed on March 8th because of the Women's Holiday and on March 9th due to uncertain anniversary of those bloody opposition demonstrations. Everything was put together immaculately. The only weakness to the plan proved to the surprise of the lawyer Stevan Protic with his telephone appointment to the post of the acting director of what was left of "Jugoskandik" in the country. By the way, Boss Jezda forgot to leave him a key to the famous "vault" with 100 kilos of gold ( since only 10 kilos might be in the vault, as a salesman claims to have sold the rest, unless the gold was in one of the Pontiacs ).

On March 8th and 9th the first channel of the state Television of Serbia was the main protagonist of the information farce on this occasion. In the fist version of the telephone conversation with Vasiljevic, "regarding the rumours spread by some media", the national banker was benevolently hailed from the studio with a plea,"We wish you returned as soon as possible. We all feel somewhat safer when you are here.". In the prime time news this sentence was cut out while the presenter was joined in the studio by Dafina Milanovic, to "show" her to the people and to ease nervousness. The guest in the studio was the owner of the famous "Dafiment Bank", who may herself close her "money kitchen" for the poor, following a possible collapse of "Jugoskandik". The next day, the channel attempted to boil down the Vasiljevic case to an argument over oil, which the court in Podgorica blocked in Kotor due to a dispute between "Jugoskandik" and the Small Businesses Bank. A lot of air time was given to Nebojsa Covic, the President of the Belgrade Government, who was mentioned by Vasiljevic in Budapest. Covic held a press conference where he refuted that Vasiljevic had allotted 200,000 DM for financing of his election campaign as a candidate on the list of the Serbian Socialist Party in Belgrade. The programme dedicated to Bobby Fischer's birthday, which was on only two hours after the prime time news, was the icing on the cake. The parallel with the current situation may be drawn as this programme started off with the reporter's futile search for Fischer throughout Los Angeles and Pasadena. But, he was nowhere to be found. Unlike the reality, Boss Jezda suddenly appeared in the programme, as he was opening the Fisher-Spassky match at the gala reception for the patriots from Belgrade.

Covic' s colleague Slobodanka Gruden ( the Mayor of Belgrade) and the director of Television Serbia Miodrag Vucelic were not skipped in the editing room. The pictures editor failed to recognize Nedeljeko Sipovac as well, who, in all likelihood, attended the reception as a chess fan and not as the then President of the Serbian Socialist Party in Vojvodina. Only Fischer and Milosevic were absent there.

Nevertheless, let's abandon this merry tone, which is imposed by the sum of mysterious puzzles regarding the media "exposure" of Vasiljevic and the "elite" in power. It is underhand to analyze Covic's defense who claimed it was natural that the sponsorship of the political parties is a business secret, that Vasiljevic was naive to expect favours to be returned when making payments to the strongest party, that the "protocol" on the participation of "Jugoskandik" in "the development of the city's public services" can not be regarded as equal to paying kick-backs to the state, etc. It is not a racket, it is a protocol - it's the same difference. Covic should first answer the question why "Jugoskandik" at all operated with hard currencies, especially after February 15th, when the Small Businesses Bank in Podgorica revoked a license to it. Nothing, absolutely nothing here is according to numerous laws, which regulate the financial sphere in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and in the Republic of Serbia.

The biggest secret for the public, but not for Covic and the bodies, whose superior he is, are the transactions of the "Jugoskandik" firms, which realized their turnover of Dinar and hard currency deposits, "in presence of the authorities", on oil, flour and sugar deals. Vasiljevic, who had at the very onset of his ascent up the business ladder in Serbia been calling on the public to fight against the domination of the German Mark, from patriotic motives, has already seen his fellow colleague Dafina Milanovic defending herself from the "plague of ruin" by arguing that she was the financier of Serbian salvation, and not the one who fled the country and gave statements against the authorities. Not even Dafina has come out of it unharmed by the rumours of her arrest. Of course, this is not true, but it is difficult to imagine her on an outing in Vienna some of these days.

For a week now, almost every day, the television is showing her to the public which is growing more nervous by the day. He attempt at starting a branch in Kosovo, besides the one in Tirana (which the local sources there deny), and at proving that the protection given to her by the Arkan's citizens group is not in question as the contract was made on financing the construction of a business center in Erdut ( with 2,300 square meters and a gas station with 600,000 liter capacity ) collides with rumours that Zeljko Raznjatovic- Arkan has withdrawn his savings deposits form the "Dafiment Bank" after the first hubbub.

The statement by Dafina that her bank is solid and patriotic since it has invested in the Serbian economy resembled the cry for help from the authorities, who are seriously indebted to her ( for her role of the "money mother" to the agonized people, if for nothing else). Along these lines, the main investment of the "Dafiment Bank" was the financing of pre-election pensions ( a loan of 7 billion dollars ), as well as the investment in the election base of the Serbian Socialist Party in southern Serbia, in the ever successful "Simpo" Company in Vranje ( 100 million DM ). The ties with "Simpo" ( modern banking does not differentiate between givers and receivers of money, since the real and illusory ones are often mixed up) is somehow associated with the meddle concerning one other big lumber industry firm, which basically dealt with oil imports ("Jugodrvo").

These connections have perhaps enabled "Simpo's" traditionally rapid development to continue, which is frequently mentioned on its anniversaries. The next anniversary is in the upcoming days. That truly is a cunning company, such accomplishments in the time of sanctions, with the Italian design, when couches are not selling pretty well only speak in favor of vitality of the southserbian industry ( furniture factories in Vojvodina are almost at the standstill ).

"Jugodrvo" had not had things too badly, all until the adaptation of anew flat of ex-minister Sava Vlajkovic revealed that the company dealt with oil and sugar, instead cupboards, under the baton of some people in the Serbian Government. Of the lot, the only one to be discovered so far is Velimir Brankovic who had been the Minister of Trade in Bozovic's ( former Serbian Prime Minister and current Speaker of the Federal Parliament) Government, and until several days ago Sainovic's ( current Serbian Prime Minister)Trade Minister as well. Who could possibly underestimate the Serbian Government so much as to assume that it "has no knowledge" of the operation that "Jugodrvo" in cooperation with "Jugosecer" obtains oil in Rumania, for beneficial deliveries to farmers, as Bozovic had proposed. As it has already come to light, Vlajkovic and Mihajlovic "have been accused" of being the mediators in this operation between the state reserves and those of oil buyers and sellers. According to the leaks form the Public Prosecutor's Office, they had allegedly received the commission of some 1,5 million DM, which they divided into equal shares. It seems that Vlajkovic did not have enough, so he struck back at "Jugodrvo" with his complicated cascade of collecting money for the redecoration of his flat in Belgrade's Zmaj Jovina Street. Even Agatha Christie would have to think twice while contriving and describing such chain. Everything started with corn, then through some cooperation with Montenegro, which was destined for medicines for Serbia, under mediation of some "Difak", or "Profak", or "Bujak"... On the other hand these companies may have been involved in other transactions, while those actually committed to the deal were "Velefarm", "Delta Bank", and "Astra Orion Holding" from Belgrade, as the President of the "Jugodrvo's Managing Board" Gojko Zecar stated later.

Unfortunately, the hubbub in "Jugodrvo" has not gone without taking its toll on human casualties. Namely, it is hard to believe that Radovan Nikolic ( age 41 ) killed himself in the hallway of the house, where he lives, exactly on March 9th, because he was hit hard by the "overall situation" ( as Zecar stated ), in other words, on the day when business transactions of the company, whose director of economic, financial and development projects he was, began to clear up. It is still not clear whether it was a suicide, of something even worse.

Several days earlier the director of the "Jugodrvo's" branch, Branimir Vukovic, who was in charge of making payments for oil abroad, was killed in the vicinity of Novi Sad, when driving from Budapest. While the poor are sleeping and fighting the war, the new business elite is obviously working hard day and night to secure the energy survival of the Serbia under the embargo, therefore Vukovic may have died as an exhausted driver.

The police have most probable been explained all this by the General Manager of "Jugodrvo", Dobrasin Ralevic, after he had been summoned for "informative talks" several times already. An experienced businessman Gojko Zecar has his statements published in the newspapers almost every day, trying to explain that his old firm is spotless. The only thing he failed to explain is who assigned the role of the "importer" of oil from Rumania to "Jugodrvo". Or, this firm may have taken on the job for "market purposes".

It is difficult to imagine that Vlajkovic and Mihajlovic on their own doing assigned "Jugodrvo" a task to execute such important deals with the country in which the Ambassador' s seat is occupied by a citizen of Krusevac, the former Prime Minister Desimir Jevtic to be more accurate. And, Rumania, by the way, has a traditionally friendly stand towards Yugoslavia, that is Serbia. Have not the relations with Rumania been maintained on the highest level? Yugoslav President Dobrica Cosic may have really exchanged diplomatic essays on historical prosperity there, but somebody must have worked on something more tangible. If memory serves correctly, the Serbian Prime Ministers used to be frequent visitors to Temisoara and Bucharest.

Whenever you delve below the surface, you come across a question with no answer. It is easily assumed that the youthful and handsome minister Vlajkovic was not the number one dealer of the Rumanian oil. But, only the fact that rumours spread had it that he buried 700,000 DM with his own hands in a farm in near Krusevac, should support this claim. Even if this is not true, the mere gossip says a lot about Mihajlovic and the Krusevac mentality. Imagine the rumour that Slobodan Milosevic was caught red handed with a bag of bank notes, fresh out of print, near the Topcider mint!

Capone and Dillinger were much rumoured, but no one hinted that they hid dollars beneath a tie knot or rifled telephone boxes for change. The assignment of dealing and selling the army oil, for instance, of the quantities which are being daily pumped out from the liberated oil wells in the area of Mirkovci, could never be entrusted to such a clumsy minister. When the rumor concerns Arkan, it is heard that he had robbed Serb Krajina of 150 million dollars, even though the value of the gross output of oil in Mirkovci amounts to mere 30 million dollars per year. On the other hand, Raznjatovic should know whether the Army traded with fuel. Yet, let's see who'll be brave enough to ask him something about it!

All in all, it is impossible to wrap up the first chapter of the story about financial operations "on the state level" in Serbia, Montenegro and the Federal Yugoslavia, while it is equally difficult to suggest who and what will go down the drain some future possible "money boom". What has surfaced so far, though it may strike one as funny at first sight, represents a warning that there is nothing good in store for us, when neither the system of financial illusions nor the redistribution can function any longer.

Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic is well of so far regarding this action which could be encoded as "Catch the thief!". In a little while we all may find ourselves faced with a paradox: We all shall be thieves, and He will be the only decent Serb.