Feature 05 Dec 17

‘Secret’ Serbian Indictment Claims Army Helped Mladic

The indictment of Ratko Mladic’s aides, which the Serbian prosecution has released to BIRN after initially declaring it a state secret, says the Bosnian Serb military chief had Yugoslav Army assistance while hiding in Belgrade.

Filip Rudic BIRN Belgrade
Ratko Mladic was sentenced to life in prison last month by the Hague Tribunal. Photo: ICTY.

The indictment of Ratko Mladic’s aides, which was released to BIRN in a heavily-redacted form despite the Serbian prosecution’s initial claim that it was a classified document, suggests that the Yugoslav Army provided assistance to the fugitive Bosnian Serb general while he was in hiding in Belgrade in 2002.

The indictment of Mladic’s helpers, who were acquitted of hiding him in August, says that Jovan Djogo, a retired Bosnian Serb Army colonel, was suspected of driving Mladic to a Yugoslav Army compound in Belgrade in June 2002, after which the general was moved to another defendant’s private apartment using a military vehicle.

The prosecution claims in the indictment that Mladic switched apartments several times between 2002 and 2006, but made no mention of allegations that he stayed in a military barracks in the Belgrade suburb of Topcider at the same time as two young soldiers were killed there in 2004.

No investigation has yet established who killed the two soldiers, Dragan Jakovljevic and Drazen Milovanovic, or whether their deaths had any connection to the fugitive Bosnian Serb general.

BIRN originally asked for the indictment of Mladic’s aides on September 29, but the request was rejected by the prosecutor’s office because the document had been classified as confidential.

"In the abovementioned case there is great danger to society due to criminal actions that may have as a consequence endangered the international reputation and status of the Republic of Serbia," the prosecution said in a written response to BIRN’s request.

BIRN published a report on the secrecy classification, after which the prosecutor’s office changed its mind and approved BIRN’s request in a decision dated November 23.

BIRN asked the prosecutor’s office why it had reversed its decision, but did not receive a reply.

Mladic was convicted of terrorising Sarajevo, where this photo was taken in 1993. Photo: Evstafiev Mikhail.

Mladic flees from apartment to apartment

The full details of how Mladic was concealed in Belgrade have yet to emerge as the indictment released to BIRN is heavily redacted.

The redacted document however goes some way to help reconstruct Mladic’s movements in the Serbian capital between 2002 and 2006, and indicates his increasing fears about getting caught. The UN war crimes court in The Hague issued an indictment for him in 1995 and he fled to Serbia from Bosnia the following year.

The prosecution claimed that retired colonel Jovan Djogo arranged for Mladic to stay in the apartment of Ratko Vucetic, a retired navy captain and Mladic’s school friend during June 2002. Vucetic was accused of providing two rooms for Mladic and another alleged aide, Sasa Badnjar, who acted as the Bosnian Serb military chief’s bodyguard.

After that, Djogo allegedly moved Mladic to a rented apartment, where he stayed until October 1. Mladic was said to have been assisted there by Stanko Ristic, a retired Serbian Army lieutenant-colonel, who covered the 250-300 euro rent.

Mladic was then moved to an apartment in New Belgrade, where he was meant to stay until February. But he vacated it in a hurry after only a month and a half, when police showed up at the door for an unrelated check-up.

Having to react quickly, Djogo was said to have moved Mladic to the apartment of Marko Lugonja, a retired Bosnian Serb Army officer, in November 2002. He was only able to stay four to five days, however, when Lugonja returned from treatment at the Military Medical Academy in Belgrade.

Lugonja is the only defendant who pleaded guilty at the trial, and was convicted to six months in prison.

He told the court that he took Mladic in at the insistence of Zdravko Tolimir, another former Bosnian Serb military commander, who is considered to have masterminded the operation to hide Mladic.

"Honestly, I wasn’t very much up for it, and I said that at court. I asked if there was an alternative, but [Tolimir] said no," Lugonja told Serbian weekly news magazine NIN in 2007.

Tolimir was not indicted for his alleged role in hiding Mladic. He was arrested in 2007 and extradited to The Hague, where he was convicted of war crimes in 2012. He died in prison last February.

Mladic’s stay in the next apartment also lasted five days. In an apparent act of desperation, Djogo told a witness – whose name is redacted from the indictment provided to BIRN – that he wanted to visit the witness’s mother to express condolences for the death of her husband.

When the witness drove his Ford Explorer to the arranged address, however, Mladic got into his vehicle unannounced and without any explanation. After this, the witness nonetheless drove to the house of his mother, Ljiljana Vaskovic, and then Mladic stayed there for 15 days.

Vaskovic was accused along with her children, Bojan and Tatjana, of sheltering Mladic and buying him essential supplies.

The prosecution alleged that after Mladic left, Vaskovic held more meetings with two other defendants in order to organise help for the fugitive general.

The indictment says she was "warning accomplices [whose names are redacted], via SMS, not to cooperate with the Serbian state authorities in locating Ratko Mladic".

Mladic live as a fugitive in Belgrade for several years. Photo: Zlatan Jovanovic/Wikimedia.

Mladic’s rent and bills paid

According to the indictment, the situation seems to have stabilised after November 2002, as Djogo is said to have once again found an apartment to rent. Mladic stayed there from February or March 2003 to December 31, 2005.

Mladic was said to have been taken there by Borislav Ivanovic, who allegedly took over the security and caretaking detail from Sasa Badnjar. Ivanovic was accused of driving Mladic around several other apartments during that time period, and providing him with different mobile phone numbers.

The indictment says that another aide joined the circle in June 2005. Predrag Ristic, Stanko Ristic’s eldest son, was accused of covering Mladic’s 400 euro rent, paying his bills, periodically checking up on the former commander and even fixing things around the apartment.

The initial indictment did not include Blagoje Govedarica, who was later charged with assisting in the hiding of Mladic, and acquitted along with the other defendants.

In the indictment, the prosecution did not specify the punishment it sought, but asked the court to take into account that the defendants’ actions had "threatened the international position and status of Serbia and its citizens".

All of the suspects were acquitted by the Serbian Appeals Court in August, exept Lugonja, who received a six-month prison sentence after confessing.

After Serbian police arrested his helpers in 2006, Mladic decided to completely abandon his existing network, believing it was compromised, and turned to his relatives for support.

He was eventually arrested in 2011 in the village of Lazarevo in northern Serbia and extradited to stand trial at the Hague Tribunal.

On November 22, the Tribunal found him guilty of genocide in Srebrenica and other wartime crimes and jailed him for life.

Mladic’s legal team has announced that it will appeal against the first-instance verdict.

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