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New accusations that high-ranking officials are involved in organized crime

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic is always quick to deny persistent rumors that he has dubious underground connections, but links between organized crime and state officials remain one of the most interesting topics for the Serbian public. And of late, a new name, that of Ljubisa “Cume” Buha, has surfaced to whet the public’s appetite.

Now the public is waiting anxiously to see whether or not Buha will eventually lead to evidence of high-ranking political connections to the criminal underworld.

Memories of the regime of Slobodan Milosevic--when politics could barely survive without help from the criminal element--are still quite fresh. And the new government has had just over two years to hack away at the ever-powerful criminal organizations that the former government left as a grave hallmark.

Djindjic himself won’t deny that when Milosevic was ousted from power on 5 October 2000, the now-prime minister was in contact with some members of the Belgrade criminal underground and Milosevic’s feared special police--whose members played a role in the former dictator’s fall from grace.

Moreover, Djindjic’s possible connection with controversial businessman Stanko Subotic-Cane, suspected of cigarette smuggling, is a constant subject of interest for the Serbian public. And his alleged links to the so-called Surcin clan--seen as a powerful Mafia organization from the Belgrade suburb of Surcin--continue to titillate ordinary Serbs.

But despite the play the topic commands in the local media, there is still no evidence that Djindjic, or any members of his government for that matter, are connected with organized crime.

What intrigues the public in particular is the near-total lack of progress in the investigation into some of the most gruesome crimes of the Milosevic era. Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic has often complained that even though police have plenty of information on those crimes, they lack hard evidence, because no one with information has been willing to testify.

Now the question is whether Buha knows enough to change that.

In 1996, a well-known Belgrade journalist, Milovan Brkic, was severely beaten in the Kotobanja shopping center. According to his testimony, he was beaten by the members of a Mafia gang led by Buha.

The journalist said the attack was the result of a story he published in Srpska rec magazine about connections between high-ranking police officials and organized crime. Brkic told investigators that police officers were present during the beating and did nothing to stop it. After being tortured for five hours, Brkic said that some civilians intervened to help him. No charges were brought against Buha, and his name remained out of the public sphere for the most part.

The public introduced to him in December 2002, when several midnight explosions roused the citizens of Belgrade from their slumber. The Defense Road construction company, owned by Buha, had been blown to smithereens.

Police reports said that the explosions had been the work of professionals, who successfully destroyed the warehouse, hangar, management building, machines, and several vehicles. There were no human causalities, as all people were evacuated minutes before the explosions.

But the property--which was uninsured--incurred more than $13 million in damages. Not a single local insurance company had been willing to insure Buha’s property.

(Transitions Online 29.i.03)

 
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