The trial in the murder of Oliver Ivanovic

milan radonjić

By Milan Radonjić

STANDSTILL, PROGRESS, HIBERNATION

Every part of the initial investigation into Ivanovic’s murder was done in a completely wrong and amateurish way – in an attempt to solve a political assassination executed with precision and organized in a military manner. Starting with the immediate reaction of the police officers who did not secure the crime scene through the lackluster reaction of the Kosovo Police Service Directorate for the north region in the hours after the assassination.

When the Special Prosecutor’s Office of Kosovo took over the investigation of the assassination, a phase of more professional work began, and in December 2019, an indictment was filed. At the beginning of the following year, the first hearing was held before the Basic Court in Pristina, but with the decision of the Court of Appeals in Pristina on September 25th, 2020, the process was practically returned to the beginning.

It took the Serbian judiciary four years to complete the investigation and pass a first-instance judgment for the murder of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. This very long window of time to end such an important trial was caused by the complexity of the case, which included some previous crimes (such as the murder of Ivan Stambolic, the Ibar Highway assassination attempt), obstructions by the defense, but also political changes which took place in Serbia between March 2003 and November 2007.

Speaking of the trial in the murder of Oliver Ivanovic, which according to the indictment of the Special Prosecutor’s Office of Kosovo also covers some crimes that took place before Ivanovic’s assassination (the murder of Ivica Rajcic in 2014), there is no hope that a coherent and comprehensive legal assessment of this political crime of the decade could be achieved within the same period. The indictment, which has been amended three times and does not include the perpetrators or instigators, absolutely does not allow for such hope.

There are several reasons why the trial for Ivanovic’s murder may be currently in a phase that can be described as an absolute standstill, but there are three basic reasons behind it. The first reason is the fact that Oliver Ivanovic was an opposition leader, the second is that there is still no adequate international pressure on Belgrade and Pristina to put aside their differences and commit themselves to shed light on this crime, and the third and perhaps most important is that the international community still perceives the process of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue as a priority, without understanding that the dialogue is directly affected by Ivanovic’s murder.

Every part of the initial investigation of Ivanovic’s murder was done in a completely wrong and amateurish way, in an attempt to solve a political assassination executed with precision and organized in a military manner. Starting with the immediate reaction of the police officers who did not secure the crime scene through the lackluster reaction of the Kosovo Police Service Directorate for the region north in the hours after the assassination, which seemed to take a few days to realize that the crime had taken place at all. Shocked institutions fail or do not want to respond adequately to the criminal negligence of the Kosovo Police Service Directorate for the north region.

From the moment when, under public pressure, the investigation was taken over by the Special Prosecutor’s Office of Kosovo, the investigation process entered a less awkward phase, which followed the initial blockade of all institutions and it started to resemble a serious legal process.

The willingness of Special Prosecutor Syle Hoxha to look into the context in which the assassination took place was particularly encouraging. This meant that not only Kosovo police officers but participants in the media campaign led against Ivanovic would be under investigation. Although Hoxha confirmed this intention in a conversation with the author of this text, no serious investigation into the context of the murder and the overlap between media defamation and assassination ever took place. This is extremely important because the very nature, but also the content of the campaign led against Ivanovic indicates that its creators are outside the world of media, that is, that they were the same people who secretly followed and filmed him. So, the context and its participants.

In this regard, the prosecution’s insistence on the relevance of the car which burned near the crime scene is not encouraging, especially when that fact is compared with how closely grouped were the wounds on the body of the late Ivanovic. Such precision requires years of experience in handling automatic weapons, and persuading such professional killers to agree to such a meaningless escape plan is not easy – an escape plan that involves switching the car in a place only a few hundred meters away from the crime scene.

Namely, from a logistical point of view, bearing in mind the size of the town, setting a car on fire anywhere in northern Mitrovica is absurd in itself because it would only waste the assassins’ escape time, while they also risked being seen during this, not so simple, business of removing DNA traces by fire. On the other hand, it directly indicates that the assassins had developed logistics in the town itself, that is, that they were allowed to, completely undisturbed, cover up their tracks or set up false ones.

Truth be told, the investigation could obtain information about the organization of the murder, if not about its execution, much quicker by identifying the people who really set fire to the Opel Astra vehicle in Vojvode Putnika Street.

In any case, the Special Prosecutor’s Office of Kosovo finally filed an indictment on December 2nd, 2019 – less than two years after the murder. Previously, the Minister of Justice in the Government of Kosovo, Abelard Tahiri stated in August of the same year that Milan Radoicic was the main suspect in the murder of Oliver Ivanovic. An international arrest warrant was issued for Zvonko Veselinovic, Milan Radoicic, and Zeljko Bojic – to which the Serbian state has not acted in response to date.

The preparatory hearing was announced for December 30th, and it was held on February 11th, 2020, after the prosecution submitted a new, amended indictment, which contained two additional amendments, and in the meantime, the former Special Prosecutor, Syle Hoxha retired at the end of the year. Marko Rosic, Nedeljko Spasojevic, Silvana Arsovic, Zarko Jovanovic, Dragisa Markovic, and Rade Basara are accused in the trial led by the Special Prosecutor’s Office of Kosovo, while Radoicic and Veselinovic are accused of being leaders of a criminal group.

The defendants’ lawyers criticized this practice of the prosecution and filed objections and later an appeal to their rejection. Dejan Vasic, the lawyer of police officer Dragisa Markovic, said that the court needed to reject such an indictment because deadlines for its submission were broken, citing the argument and the decision of the Court of Appeals in Pristina, which returned the process to the beginning on September 25th, 2020. In this regard, it can be concluded that the trial is currently in a hibernation phase.

In the meantime, in Belgrade, the preliminary investigation by the Prosecutor’s Office for Organized Crime is underway, which has so far failed to reveal any details or achievements of its three-year work to the Serbian public, except for speculation and listing the names of possible perpetrators – from the Albanian side, of course. And all statements regarding the investigation of Oliver Ivanovic’s murder were and are being given by Serbian politicians. The same ones who clashed with him politically.

Also, the same public were not allowed to find out who is the acting prosecutor in the most important judicial process in the last 10 years, with the explanation that the whole process is a state secret. It is also a secret why this process was so qualified as such.

The Serbian media and the public were even denied the forensic findings of the Mitrovica Hospital Center, which they learned about via allegations presented in the indictment of the Special Prosecutor’s Office of Kosovo. However, they were not denied the president’s address with a copy of the testimony of Rada Trajkovic, given to the Special Prosecutor’s Office of Kosovo, which the President of Serbia waved in front of the TV cameras, as proof that her words were the reason for the arrest of two Kosovo Serbs. The Special Prosecutor’s Office of Kosovo denied this in April 2019, while also alleging that a similar document used in the public appearances by the former head of the Kosovo Office, Marko Djuric is a forgery, thus continuing the glorious tradition of the SNS and Srpska Lista of public defamation of political opponents.

Many issues have yet to be addressed by either Serbian or Albanian prosecutors. Namely, the issue of monitoring the communication of potential perpetrators and instigators, locating their contacts and whereabouts, the issue of surveillance footage in Sutjeska Street, and the interrogation of Ivanovic’s interlocutors from KFOR who spoke with him at the base in Vucitrn on January 7th, 2018 – nine days before the assassination. Unmistakably, it would be of vital importance to the investigation to find out what the topic of this conversation was and whether Ivanovic implied to someone that he was in danger.

Overall, there is an impression that the investigation process, after an initial standstill, and subsequent progress, is re-entering a period of hibernation that will likely have to be interrupted by political intervention. It would have to come from the same place where it was decided that Belgrade and Pristina would sit at the negotiating table.

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