THU, 26 OCT 2000 21:43:32 GMT
AIM Athens, October 26, 2000
The seaside resort of Glyfada, half an hour distance from the center of Athens, is not only renowned for its elegant shops and seaside restaurants. It is also the place which various new-wealthy Russians and Serbs choose as their place of residence and as center of their financial operations. One such person was the Serb multimillionaire Vladimir Bokan. Mr. Bokan arrived in Greece in 1992 and within the record time of two years received Greek citizenship. According to a report that appeared in the French weekly "Courier International" in 1999 the young Serb had been recruited by the Greek secret services to "smuggle fuel on behalf of the Mitsotakis and the Milosevic goverments". In exchange, according to the report, the Greek government provided him with the Greek citizenship and turned a blind eye to the rest of his very profitable activities. Those included, apart from the smuggling of oil, also the smuggling of cigarettes and weapons. Mr. Bokan's name started appearing in the Greek and international media in the late 1990's in association with his beautiful mansion that allegedly belonged to Milosevic family. The son Marco had stayed at the house three years ago. Moreover, according to the reports, Mr. Bokan's bank accounts in Greek and foreign banks belonged in effect to the Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic.
After having tried unsuccessfully for some months to trace down Vladimir Bokan, I was finally able contact him and to arrange a meeting. We met on the evening of Monday 2 October 2000 and drove to his office in Glyfada. During the course of the interview Mr. Bokan told me that he earned as much as 10,000 dollar a day from breaking the international economic embargo on Yugoslavia and smuggling fuel cigarettes and other good during the 1990s. He had become a multimillionaire.
According to police reports that appeared after his death, Bokan owned property and other assets in Greece worth tens of millions of dollars. He also run Panama-registered and Cyprus registered shipping companies. He "invested" his profits in Serbia. Several years ago he purchased the entire chain of kiosks in Belgrade and the northern Serbian province of Vojvodina from the state. He also owned a chain of retail clothing stores and a real estate company in Belgrade and a shipyard in the Danube port town of Novi Sad, a sizable share in a chemicals factory that produces fertilizer in Serbia and many other holdings.
Throughout the interview, Mr. Bokan was trying to stress that he had nothing to do any longer with Mr. Milosevic and that he was looking forward to a new life as a respectable businessman in the post-Milosevic era in Serbia. He also said that he was in close contact with leading opposition members among them Vuc Draskovic and Zoran Djindjic. During the course of the interview (published in the Greek daily "Eleftherotypia" on Monday the 6th of October), Mr. Bokan revealed that he had been a close friend of the late Serb paramilitary leader Zeljiko Razantovic, also know as "Arkan," who had been assassinated in Belgrade in January. As he told me, Arkan had been killed by forces close to Milosevic because he had grown close to Milo Djukanovic, the pro-western president of Montenegro. "Arkan wanted out," he told me. "He was starting a new life. He may even have been contemplating going to The Hague to testify" Mr. Bokan told me.
When I asked him about his smuggling of oil to Serbia during the embargo, he readily admitted to the fact. "I did it not only for the money but also because I wanted to help my country" he said. He bought a vessel in 1994 which he used to load petrol in Greece and ship it to Bar in Montenegro. >From there the fuel would find its way to Serbia. The Greek authorities never gave him any trouble. On the contrary they tried to help him in every possible way. "The Greek authorities" he said "did everything in their power to facilitate the violation of the embargo. For example they never asked for Letters of Discharge. The Greek authorities" he added "believed that the imposition of the embargo was unjust". Moreover as he stated in the interview, he used to buy the petrol from the Greek-state owned refinery.
Bokan's revelations -which were never challenged by the Greek authorities after the interview was published- were extremely important. Although reports on the violation of the embargo by Greek businessmen were quite common during the 1990s, this was the first time someone had directly accused a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union of abetting a violation of the UN imposed embargo, an act that probably helped to prolong the war in Bosnia. After the interview was over, we decided we would meet again. A framework of trust had been established. Next time the discussion would focus on the ways used by various Greek businessmen and politicians to help the regime in Belgrade. I called him the next day-from unfortunately not a safe phone-and we arranged to meet the following Tuesday, 14 October. But this was not to happen.
In the predawn of Saturday 7 October, five days after the interview and two days before I was supposed to meet him again, he was assassinated outside his house. According to police reports, two gunmen, one armed with a Kalashnikov sub-machine gun and the other with a pistol pumped 10 bullets into his head and chest. From the very first moment after his killing the Greek authorities tried to present his assassination as a "mafia-type" murder. Thus reports, carefully leaked by the Greek police, started appearing in the press about his past criminal activities his decadent life and even his sex escapades. However there are two central facts that militate against such an interpretation.
The first is the fact that fact that throughout his seven-year stay in Greece Vladimir Bokan operated with the knowledge of the Greek authorities. Repeated demands by Western security agencies to the Greek authorities to help curtail Mr. Bokan's activities led to nothing. The second fact concerns the timing of the assassination. It took place a few days after Mr. Bokan had decided to go public and had started revealing the extent of the close economic cooperation that existed between the Greek authorities and the Milosevic regime. As I also pointed out in my testimony to the police officer investigating the murder, the timing of the assassination makes it more than certain that his assassination was related to his decision to start revealing various aspects of his activities. Neither Milosevic nor Milosevic's cronies in Greece could have been too happy with Bokan's sudden switch of allegiance and his decision to reveal the full scale of the economic cooperation that existed between Belgrade and Athens.