AIM: start

MON, 16 APR 2001 18:00:24 GMT

Links between Organized Crime and Croatia's Top Brass

AIM Zagreb, April 11, 2001

A recent shootout in central Zagreb in which Croatia's "gambling king," Vjeko Slisko was assassinated, and immediately afterwards his murderer, James Marty Cappiau, a Belgian with a Croatian passport, revealed numerous links between Croatian top army officers and underworld figures. But as in the case of other scandalous discoveries that surfaced after the Croatian Democratic Union lost elections last January, the new government headed by Premier Ivica Racan seems unwilling to do anything, preferring instead to use a feeble investigation to push it into oblivion. The murder of Vjeko Slisko has revealed so many strange ties inside the military leadership and its numerous and entangled connections with the Croatian Defense Council, that all investigators have to do is follow the leads in order to reach the right conclusion, on condition, of course, that this is their goal.

Defense Minister Jozo Rados, however, in a statement to the Zagreb-based Jutarnji List newspaper on March 27, only five days after the Slisko assassination, appears to have absolved in advance certain Croatian senior officers for their links with organized crime. Asked by journalists whether there is any indication that Generals Skender and Filipovic had anything to do with Cappiau, the murderer of Slisko, Rados responded: "I have no information of that, but there were probably some personal links. There is no doubt about it. I don't know who played what role in the crime. The Defense Ministry has no data on this."

Had he, however, ordered his subordinates to thoroughly go through the ministry's archives, Rados would have found many signs pointing to a relationship between the mysterious Belgian and senior military officials. The person who could provide the police with precious data on the man who killed Slisko only to die in a pool of blood on a Zagreb street, is a retired Croatian army general, Ante Roso. After all, Roso publicly boasted of having brought Marty Cappiau, then 21, to Zagreb, in mid-1991, shortly before the war broke up in Croatia. He did not hide that he was the only one from Croatia to send a wreath made of fresh flowers to be laid on his tomb in the Netherlands, where he was buried.

Roso came to Croatia from the Foreign Legion, where he probably met the young Belgian. He must have trusted him enormously, because at the beginning of 1995 he personally recommended him to Miroslav Tudjman, then head of the chief Croatian intelligence service. When Roso was in the General Staff of the Croatian Defense Council in Bosnia and Herzegovina, he also intervened in favor of Cappiau, writing letters not only to Miroslav Tudjman, but to the defense minister of the time, Gojko Susak, and his assistant, Gen. Vladimir Zagorac, authorizing Cappiau to procure and transport various equipment both for Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

It can only be imagined what Cappiau was in charge of and what he had dealt with, but just how important he was because of his tasks and connections with the top brass is confirmed by the fact that he remained free even after he killed a man in Cepin, near Osijek in late 1996. The trial in the District Court in Osijek, after dragging on for over four years, failed to go any further than hearing testimony from a ballistics expert. Cappiau kept postponing his court appearance and in the four years appeared only once, ignoring all other hearings, and justifying his absence with his foreign travel and visits to his ailing mother. The large amount of documents collected by the court on the murder (Cappiau killed Ratko Zrna, a member of Ante Paraga's Croatian Party of Rights 1861 and the prosecution saw it as an instance of exceeding the bounds of self-defense) contains numerous papers that appear quite odd given what Cappiau was on trial for. They include many letters written by Croatian generals, praising Cappiau, which can be understood in no other way but as pressurizing the court to acquit Cappiau. His defense counsel thus displayed two such letters written by Generals Filipovic and Skender, in whose unit, the First Croatian Guard (otherwise known as Tudjman's Pretorian Guard) Cappiau used to serve.

In April 1998, in Cepin, which Cappiau frequently visited because his wife was from there, a double murder occurred which was never solved. The killing was highly professional: no clues where found at the site, not even shell casings ejected by the gun that was used to commit the crime. Two witnesses who testified to police were also killed shortly afterwards -- one in Zagreb, and the other in Frankfurt. Dobrosav Paraga is certain that Cappiau was behind this double murder as well.

Rumors on Cappiau that circulated Zagreb after he shot the man considered the boss of the city's underworld in the head in broad daylight, had it that the mysterious Belgian was a professional hitman. A newspaper photograph showing Cappiau lying in a pool of blood on the asphalt clearly revealed that he had an earphone in one of his ears, meaning that he was in touch with an unidentified person who was informing him of Slisko's whereabouts. Those who knew him speak of his frequent travels to the Republic of Congo, and his Congoan connections were confirmed by a document that surfaced after his death. The document is a letter by one Yves Marcel Ibalala, a Congo colonel, which shows that Cappiau worked as an advisor in the Ministry of Security from mid July to the end of September, 1997, that is, half a year after he killed Zrna. The rumors also said that in addition to working as a hitman, he was also involved in arms trafficking, but didn't shun drugs either. The European press extensively covered the former, whereas as far as the latter is concerned, the press in Bosnia and Herzegovina directly accused his chief protector in Croatia, Gen. Ante Roso, of being involved in as well.

A certain company from Bratislava, Joy Slovakia, was Cappiau's main long-time connection, and it also served as a cover for a Belgian arms dealer, Jacques Monsieur. Monsieur, who is claimed by foreign news media to having smuggled over 650 tons of various weapons at the height of the war in the former Yugoslavia, on his part had numerous contacts with the Belgian, French, American and Israeli intelligence services, and his name was linked to many illegal arms deals with Iran, Congo-Brazzaville and Croatia. These facts, coupled with Gen. Roso's recommendation of him to Miroslav Tudjman and Gojko Susak, as a person experienced in procuring equipment, confirm that Cappiau, in addition to other confidential tasks, was also a part of the lucrative international arms trade.

The Sarajevo-based Slobodna Bosna magazine reported last November that Gen. Ante Roso was behind a well-developed drugs smuggling network in that country. Since the network branched out towards Croatia as well, the paper said, the then chief of the main Croatian intelligence service, Miroslav Tudjman, ordered an investigation. The investigation stopped once the name of Milan Susak -- the brother of the untouchable Croatian defense minister, Gojko Susak, the most trusted ally of late Croatian president Franjo Tudjman -- emerged. Ivan Andabak, currently in detention in a Rijeka prison on suspicion of having participated in smuggling large quantities of drugs, was also mentioned.

The police investigation into who ordered the murder of Vjeko Slisko and with whom Cappiau was in connection with, is hopelessly stalled. True, Ante Roso was summoned for questioning by the Zagreb police, who interrogated him for four hours, after which he arrogantly held a press conference the next day accusing police of questioning innocent people. He promised to sue newspapers that said he recommended Cappiau to Tudjman for the intelligence service, for DM5 million in damages. This is how much he claims he lost after the allegations surfaced. Some would say that the police should find it odd that a retired Croatian army general is involved in business deals worth DM5 million.

Drago Hedl