05. jun 2015.

We Knew the Murderers’ Identities From the Beginning, But Now We Can Prove It

1Why weren’t they able to collect evidence until 2014? What were the turning points in their investigation? Why does he trust Milorad Ulemek? Whom else does he expect to see in the witness stand during the trial? What has the Serbian Commission for the Investigation of Murders of Journalists managed to accomplish? These are some of the questions that Cenzolovka posed to Mr. Dragan Kecman, Head of the Criminal Police Directorate, whose investigation of the murder of Slavko Curuvija has now been going on for 16 years

Dragan Kecman, Head of the Crime Police Directorate of the Republic of Serbia Ministry of Interior, had been included in the investigation of the murder of Slavko Curuvija since the very day of the murder, on April 11, 1999. He then worked with the Third Department of the Ministry of Interior and he said that until 2001, when the Organized Crime Directorate was established, “everything was at a standstill”, not only concerning the investigation of this murder case, but concerning the investigations of other crimes as well.

Starting from 2003, he led the investigation of the murder of Slavko Curuvija, which he had to conduct on his own during some periods of time. According to him, many people undertook to investigate this murder, but have given up the case altogether. When the Commission for the Investigation of Murders of Journalists was established in the beginning of 2013, he was appointed a member of the Working Group tasked with completing this murder investigation.

The investigation picked up speed in 2005 only, when we acquired an important piece of information. The man who had enabled me then to achieve an important breakthrough in the investigation lost his job in the end.

He will be among the witnesses in the court case against the people indicted for the murder of Slavko Curuvija – Radomir Markovic, Milan Radonjic, Miroslav Kurak and Ratko Romic. Due to this, he had to act with discretion and remain reticent in providing some of the answers to questions posed, but in the interview for Cenzolovka, he spoke openly about varying intensity of the efforts invested in uncovering the perpetrators of this murder, about the obstructions that followed the investigation, cooperation with the colleagues from other Police departments and about the reasons for his belief that the recently initiated court case would confirm the indictment.

Cenzolovka: When you analyse the 14 years’ long period of investigation of the murder of Slavko Curuvija, what do you think was the key thing that led to this indictment?

Kecman: There were several key things that led to the indictment, but the most important one among them was the resolute support from the part of the Prime Minister and establishing of the Commission for the Investigation of Murders of Journalists. Until then, there was a number of different institutions that had some intelligence about the murder – both the MoI and the Security Information Agency and the Prosecutor’s Office, it was all somewhere there in the air, but it nevertheless remained utterly elusive. The first task of the Commission was to collect all the pieces of information concerning the murder of Slavko Curuvija and to systematically analyse the course of investigations conducted until then.

Cenzolovka: Why wasn’t it done before?

Kecman: You know yourself what it was like back then in 2001 when we opened the investigation and what sorts of people survived from the previous regime that literally overflowed from one system to another. Those were the old staff that knew each other well and there was a number of people from the State Security department who managed to maintain their links and influence. People were avoiding coming into conflict with each other because it was a dangerous time back then. The investigation picked up the pace in 2005 only, when we came across an important piece of information that I cannot speak about now, since it relates to the evidentiary hearing, but it was only then that we could move the investigation further from that stalemate.

Cenzolovka: What kind of obstructions did you come across during the investigation?

Kecman: It was a passive kind of obstruction. We were expected to work on something without accomplishing anything. For example, I present a request to you and you are a head of an institution, and you managed to hold the same position you had in the previous system. Approval for my request depends on you, and you can approve my request today, in a month, or you will do everything in your power to postpone granting the request, nothing more than your signature on a document, for as long as you possibly can. Thus, we could not have any continuity in conducting this investigation, because there was no will to conclude it.

Cenzolovka: Were there any detours during the investigation?

Kecman: There were many spins, we were provided with intelligence that we had to double check, although we could easily tell the spins from intelligence at the time. At some point we even received information that somebody from certain circles committed the murder, which was only aimed at gaining additional time and at preventing us from solving the case.

There were many spins and misleading information, abundant intelligence that we had to check, despite the fact that we could tell exactly the misleading from the right information back then. It was all staged so that somebody could gain some time, and to prevent us from ever solving the case.

Cenzolovka: Does such spins include the suspected indictments of Luka Pejovic, and then also of Zoran Ristovic Prika, for this murder? The former State Security Chief, Mr. Goran Petrovic, spoke openly about suspicions that Pejovic had murdered Curuvija.

Kecman: There was plenty of misleading information provided with the aim to divert the investigation from the right track and to prevent us from achieving any results, but I cannot speak about that now.

Cenzolovka: Does that mean that you rule out Pejovic and Ristovic as persons involved in this murder in any possible manner?

Kecman: Yes, I do exclude them.

Cenzolovka: You said that you uncovered some significant information in 2005. What happened after that?

Kecman: That was a disastrous situation, because the man who enabled me to achieve an important thing during the investigation lost his job in the end. He showed me where to look for something that I was interested to find out, despite the fact that I had written proof that such things did not exist, that they could not be obtained and that they were destroyed. As opposed to that man, everybody simply remained silent, they kept the low profile and some of them were even promoted, but all of them safeguarded their job and positions.

Cenzolovka: Why was the investigation brought to a standstill despite uncovering of such information?

Kecman: The investigation was not brought to a standstill due to one piece of information or one fact only. There was the Prosecutor’s Office – you know yourself who the leading figure in any investigation is. Prosecutor’s investigation is the basis for all our subsequent activities. Every single piece of evidence we gathered was delivered to the Prosecutor. Still, at that moment, there was not sufficient material evidence to open further proceedings. But, if people had acted upon our proposals back then, the investigation may have been completed earlier.

Cenzolovka: You started the investigation in 2001, and the murder took place during the NATO bombing campaign. What kind of information did you find in the archives, and, for example, how was the crime scene investigation conducted?

Kecman: Evidence from the crime scene was documented in a highly professional and quality manner, we are grateful to our colleagues who performed crime scene investigation under such circumstances.

Cenzolovka: How come that information about whether the murderer shot from the weapon with or without a silencer remained a contentious matter until this very day, that piece of information was struck off the amended indictment?

9aKecman: In order to be sure whether a silencer was used or not you have to have the weapon from which the bullet was shot. Visual elements noticed by the witnesses on the crime scene are important, and so are the descriptions of the sound created on the occasion of shooting, the sound levels are different.

Cenzolovka: So, 14 years have passed without anybody having established whether a silencer was used or not, or what the sound level actually was?

Kecman: We did establish that, witnesses said that it was like a dust, without any sound, as if a slightly stronger wind was blowing. Experts will now provide their opinions on such circumstances, and on whether it is characteristic of the shooting with or without a silencer.

Cenzolovka: As a professional, how would you describe a murder committed in the broad daylight, in a downtown city street?

Kecman: Overbearing. To commit it in such a manner, in such a place, with so many people being present is simply overbearing. They were probably thinking that the things that are happening now would never happen at all.

Cenzolovka: During the investigation you must have studied the circumstances preceding the murder. Is it known today how long had Curuvija been followed precisely and who had ordered it?

Kecman: It is known, but I cannot speak about it now.

Cenzolovka: Could the men who were following Curuvija have supposed the intended outcome, especially when they were told to discontinue their activities?

Kecman: That was something already seen, they could have presupposed it. I feel very sorry for those men who performed the part of the job they had been ordered to do in a very professional and correct manner and who had to do their job at that period. Their job was to follow him, to watch what he was doing and to report it to somebody. Those who did that part of the job did not know what was going to happen; only a small number of people knew what was going to happen on that day. They must have become fully aware of their role in it and of everything else as well afterwards. Personally and in my professional capacity, I do feel sorry for them, because all of us who do this job can find themselves in a similar situation.

Cenzolovka: Do you have any intelligence on who exactly issued the order to discontinue the following of Slavko Curuvija?

Kecman: It is known who issued the order to discontinue the following and why, but this is also a segment that I cannot discuss now.

Cenzolovka: Has the “role” of the white Volkswagen Golf been explained as well?

We knew that we could establish connection between Kurak and this very event, but in order to accuse someone of having perpetrated a murder, you must have evidence to prove it.

Kecman: We did manage to understand and document a good deal of information concerning the white Golf, it was quite difficult, but we managed to do it nevertheless. We are now again trespassing into the territory of evidence, and if I am called to stand as a witness, I shall explain that fact in greater detail.

Cenzolovka: Why did the tapping of Curuvija’s family members continue even after his murder? That happened according to the testimony of Ms. Olivera Antonic, who worked as an operator in the Seventh Police Department and who prepared reports on the intercepted conversations?

Kecman: I could not discuss this matter. Somebody who did something was probably afraid and acted in a manner that made it difficult to resolve this murder.

Cenzolovka: What happened with the Curan (“Turkey-Cock” in English) dossier, and did you find it in its entirety, since only the information from two pages of the dossier leaked? What do you know about that?

Kecman: I would not discuss the details concerning that matter now, it will be discussed during the trial.

Cenzolovka: Did you see the entire dossier?

Kecman: After the bombing campaign and after October 5, after the destructions of material evidence, who can tell you that the entire dossier that had been compiled over a period during which various measures were taken, was complete?

Cenzolovka: What do you know about documentation that is suspected to have been destroyed after October 5, during the term of the interim Government?

Kecman: Many a conscientious man remained in the State Security Department who did their job responsibly and managed to a good deal to preserve the intelligence that helped us shed the light on this murder. We had quite some difficulties in getting hold of these facts. It was only after we had arrived at the exact dates, names and events directly through our operational work and after we had asked for some documents, that we were allowed to get them. And it was only when they saw the kind of intelligence that we managed to obtain, that they actually opened the door for us. I am now speaking about the period after 2005.

Ms. Prpa could not say with utmost certainty that the face from the photograph we showed to her was the face of the murderer. If she had been able to do that, the Court decision on criminal charges would already be passed.

Cenzolovka: Have you conducted any investigation concerning the Army? President of the Commission, Mr. Veran Matic, said in the interview for Cenzolovka that he was not content with the cooperation the Commission had with Military Security Agency. Do you share his impressions?

Kecman: We did establish cooperation with the military, we asked them to conduct certain checks and there was some information from those circles that some of their former members were connected to the murder. I sincerely think that such cooperation on the exchange of information and gaining access to some documents can always be further improved. When you present a document to a police officer, he wants to see the original, the source document, the person who prepared it, to conduct an interview with the person who signed the document, to look that person in the eyes, to get some personal impressions about that person, because the behaviour of such person can also reveal quite a lot. I am of the opinion that such cooperation could and should be much better, because we are all on the same task, for the sake of security of the citizens and this country.

Cenzolovka: How come that Milorad Ulemek is the key witness?

Kecman: In every mosaic you must have all the pieces come together to get its form right. The same goes for our investigation, there was a small, but as it turned out now, a large segment that helped us get the mosaic right.

Cenzolovka: What was his motive to speak out, and, as it was said, to speak about it unconditionally?

Kecman: Can you put yourself in his shoes and can you imagine what he feels like after 10 years of imprisonment? Time has now showed that some things that you had thought were right at some moment, were not right in the end and a man has to make it easier for himself in some way, so that he can lay down and sleep peacefully.

Cenzolovka: You sincerely believe that he is such a conscientious person, after all the crimes that he committed?

Kecman: I sincerely believe it. This is my personal opinion.

Cenzolovka: Do you really trust Legija?

I also expect that some witnesses will come forward during the trial, people who directly followed Curuvija on that day, who did not hear the order given by means of radio communication that the job had been suspended and who continued to follow him and who could say something that they haven’t said as yet.

Kecman: Yes. I really trust Legija. In this particular case in question, he acted in an utterly correct manner.

Cenzolovka: We could also hear that Ulemek allegedly refused the request from Rade Markovic to kill Curuvija. Would it be possible for anybody to refuse a request issued from the Head of the State Security Department? And to do it without any consequences at that?

Kecman: Well, it is possible, why not? As it happened, I myself requested additional clarifications from my bosses in quite a number of situations, in such situations one should act as a mature person, to be a bit more experienced. One should be very brave to say “No” to some people. It is well-known that one cannot simply say “I won’t” or “I can’t” in our profession, especially if one is of the opinion that there are some sinister activities behind such order.

Cenzolovka: Do you expect that the court trial that has just begun will lead to some other information and that the number of indictees will grow?

Kecman: I do think that it can lead to some new indictments and perhaps that even some other cases may get resolved.

Cenzolovka: What did it mean when the President of the Commission, Mr.Veran Matic, said that he expected some new witnesses to appear during the trial and when he appealed to everybody who had any intelligence about the case to share it?

Kecman: In this concrete case, it is about those people who directly followed Curuvija on that day, who did not hear the order given by means of radio communication that the job had been suspended and who continued to follow him and who could say something that they haven’t said as yet.

Cenzolovka: Could you describe the interview you conducted with Rade Markovic? What did you learn from him?

Kecman: During that interview, we confirmed some of our operational intelligence. In such a situation, and I am here looking at things from my personal perspective, if somebody has nothing to do with something, then they has no reason to try to avoid doing some things. If that is not the case, a person shall try to absorb it, to hide.

Cenzolovka: Is it true that he asked for a plea bargain?

Kecman: He did not bargain with us, nor is the Police authorized to conclude any plea bargain, that is the task of the Prosecution. We approached that task in an utterly professional manner, and we requested information and facts that would cast the light on that situation as a whole.

Cenzolovka: What was his role in this crime?

Kecman: It is impossible for such a thing to happen without a person with such huge responsibilities and in such an important position having at least some intelligence about such events. Let alone other people who could also have known about it, which will, I expect, be investigated completely.

Cenzolovka: Have you managed to acquire information about the identities of the persons who ordered the murder over the course of your investigation?

Kecman: We managed to come as far as Rade. We did not manage to proceed any further beyond him.

Cenzolovka: Can you see any connection between this murder and Mira Markovic and Slobodan Milosevic?

Kecman: We must not make any assumptions. Our work must be based on material evidence, on sustainable judicial matter.

Cenzolovka: According to operational information presented by the media, Mira Markovic organized a meeting in which arrangements for Curuvija’s murder were made, and there was some mention of an official record of such meeting as well. What do you know about that?

Kecman: I read about it the papers. I have never seen that official record; I would like to see it myself. I have heard something about it, but we were never able to get hold of any substantial proof of it: but, yes, it did happen.

Cenzolovka: Allegedly, there is certain operational intelligence…

4Kecman: Operational intelligence is a completely different thing, but if it was not put on paper, it is as if it never existed at all.

Cenzolovka: The indicted Milan Radonjic demanded during the court trial that the transcripts of the intercepted conversations of Aleksandar Tijanic from 1999 be shown. Do you have any intelligence about that?

Kecman: If there is any intelligence about it, the Court will certainly order that such intelligence be presented; I have not managed to learn anything about it, other than the information that he was a close friend of Slavko. As far as I know, he made a statement before the representative of the special Prosecutor’s Office, but unfortunately he passed away. I believe that he had much more to tell us.

Cenzolovka: Back in 2004, the representatives of the Prosecutor’s Office and of the Directorate said that there was certain intelligence about the identity of the murderers. To what extent have your understanding of this case have changed since the time when you launched the investigation? Have the same people whom you identified as murderers back then been now indicted for the murder?

Kecman: Yes, these are the same people. It was just necessary to identify them exactly by eliminating other pieces of information about who could and why commit that murder.

Cenzolovka: Did you suspect Miroslav Kurak to be the murderer, since he was identified as the direct perpetrator of this murder in the beginning of investigation? He was identified as the murderer as early as 2002 by Vojislav Seselj.

Kecman: We knew it. We knew that we could establish connection between Kurak and this very event, but in order to accuse someone of having perpetrated a murder, you must have evidence to prove it. He was interrogated during the Sabre campaign. We could not complete our interrogations of him back then.

Cenzolovka: Immediately after the suspects in this murder were revealed, while looking at the photograph, Ms. Branka Prpa said that that was not the man whom she had seen.

Kecman: I conducted the interview with her, and she was afterwards interviewed by the Special Prosecutor, Mr. Prijic, in 2001; however, Ms. Prpa could not say with utmost certainty that the face from the photograph we showed to her was the face of the murderer. If she had been able to do that, the Court decision on criminal charges would already have been passed. That, in turn, serves to show again that memories fade with time.

Cenzolovka: Do you expect any obstructions during the court trial?

Kecman: I can only hope that the trial will be conducted in an utterly professional manner and I hope that its outcome will be positive. Knowing what we’ve been through, there will always be a shred of doubt that there would be some obstructions to this trial, but I cannot predict them. However, owing to everything we have accomplished so far, on this occasion I wish to thank all the colleagues, members of the Government Commission and the Working Group again for their wholehearted support in our efforts to resolve this case, because without teamwork effort, we would not have succeeded in doing that at all.

 Photo: Andrija Lekić 

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