Money Trail: How Paramilitaries’ Per Diems Proved Serbian Officials’ Guilt – Analysis


Official allowances paid to paramilitaries involved in wartime crimes in Bosnia showed that Serbian State Security Service chiefs Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic were responsible for killings and expulsions, the UN court established this week.

By Milica Stojanovic

For at least two years, officers at the Serbian Interior Ministry’s State Security Service kept records thoroughly about their outgoing on personnel. About every two weeks, they made a list of all the people receiving per diem allowances and the total amount of money paid to them.

On one of those lists, done on a typewriter, is the name Nenad Bujosevic, with the word Big (Veliki) added next to it, probably referring to his nickname, Big Rambo. According to this list, Bujosevic received at least 16 per diem allowance payments during the second half of October 1995.

At the time he was receiving money from the Serbian Interior Ministry, Bujosevic was one of the senior officers in the Serbian Volunteer Guard, a paramilitary unit led by notorious criminal Zeljko ‘Arkan’ Raznatovic, which was also known as Arkan’s Tigers.

Today Bujosevic is an inmate in a Serbian prison where he is serving sentences for his participation in the murder of former Yugoslav President turned opposition politician Ivan Stambolic and his involvement in killing four members of the opposition Serbian Renewal Movement. Both crimes were committed in 1999.

His name, however, resurfaced this week in the court room of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals in The Hague, which handed down its last verdict related to the Yugoslav wars on Wednesday.

Jovica Stanisic, former chief of the State Security Service and Franko Simatovic, his deputy, were sentenced to 15 years each for participation in a joint criminal enterprise to forcibly and permanently remove non-Serbs from parts of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and of bearing responsibility for murders, deportation, inhumane acts and persecution.

Stanisic and Simatovic were the much-feared security enforcers for Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. Besides confirming the crimes established in the first-instance verdict in the two men’s retrial in 2021, the final judgment held them accountable for a far wider pattern of crimes committed by Serbian forces during the 1990s wars.

It also determined that they were part of a joint criminal enterprise involving the senior political, military and police leadership in Serbia, as well as leaders of the Bosnian Serbs and rebel Serbs in Croatia, alongside Milosevic, Republika Srpska President Radovan Karadzic, Croatian Serb leader Goran Hadzic and others.

In a departure from the usual verdicts handed down by the UN’s Yugoslav war crimes tribunal, which have been based on military orders, diaries or records, or on political decisions and statements, much of Wednesday’s verdict was based on tracing money trails – tracking people through State Security payments lists, like the one with Nenad Bujosevic’s name in it.

Jovana Kolaric from the Youth Initiative for Human Rights NGO explained that Stanisic and Simatovic’s “actions had to be secret or at least as little visible as possible” because of their position as State Security officials of a country “which according to the official narrative did not participate in the war”.

“In the case of Stanisic and Simatovic, there were no direct orders [to leaders of paramilitary units], as is usual in the case of high-ranking members of the military and police who are being tried. Here, the connection between the paramilitary units and the authorities of the Serbian state had to be hidden,” Kolaric told BIRN.

“In this sense, the payment lists are very significant because they are a rare written trace that connects what happened on the battlefield with State Security, that is, with Serbian state institutionds,” she added.

Arkan’s men on Milosevic’s payroll

At the end of September 1995, Arkan and his Serbian Volunteer Guard arrived in Sanski Most in Bosnia and Herzegovina and subsequently committed murders and carried out a campaign of persecution there. In total, they killed 76 people in two days.

Although the Hague court’s trial chamber, in its initial 2021 verdict in the retrial of the two men, noted that members of the Serbian Volunteer Guard were deployed during the Sanski Most operation, it said that “the evidence is, for the most part, limited with respect to what extent the individuals on the payment lists, in fact, participated in this operation, and more specifically in the crimes charged in relation to Sanski Most”.

But the appeals judges thought differently.

They noted that as well as testimonies in the trial, a payment list covering the period of September 1 to 15, 1995 proved that some 180 individuals on the list were members of the Serbian Volunteer Guard – among them Bujosevic and notorious killer Milorad ‘Legija’ Ulemek.

“The Appeals Chamber further notes that the payment list for the period of 1 to 15 August 1995 contains approximately 130 members of the Serbian Volunteer Guard, and the list covering the period of 16 to 31 August 1995 includes around 220 members of the Serbian Volunteer Guard,” Wednesday’s final verdict said.

“The payment list covering the period of 1 to 15 October 1995 includes approximately 50 members of the Serbian Volunteer Guard… The list for 16 to 31 October 1995 includes reference to, at a minimum, 130 Serbian Volunteer Guard members,” it added, again mentioning Bujosevic as one of the fighters who was paid.

The verdict also said that in addition to payments to Arkan’s men around the time of the murders in Sanski Most in September 1995, “at least from 1 December 1994 and until 31 December 1995, members of the Serbian Volunteer Guard appear on several other payment lists identified by the Prosecution”.

It concluded that this evidence “eliminates all reasonable doubt that, from at least December 1994 and throughout 1995, and, in particular, around the time of the charged murders in Sanski Most, the State Security Service, through JATD [another State Security unit] per diems, paid: individuals who led and/or delivered money to the Serbian Volunteer Guard; and a significant number of Serbian Volunteer Guard members”.

This meant that the Serbian state was supporting paramilitaries who committed crimes, as “payments generally demonstrate systemic support to the ability of the Serbian Volunteer Guard, as an organisation, to perpetrate organised criminal conduct targeting non-Serbs in Sanski Most in September 1995”.

“Whether those who physically participated in the crimes in Sanski Most received such per diem payments is immaterial,” it added.

‘Common criminal purpose to remove non-Serbs’

The 2021 retrial verdict found Stanisic and Simatovic guilty of aiding fighters from the State Security Service’s Special Operations Unit who committed crimes in the Bosanski Samac area of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992.

The verdict concluded that Stanisic and Simatovic “contributed to the furtherance of the common criminal purpose through organising the training of [Special Operations] Unit members and local Serb forces at the Pajzos campand through their subsequent deployment during the takeover of Bosanski Samac municipality in April 1992”.

Wednesday’s appeal verdict confirmed this. It concluded that “all reasonable doubt has been eliminated that, at least from the time Stanisic and Simatovic organised the training of Unit members and local Serb forces at the Pajzos camp and through their subsequent deployment during the takeover of Bosanski Samac in 1992, both Stanisic and Simatovic shared the intent to further the common criminal purpose to forcibly and permanently remove, through the commission of the crimes of persecution, murder, as well as deportation and inhumane acts (forcible transfer) charged in the indictment, the majority of non-Serbs from large areas of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina and the intent to commit the underlying charged crimes”.

It further concluded that “all reasonable doubt has been eliminated that Stanisic and Simatovic continued to share this intent through the period involving the commission of crimes in Sanski Most in September 1995”.

The verdict said that Stanisic and Simatovic used the principal perpetrators for their own benefit to carry out murders, deportations, inhumane acts and persecution during and after the takeover of Bosanski Samac, and the Serbian Volunteer Guard to carry out murders and persecution in Sanski Most.

“These crimes are, therefore, attributable to Stanisic and Simatovic,” it declared.

Crimes committed in Bijeljina, Zvonik, Doboj and Trnovo in Bosnia and Dalj Planina in Croatia, as well as in Sanski Most in 1992, can also be attributed to Stanisic and Simatovic through other members of the joint criminal enterprise in which they were involved, the judges decided.

Stanisic’s lawyer, Wayne Jordash, argued that the court’s appeals chamber “fundamentally misunderstood” the law on aiding and abetting and joint criminal enterprise, and “improperly merged the contribution of other Serb officials and added them to Stanisic’s contribution”.

But war victims’ groups have hailed the verdict as a victory for justice that highlighted Serbian officials’ direct role in the Bosnian and Croatian wars, despite years of official denials from Belgrade.

The UN court’s chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz said it was important that the verdict established that the joint criminal enterprise in which the Serbian officials were involved covered parts of Bosnia and Croatia.

“This demonstrates that it was not a civil war but an international conflict in which the political leadership of neighbouring countries played a significant role,” Brammertz said.

As regards the specifics of most of the crimes that were committed, Wednesday’s final verdict just confirmed details from the 2021 retrial judgment and from the ruling in the two men’s first trial in 2013. These verdicts established the names and positions of some of the direct perpetrators, many of whom live in Serbia and have not been prosecuted.

Kolaric from the Youth Initiative for Human Rights pointed out that the Serbian War Crimes Prosecutor’s Office has known these names at since at least 2013 and yet almost no cases have been launched.

“Although we know that the prosecutor’s office of the ICTY [International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia] filed an indictment against Zeljko Raznatovic Arkan [in 1997] for crimes committed in the Sanski Most area, and the facts about those events were then established precisely in the Stanisic and Simatovic case, where it is possible to see which of the Serbian Volunteer Guard members were in that area, to date no investigation has been initiated,” Kolaric said.

“Any further inaction by the Serbian War Crimes Prosecutor’s Office can only be interpreted as a political decision not to deal with the crimes of these units whose members, with the exception of a few members of the Scorpions unit, have not been prosecuted to date,” she added.

Other Crimes Attributed to Stanisic and Simatovic by the Verdict

The verdict said that the following crimes can be attributed to the defendants via other members of the joint criminal enterprise in which they were involved:

  1. Deportation, inhumane acts (forcible transfer), and persecution committed in connection with the takeover of Bijeljina by the Serbian Volunteer Guard as well as Serb forces and paramilitaries that worked in coordination with it.
  2. Murder, deportation, inhumane acts (forcible transfer), and persecution committed in relation to the takeover in Zvornik by the Serbian Volunteer Guard and the JNA and forces working in coordination with them.
  3. Inhumane acts (forcible transfer) and persecution committed by the JNA [Yugoslav People’s Army], forces under Radojica Bozovic’s command, as well as forces under Milovan Stankovic’s command during the takeover of Doboj.
  4. Deportation, inhumane acts (forcible transfer), and persecution committed by the JNA’s 6th Light Partisan Brigade, the VRS [Bosnian Serb Army], and/or forces subordinated to or acting in coordination with them in April and May 1992 in Sanski Most.
  5. Murder and persecution committed by the Scorpions [Serbian paramilitary unit] in Trnovo in July 1995.
  6. Murder and persecution committed by the Serbian Volunteer Guard in cooperation with the Serbian National Security in relation to the killing of Marija Senaši in Daljska Planina [in Croatia], SAO SBWS [Serbian Autonomous District of Slavonia, Baranja and Western Srem], in June 1992.

Source: International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals.

Balkan Insight

The Balkan Insight (formerly the Balkin Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN) is a close group of editors and trainers that enables journalists in the region to produce in-depth analytical and investigative journalism on complex political, economic and social themes. BIRN emerged from the Balkan programme of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, IWPR, in 2005. The original IWPR Balkans team was mandated to localise that programme and make it sustainable, in light of changing realities in the region and the maturity of the IWPR intervention. Since then, its work in publishing, media training and public debate activities has become synonymous with quality, reliability and impartiality. A fully-independent and local network, it is now developing as an efficient and self-sustainable regional institution to enhance the capacity for journalism that pushes for public debate on European-oriented political and economic reform.

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