By Marija Ristic*
Three sources told BIRN that Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said that former high-ranking police officer Goran ‘Guri’ Radosavljevic was responsible for the killings of the Albanian-American Bytyqi brothers in 1999.
Praveen Madhiraju, legal adviser to the Bytyqi family, said he was present at the meeting in the US two years ago at which Aleksander Vucic said that those responsible for the murders of the three Albanian-American Bytyqi brothers were former Serbian police officer Goran ‘Guri’ Radosavljevic and another, unknown person.
“I was present on Sept. 17, 2015 in [Washington] DC at the Serbian Embassy when we met with Vucic and he told us this fact. Also present were Fatose [Bytyqi], Ilir Bytyqi, [Serbian] Ambassador Djerdj Matkovic, Vlada Jovicic and [former] USA Ambassador [to Belgrade] Michael Kirby,” Madhiraju told BIRN in an email.
Radosavljevic is a member of the executive board of Vucic’s ruling Serbian Progressive Party.
BIRN reported in 2015 that evidence gathered by Serbian investigators, the FBI and the Bytyqi family’s lawyers suggested that the suspected perpetrators have been known to the Belgrade authorities for years.
In July 1999, US citizens of Albanian origin Ylli, Agron and Mehmet Bytyqi were captured by the Serbian police on the border with Kosovo after the war ended while helping a Roma family to escape Kosovo.
Their bodies were later found in a mass grave at the police training centre in Petrovo Selo in eastern Serbia.
Many witnesses claimed that at the time, the man in charge of the Petrovo Selo training camp was Radosavljevic, although he insisted he was on vacation when the brothers were killed.
Radosavljevic, who now runs several security companies in Belgrade, was briefly investigated over the crime by the Serbian prosecution, but never indicted.
The family of the Bytyqi brothers say they have been receiving promises for years from Serbian institutions that the crime will be resolved, but so far without any tangible results.
“During the meeting, Vucic started off by expressing his sorrow and said ‘If this had happened to my own brother, I would do everything in my power. And this happened to three of yours,” Madhiraju said.
“At one point Fatose was making a suggestion and Vucic interrupted him and said, ‘In my mind, only two people are responsible for these murders – Guri and [one other person he named].’ – that is a direct quote that I wrote down immediately after the meeting,” he added.
Madhiraju’s account of Vucic’s comments at the meeting was echoed by relatives of the murdered brothers.
“President Vucic told us if it were him, he’d do everything he could to find his own brother’s killers. He told us he himself believed that Guri was responsible. Now he’s acting like Guri is his brother and doing everything to protect him,” Ilir Bytyqi told BIRN.
Fatose Bytyqi, another family member who attended the meeting, also said that Vucic referred to Radosavljevic as one of those responsible for the brothers’ deaths.
“This was not the first time that Prime Minister Vucic told me directly that he believed Guri was responsible. Other high-level Serbian officials have told me the same,” Fatose Bytyqi added.
The family disclosure came after eleven US Congress members claimed in a letter to US Vice-President Mike Pence that Serbian President Vucic has admitted that Radosavljevic was responsible for the killings of the three Bytyqi brothers.
In the letter dated July 14, the congress members said that Vucic’s promises to resolve the crime “have not been kept” and that Vucic “continues his close ties to the main suspect, Goran ‘Guri’ Radosavljevic”.
“When the US Ambassador to Serbia, Kyle Scott, and a family member, questioned this relationship, President Vucic responded that the critics ‘should be ashamed’ of themselves,” the letter said.
“This came despite President Vucic’s own assurances that Radosavljevic was responsible for the crimes,” it added.
Radosavljevic has denied any involvement in the killings.
Both Radosavljevic and Vucic did not respond to BIRN’s requests for a comment on the US Congress members’ letter by the time of publication.
The letter was sent to Vice-President Pence ahead of his meeting with Vucic in Washington on Monday, and signed by Congress members Lee Zeldin, Edward R. Royce, Eliot L. Engel, Dana Rohrabacher, Daniel M. Donovan Jr., James P. McGovern, Peter T. King, Grace Meng, Louise M. Slaughter, Eddie Bernice Johnson and Zoe Lofgren.
They urged Pence to put pressure on Vucic to finally resolve the murders of the three Bytyqi brothers.
“After the 2015 meeting, my family put our trust in President Vucic. We believed in his word. Two years later, Guri and he are still attached at the hip and he tells us we should be ashamed for criticising him,” said Fatose Bytyqi.
Vucic this week is on his first official visit to the US since becoming president of Serbia earlier this year, after previously serving as prime minister.
Ahead of his visit, some other US Congress members also expressed concern about the lack of progress in the Bytyqi case.