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In his last interview with BIRN in October, Oliver Ivanovic, the Kosovo Serb politician murdered in January, named Milan Radoicic as the key figure and a real power-holder in the Serb-run north of Kosovo.
He asked BIRN to keep that part of the interview off the record, fearing possible retaliation.
In the one-to-one interview, recorded audio and in notes, Ivanovic maintained that power in northern Kosovo did not lie with elected institutions but with “informal centres of power” – and named Radoicic in connection with this informal system of power.
“The centre of power is not within the municipality building – because the municipality building belongs to this other, informal centre of power,” Ivanovic said.
He then added: “The [Serbian] president [Aleksandar Vucic] mentioned Milan Radoicic, which honestly speaking worries me; it worries me horribly that he takes him as an example of a person who is fighting for the protection of Serbs in Kosovo.”
Ivanovic was referring to Vucic’s words of praise at a press conference held in September when he named Radoicic as one of five men who he thanked for “safeguarding Serbia in Kosovo”.
Despite asking BIRN to keep his words about informal centres of power off the record, Ivanovic told the BIRN journalist to remember Radoicic’s name.
“No, no, no, leave it there, remember that, you’ll have that name there,” Ivanovic said when the journalist started to cross out Radoicic’s name from the notes.
Radoicic, who has been in the spotlight in recent months, has close links with political elites in both Kosovo and Serbia, including Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj.
He has faced legal charges in Serbia several times, and is a close associate of the controversial Kosovo Serb businessmen Zvonko Veselinovic.
Radoicic refused to talk to BIRN for this article.
Ivanovic was shot dead in Mitrovica on January 16 outside the offices of his Freedom, Democracy, Justice party, which was in opposition to the Belgrade-backed Kosovo Serb party Srpska Lista.
The murder case is still open and there have been no arrests so far.
There is no indication that Radoicic has any link to the killings.
Political connections on all sides
|Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. Photo: Beta|
One month after Ivanovic was killed, in February – despite his earlier description of Radoicic as one of those “safeguarding Kosovo” – Vucic told Serbia’s Happy TV that he had never spoken to Radoicic, but might have attended a meeting where he was also present.
Serbian President also said Radoicic has businesses in Serbia and the north of Kosovo and that he also knew Ivanovic and Radoicic had been in dispute with each other for many years.
“I knew about their conflicts in the north [of Kosovo]. That man [Radoicic] knew everyone would point a finger at him [concerning Ivanovic’s murder],” Vucic said.
He said the dispute between Radoicic and Ivanovic had continued “since the year 2000”.
However, according to documents from a court case that BIRN has obtained, Radoicic was only 22 in 2000, and told the court that he only started working in Kosovo in 2008.
Ksenija Bozovic, who was vice-president of Ivanovic’s Freedom, Democracy, Justice, meanwhile said that she has no information that Ivanovic ever met Radoicic.
“To my knowledge and from what I heard members of the Ivanovic family tell the press, they never met. I also do not know this man, and from what I have heard, he only came to Mitrovica after the year 2015 or so,” Bozovic told BIRN.
In July 2017, the Kosovo website Gazeta Express posted a photo of Kosovo Albanian party leader [now Prime Minister] Ramush Haradinaj with Radoicic.
It alleged that the two men had been discussing whether Kosovo Serb and Belgrade backed party, Srpska Lista, would support a proposed new Kosovo government involving Haradinaj’s party, the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo.
Haradinaj’s coalition won most seats in the June 2017 general election in Kosovo, but he was unable to form a government until September.
Some two weeks before the photo was taken, Haradinaj invited Kosovo Serb and Belgrade-backed party, Srpska Lista, to support his candidacy for the Kosovo premiership.
A month later, he was elected Prime Minister with the crucial backing of Srpska Lista.
“He [Radoicic] is completely controlling life in the north, deciding on good and bad.”
|Rada Trajkovic, Kosovo Serb politician|
On December 24, while speaking about his good cooperation with Kosovo Serbs, Haradinaj said in an interview with the Slobodno Srpski TV show that he also “works” with Radoicic because he was an important figure.
Asked who Radoicic is, and whether he is a politician, Haradinaj responded that Radoicic was “some [man] from the north [of Kosovo], who is important for everything, and I speak with him.”
“You do not have to be politician, we all have some role here […] I do not have a direct connection with Belgrade on some level, but all who live in Kosovo are intermediaries for me,” Haradinaj added.
After Srpska Lista won a convincing majority in Serb-majority areas in local elections in Kosovo in October, footage shot by local station TV Most at a celebration in Mitrovica showed Radoicic drinking champagne with Srpska Lista leader Goran Rakic and Marko Djuric, the head of the Serbian government’s Kosovo office.
Radoicic’s allegedly significant role in the Kosovo Serb community did not attract much attention before Ivanovic’s murder.
After Ivanovic’s assassination however, another Kosovo Serb politician, Rada Trajkovic, claimed that Radoicic “controls life” in Serb-run northern Kosovo.
“He is completely controlling life in the north, deciding on good and bad,” Trajkovic told TV N1 on January 17.
Following Trajkovic’s interview, Radoicic told BIRN Kosovo that “speculation” about his role in northern Kosovo was threatening its stability.
“Individuals and public are engaged in speculation that is doing incomprehensible damage above all to the Serbian people, the citizens of Northern Mitrovica, as well as to my name and my family.
“It is obvious that the public in Kosovo wants to direct all the attention to untruths and spin and thus further jeopardise stability that is already fragile,” Radoicic told BIRN in January.
On February 19, a journalist from Serbian investigative website Insajder asked Djuric, head of the Serbian government’s Kosovo office, about Radoicic’s role in north Kosovo and about his connections with Serbia’s ruling Progressive Party.
Djuric said that they had met several times and that Radoicic was a businessman in Mitrovica. He did not respond to a question about whether Radoicic was a member of the Progressive Party.
A month earlier, however, Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic told the media that Radoicic holds no position with the party.
Business dealings have ended in court
|A brief from a summary of Veselinovic’s defence as written in the Higher Court in Belgrade’ verdict that BIRN obtained based of freedom of infomation law.|
The Higher Court in Belgrade acquitted Radoicic and his close friend, Zvonko Veselinovic, of charges of inciting abuse of office in February 2015.
As BIRN previously reported, Zvonko Veselinovic, another Serb businessman from Kosovo, has close links to Serbia’s ruling Progressive Party, as he had to the previous government in Belgrade.
He was charged, among other things, with shooting at NATO Kosovo Force troops in 2011, and with burning down border posts between Serbia and Kosovo the same year. He was acquitted of both charges.
He publicly admitted on several occasions to organising the erection of barricades in northern Kosovo in 2011, following a dispute between Belgrade and Pristina during the EU-led talks on the normalisation of relations that started in Brussels that year.
The prosecution in the case claimed that in 2010, Dragan Curcic, the owner of a company called Euro Kop, had stopped making payments for 32 vehicles leased from Hypo Alpe Adria Leasing.
Instead of returning the trucks, prosecutors claimed that Curcic decided to hand them over to Veselinovic as a means of repaying a debt that he owed him.
The prosecution also claimed that, despite knowing that the trucks had to be returned to the bank, Veselinovic and Radoicic pushed Curcic to give them the vehicles to use until Curcic repaid his debt to Veselinovic.
The court sentenced Curcic to three-and-a-half years in prison but acquitted Radoicic and Veselinovic.
Court documents showed that Radoicic was born in the Kosovo town of Peja/Pec in 1978, and that he was registered as living in the central Serbian town of Kraljevo.
According to Radoicic’s statement in court, he first met Veselinovic in 2007 and both men referred to each other as “kum” [best man or godfather].
Veselinovic told the court that Radoicic also helped him with his petrol station near Mitrovica, helping “with everything, with debtors and the collection of debts”.
Radoicic told the court his income came from investing “some money in trucks” and from a shop that his wife and mother own in Mitrovica.
The court documents also revealed that Radoicic has a previous conviction, but information about the charges and sentence were redacted in line with personal data protection legislation.
Radoicic himself told the court that he was in custody on remand between 2009 and 2011, but did not explain the charges against him either.