"Indications exist that Pantic was killed by crime group"

President of the Commission for Investigation of Murders of Journalists Veran Matic spoke for the website Cenzolovka about how, 16 years after it was committed, the murder Vecernje Novosti's Jagodina correspondent Milan Pantic has been solved.

Source: Cenzolovka
Veran Matic (B92, file)
Veran Matic (B92, file)

Matic said that the police investigation has been concluded, that the evidence has been gathered about the motives and the suspects, and that the investigation revealed that Pantic was killed because of his work as a journalist and his investigative articles about corruption and crime in the town of Jagodina, and in that part of Serbia.

The police submitted a detailed report ten days ago to the competent prosecutor in Jagodina, who is now expected to "as soon as possible, make appropriate decisions and take action in accordance with the legal authority," said Matic.

Cenzolovka: Pantic was killed on June 11, 2001 in Jagodina, and the investigation has only recently been completed. Which data did the policearrive at, and what are the further steps?

Matic: From the police side, the investigation has arrived almost at the end, the evidence has been collected about the motive and those who ordered it. The perpetrators were from the territory of city of Belgrade, and Jagodina. This is the first time that one of the working groups of the MUP has submitted a rounded report to a prosecutort, which outlines specific names of suspects and those who gave the order, and defines the motive.

Let me remind you that the Commission was established as a reaction to the fact that over time there is less and less chance of cases being resolved, to, in a kind of symbiosis of police and prosecutorial work, supported by us from the media, the killers and those who gave the order are discovered.

In this case, the working group of the MUP, with the help of BIA, did a big job and now it is now the turn of the prosecutor's office.

Namely, we have a prosecutorial investigation and I was expecting us to get concrete participation and management of the entire process by the competent prosecutor. We proposed that the Prosecutor's Office for Organized Crime take this case because, in my opinion, there are a sufficient number of indications to suggest that this is about an organized criminal group.

Instead, the Working Group received general instructions, which led to a new prolongation and inefficient work. Today we, after the session of the Commission, sent a letter to the Republic Public Prosecutor's Office, in which express the concerns of all the members of the Commission and the Working Group that it will not be possible to create a credible indictment and administer justice in this way. We have concrete proposals and we expect that the Prosecution will behave the same way as all stakeholders in this business of national importance.

Cenzolovka: You said that the motives of the murder has to do with Pantic's journalistic work. How do you come to that conclusion?

Matic: Yes, the liquidation of Pantic is directly linked to his journalistic work from 1999, 2000, until June 11, 2001. The murder was linked to his professional engagement, the topics he chose, the investigative journalism, which he did in his hometown. At the beginning of its work, the Commission for the first time collected and systematized Pantic's articles and analyzed them in order to define possible motives and clues. The analysis of work of our colleagues has helped to define more clearly the motives. He certainly left a very persuasive professional trace also when it comes to the fight against corruption. For the members of the Commission, this is a particularly important case because it was a brutal liquidation of a testimony about corruption at a time of a democratically elected pro-democratic government.

Cenzolovka: Last year it was said that the investigation was on the verge of shedding light on the murder. What hindered the investigation during that year?

Matic: It was said that the investigation was on the verge of shedding light. And the final step was to determine the specific motive, the reason Pantic was killed. It took almost a year to collect from different institutions the somewhat circumstantial and corroborative evidence. It was not about slowness of the administration or the specific situation in Serbia, the camouflage and corruption, these are separate topics - it was about dedication to an investigation that involves extra effort to get to something that stands somewhere, which no one has ever looked for before, and which nobody has connected with the case.

Cenzolovka: Did you have an insight into the earlier stages of the investigation? Why did it stand still for so long?

Matic: The fact that there have been at least six working groups so far, and that, if I'm not mistaken, more than 30 people worked on the case of the murder of Milan Pantic, means nothing. Because, if the first team did a bad job, if everything had been done in the first 48 hours did not create conditions for solving the case, every day, every week and year, dramatically decreased the ability to solve the case.

When this process is complete with a final judgment, I believe that will be enough material to explain what happened. My convinction proceeds from the fact that the job had not been done well done well professionally, when it was important for the urgent solving of the case. All the time I feel that the solution of this case, as well as the case of Curuvija, at the time when the most important work was being done, was not the goal that was indisputably necessary and important to solve as soon as possible.

With each passing year, the importance was declining. With the surge of social change and criminal events, the importance of solving this case was being suppressed.

I think it's very important that we had the ability to have a completely new person head the working group, and that brand new people were included, who did not have their own convictions built and who were not susceptible to the accumulated stereotypes created by inefficient reactions.

Cenzolovka: Last year Dragan Kecman arrived at the helm of the group of police officers conducting the investigation. Why was he chosen?

Matic: Dragan Kecman led the working group that was working on solving the murder case of journalist Slavko Curuvija and resulted in the filing of criminal charges against the perpetrators. After completing the job, the need occured for him to take over the working group, which up until that point, simultaneously worked on the case of Milan Pantic.

Kecman reduced the number of police officers involved in this case, choosing a team of colleagues in whom he had confidence, with whom he had worked, and he put the case back on track, rejecting a multitude of optional motives and directions, and defined the true motive and the reason for the murder of the journalist Pantic. In 2014 he was appointed as head of the working group, and in January 2015 as chief of the criminal investigations police (UKP) for the City of Belgrade. So, he already headed the working group and the question was never raised that his new position at the head of UKP Belgrade might get in the way. He worked with professional dedication, even more than that, on exposing the killers and masterminds of both Curuvija and Pantic (murders), regardless of his position within the MUP hierarchy.

Cenzolovka: What changes did Kecman bring to the investigation?

Matic: Kecman has its own style of work, he knows how to separate the important from the unimportant, he is concrete, his energy, along with his experience, yields results. The number of people was even reduced by two compared to all other working groups that worked on the case so far. I think that he combined youth, knowledge, with technique, perseverance and experience, relying largely on his colleagues from Jagodina.

The Commission's role was quite important. Very often, whenever possible, all the heads of the working groups took part in its work, to get acquainted with the experience and information that would assist them in dealing with this particular case. Thus, in the "Pantic case" he often attended meetings and participated with his expertise and knowledge. In the police work, the experience from the inside is extremely important, as well as the knowledge acquired over many years of work. The previous head of the working group Dejan Puric made an important contribution, and well as the chief of UKP Jagodina.

Cenzolovka: In previous years the names of possible perpetrators have been mentioned, such as Dragan Antic, who was questioned in Germany?

Matic: In the initial stage of the investigations that have been led, there was more information that was not valued, but instead indiscriminately tallied. Kecman narrowed their scope, rejected those things that have burdened the investigation to that point, fantastic stories, conspiracy theories, were swirling all the time, it's this one, or that one... without evidence. It was important to confront stereotypes. For years legend had been created that was for sure this person or the other, that the motive was this or that... In the Commission itself, we had the problem of dealing with these stereotypes in relation to the evidence. He (Kecman) and his team defined the priorities and went for elimination of irrelevant, false, unverified traces, firmly standing behind every written statement, defending all that was written and done, questioning again, using the valuable information collected at the very beginning - memos, observations, descriptions, movements, without which we would not be in a position to approach the solution of the case. I think it's Kecman's experience and authority in the working group (where there were both younger and older colleagues) that was very important for this investigation.

You mentioned Antic, he and the working group rejected him as the perpetrator. The fact remains that someone's testimony of antiquity, and then the lack of cooperation of the German Ministry of Justice, to allow the questioning og Antic, took a lot of time. Indeed, the questioning itself had not been crucial for elimination, but the overall information whose important part was also this questioning. There really have been a lot of such situations that took a lot of time to the previous working group, as well as to Kecman's.

Cenzolovka: You mentioned that the role of the Commission in shedding light on the murders of journalists was quite important. In what way did the Commission participate in the investigation of this crime?

Matic: If not for the Commission, these cases would have been forgotten. It is necessary to establish such a body to carry out the coordination of work and to include journalistic profession in helping solve these cases. The focus on the cases is very important, the commitment and perseverance. Of course, it is very important that there is space to allocate people and resources that will deal with the cases for a long time, and the determination to work until all possibilities have been exhausted. And that this message is conveyed to all people involved in it, as well as to institutions. In this case also, hard work is ahead of us to create a compelling indictment that will be unquestionable for the court process and the verdict. We should not expect that everything will happen next week or in a short period of time.

This is a unique case in the world when it comes to solving cases of murders of journalists. And it is quite clear also to various media organizations and the UN and UNESCO, who are dealing with the phenomenon of impunity for murders of journalists and with finding effective ways of confronting it, in the first place, bysolving old cases, and by prevention. Certainly the biggest challenge has been how to help solve the cases, for all institutions to be working within the law, and for nobody to take someone else's duties and roles, to respect the rule of law and to get a result. I think we have succeeded in that. The Commission's role is not to change existing institutions, but to create a new framework that will, taking into account the legal system and institutions, lead to more efficient functioning, by helping make up for what individualy certain institutions could not do, due to passage of time, with a new focus and joining of forces of all interested parties, both the state and journalists.

I think this may be a model on which to base also the dealing with cases of violence against journalists and threats against journalists. Our profession is in an increasingly complex situation and new creativity and new dynamics are needed to initiate new solutions to protect every journalist, especially when it comes to the protection of life, threats to life, and obstruction of work. And also when it comes to threats. Currently, we have the process of establishing, building better cooperation between journalists' associations, the Ministry of Interior and the Prosecutor's Office, but an operational body is missing that would coordinate, communicate information, knowledge, so to speak, online, with available people for "rapid response". I think that the pace of change in our profession, in world politics, requires that we have the solutions that must always take into account the best possible options for the goals - quality, objective, timely informing of the citizens as a public service and, on the other hand, the effective functioning of state institutions as a public service par excellence ... Without constructive cooperation there will be no possibilities for effective breakthroughs.

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