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Oct
   
2003
   

B92 Focus, October 2003.


 

Zoran Djindjic killed by second sniper

Witness to the crime - an interview with the bodyguard
| October 21, 2003.

"I suspect Djindjic was shot at by two snipers. I believe that the bullet which hit the prime minister could not, by the position of the body, have come from Admiral Geprat Street, but from the opposite direction, from No.6 Bircaninova Street…"


Zoran Djindjic and bodyguard Milan Veruovic
Zoran Djindjic and bodyguard Milan Veruovic

The official investigation into the assassination of Zoran Djindjic concluded that two shots were fired by a single sniper positioned in Admiral Geprat Street. The state prosecutor says the investigation is complete, while the murder trial is expected to begin by mid-December. But in his first interview for radio or television, Milan Veruovic, for years the head of Djindjic’s personal security team, casts doubt over the official version of events.

The 32-year-old Belgrader was injured in the shooting on March 12, but for four months investigators saw no reason to interrogate him. He is yet to even see the indictment. This is his version of events:

The truth is I was seriously injured, but I was aware of the whole thing. I was conscious when I was admitted to the Emergency Centre. I remember clearly and can see the events of that day. I don’t know how it happened that I wasn’t interrogated. After I said this in an interview with Novosti, Sreten Lukic, the police chief, was asked to comment on it at a press conference – why I was not interrogated and why my statement had not been taken into consideration. He said that the investigators didn’t feel my statement could in any way influence the course of their work.

I was astounded by his statement and the behaviour of the investigators who, it seems, based the entire preliminary investigation on the statement of the accused. So the same day as the assassination, the same day I underwent surgery, when I came out of surgery I heard on the news that a crime gang was behind it all, that Legija was behind it, that the Red Berets were behind it. 

B92: Let’s go back to March 12. You said the morning was no different from any other…

We arrived at the government building that day at around 12.25. We’d been late all along as the prime minister came out of his house half an hour late. We arrived and I was on the radio announcing our arrival to the government just like any other day. I called the building’s security chief but he didn’t respond. 

B92: But you proceeded anyway?

We were already on our way. We were in Sarajevska Street, three to four minutes from the government building. He wasn’t responding but I received a reply immediately after we entered the yard from a man who was listening on the same channel. He was in charge of security in the office on the first floor. 

B92: What did he say?

He said he’d heard me. He said his code number. “Five hears you”. I took it to be someone from the government who had heard me, and we entered the yard. The odd thing that day was that the behind the government building was completely empty. The first car ahead of us had entered. The second car was ours, with the prime minister, and the third one was behind us. We positioned ourselves just as we had every other day. 

B92: And what’s that like?

The car before us enters; we’re in the middle. Four people in front of us position themselves on four sides. The last three in the last car position themselves behind us in the same way. They’re watching the street behind us and the parking lot, covering the immediate vicinity. I got out of the car and took out the crutches and his bag. I opened his door, passed him the crutches, and walked with him toward entrance No. 5, into the government building.

At that moment we were already approaching the gate. I turned to close the car door, and I heard a muffled shot. For a split second it occurred to me that something had banged inside the building, further away. I heard his cry. I turned around and immediately realised what was happening. At the same moment as he was hit I heard a loud bang. It was the shot that hit me. I fell down in front of the government building and he leaned on the door and fell through into the building. The door was closed at the time, which was unusual.

He fell through into the building’s corridor. I remained lying on the stairs. At that moment the security guys ran inside to see how he was. Somehow I slowly crawled to the car. Then the third shot came. It hit the wall of the building, meaning they still had us in their sights. We were there for several minutes, as they gave the prime minister first aid. I was trying to get into the car. I got into the car and used it as a shield. At that moment my colleague got into the car, started it, and they carried the chief into the second vehicle and we raced to the Emergency Centre.

Thousands turned out for the funeral
Thousands turned out for the funeral

B92: You said there was a third bullet. You mentioned it first in an interview a month ago. The public reacted at the time, but the authorities in charge failed to do so. No one else has mentioned a third bullet. Not in the investigation, the report or the indictment. Why? Where did this third bullet come from?

That question will only come up in the future. I tried to explain to them that the sound of the first bullet which hit the prime minister was not of the same power as the other two, which hit me and the wall. This makes me suspect the shot came from another position.

B92: So basically there were two rifles.

I suspect there were two rifles. I suspect that. 

B92: Why? What makes you think that? The position of your bodies?

I’m made to think that by the sound of the first bullet and the sound of the other two bullets, which were identical, but totally different from the first. Later I tried to explain this to the investigating judge, but I didn’t find much understanding. Forensic experts tried to explain to me that the differences in the shots came from the second one hitting me and carrying the sound with it, which is why it sounded louder than the first. That’s an explanation for you. But I still doubt that all three shots came from the same window.

Why the third bullet hasn’t been given any serious consideration, I can’t explain. It’s a question I’d like to ask the people involved in the investigation. It seems to me somehow that the investigation was done hastily, that it’s based on the statement of the accused. The whole investigation has already been published in the papers. We’ve already been able to read that they found the rifle, that the rifle fired two shots. The whole story about the two bullets made the whole story of what happened that day unbelievable, even to us, the people who were there that day and who said that loud and clear to everyone who asked us. In hospital I asked the people present that day and we all agreed that there were three shots. We all heard the third one. We even saw where it hit. 

B92: So it’s not only you but your colleagues as well?

Yes, yes. The eight of us who were there that day, we all gave identical statement, all of us.

B92: You were shot from behind, is that right? And the prime minister was shot from the front, in the chest. In fact, you were facing the same direction but one of you was hit in the back and the other in the chest. How is that possible?

I don’t know how it’s possible. The question that needs to be asked is how the people conducting the investigation concluded that he was hit from that side, from that window, if we know that they’ve not yet carried out a reconstruction of the event, and I’d have to be invited as the immediate witness to it all.

B92: How is it possible that a reconstruction has not been done?

That interests me too. I’d like to ask that question of anyone dealing with it. A reconstruction is the first part of an investigation that has to be done in order to determine the scene, how things unfolded. Without it it’s absurd trying to determine the position of the prime minister at the moment he was shot. According to all the statement I gave, we parted at the moment when he was turned towards the government building, which contradicts the information state in the investigation that he had turned his back to the government building.

B92: So you claim he could not have been hit in the chest from Admiral Geprat Street?

Yes, and I stand by the claim. If he was facing the door, which is the way he fell, than I say he could not have been hit from his left side, because he was hit in his right side. I was standing on his left side right by him, just a metre away. At that moment when we were going up the stairs his head may have been exposed, I don’t know. But no, I can’t claim that the investigation won’t establish the facts I’m talking about now. But I simply suspect that there was another sniper’s nest in the opposite street, in Bircaninova Street, in a passageway I found very suspicious between the buildings of the Foreign Ministry and the Railway Company. Entrance No. 6, which belongs to certain state services – the Hydrometerological Institute and I don’t know what else – that fact is that the entrance remained uncovered on February 1 when the building was being repaired. I went there after I was discharged from hospital to see for myself what happened that day. The fact is that in the yard behind the building there’s scaffolding going up to the roof, which anyone could have used to climb up there and do as they pleased. 

B92: The building directly faces the government building?

It directly faces the government building through the passageway between the two buildings, directly to the entrance where we were hit. 

B92: So you believe that the bullet that hit Zoran Djindjic cam from that direction?

I believe he was hit from Bircaninova and that I was hit from the window from which Zvezdan Jovanovic fired a shot, and that the third bullet which ricocheted was also fired from Admiral Geprat Street.

B92: As far as you know, was this mentioned at all in the investigation? Was the building in Bircaninova mentioned in the investigation into Djindjic’s assassination?

It was mentioned. I’ve mentioned all of this to the investigating judge. He told me that they’d done checks; that they learnt from the group they arrested that they had tried to find a spot in Bircaninova from which they could shoot but that they couldn’t do it from there because they had problems with the tenants who complained about them climbing the roof and they allegedly gave up because of that. I was not convinced of this after I established for myself that in the entrance to the building which faces the government building through the passageway there are no tenement flats; no one has lived there. It has been used for administrative purposes for years – as I already told you, the Meteorological Institute and Statistic Institute, something like that.

B92: If this is true the police will have to give some serious answers and we hope they’ll answer them. The question is – who was the second shooter? Are there any suspicions as to who he might be, even if he has not been mentioned? Only one man who fired has been mentioned and that is Zvezdan Jovanovic, who has admitted to the murder during the investigation. But your statement implies there was another spot, another rifle.

I don’t know who this man could be, but the fact is that I read a week ago in Vreme that a person had entered the country on March 11 at the Batrovac border crossing [with Croatia] and was escorted out on March 12, without a passport. He was brought in and escorted out, a senior official of the Red Berets has said in the papers. That’s when I started getting really suspicious, and I’d like to know whether that’s true or not. I’d like it not to go unnoticed when people make such speculations in the papers. I don’t know why the prosecutor did not notice that information and how come he didn’t ask the paper, the media, the public, “hey, is that true? Is it true that someone was capable of walking someone into the country on March 11 without a passport and to walk him out on March 12 - and we know what happened on March 12 - without any papers, without any records that he’d been in”. If they answered me that question we could clear things up; who the guy was and if he was in Bircaninova or somewhere else.   

B92: How many people were employed as the prime minister's bodyguards and how many of them were working on March 12?

There were fifteen of us in the prime minister's personal security. Two seven-man crews working everyday and myself working as the chief of security, chief bodyguard. We switched, since it was hard to work all day, people needed rest. On that day, March 12, there were eight of us, in three cars.

B92: Were there any indications that something might happen, especially in light of the assassination attempt on the highway ten days before?

As I said, we already had an indication something was happening after the highway and Bagzi. From that moment on we introduced maximum security. As chief of his personal security I was under constantly pressure, trying to clear the whole thing up, trying to obtain more information than that which I could read in the papers.

B92: Were you really getting information from newspapers? Have you received any official information about what happened on the highway?

No, we never received any information about what happened on the highway. We were there and we saw what happened. Other than that, nothing. Except that we learnt later it was Bagzi, and that he was a member of a clan, the Zemun or Surcin clan.

B92: What did the highway incident look like to you? You’d set off for Banja Luka, right?

We had announced the route. We were going on an official state visit to Banja Luka. We had announced the route through our management, which means that the police knew about our movements. We set off on the trip at half past eight in the morning. There wasn’t too much traffic, I think it was Friday. We met a traffic patrol at Mostar junction, which greeted us and escorted us to the highway. Somewhere around the Sava Centre, I saw a truck in front of us, one hundred, two hundred metres away, where the Limes Centre is to be precise. It was either going very slowly or it was parked, I couldn't say what it was doing.

At first I thought it wanted to stop on the hard shoulder. Of course, I still didn’t suspect anything. We approached it very fast, we were going 130-140, I can't remember exactly, it’s not important. We were clearly marked, with flashing lights and siren. Three cars in a row, everyone saw us. The left fast lane was open and we were using it. At the moment when we approached the truck he suddenly started swerving towards us, from the hard shoulder to the middle lane. It swerved towards us to cut us off. Thanks only to the caution of the driver, my colleague who drove the prime minister, we avoided hitting the rail on the left hard shoulder.

We can only imagine what would have happened had they managed to stop us there. The driver braked suddenly, the truck was already in our lane, we managed to get round it on the right and leave it behind us. I immediately gave out an order to our third vehicle behind us to stop the car and check it. They did, and they checked him. We reached Zmaj service station and they phoned me up saying it was an unregistered vehicle, the driver had no papers, that everything was suspicious, that they found a bunch of sandwiches in the truck and cigarette butts, indicating that the man had spent two or three hours in the truck, he may have been prepared to wait for us the whole day.

I radioed this to the traffic police, who were on the highway and knew about our movements. I phoned the head of the BIA sixth section. I told them to contact the people who arrested the man on the highway. I resumed my trip, naturally, in the car with my boss, towards the airport. Of course, I didn’t inform him about any of this. I told him that the truck wasn’t registered, that it was suspicious, but that the man was arrogant. He didn’t comment; he was reading the papers. We arrived at the airport and flew off for Banja Luka. When we landed in Banja Luka, I learnt that it was Bagzi, that the traffic policemen had taken charge of him over after a 40-minute wait on the highway, on an announced route, which shows you the organisation of our police. It happened on an announced route, where we should have complete support, both from the medical service and the police. They didn’t know for 40 minutes who would come and take charge of Bagzi from our people.

B92: Then you went to Banja Luka. In the meantime, among journalists in Belgrade there was talk of an assassination attempt. Then, quite unexpectedly, the prime minister was asked about it at a press conference in Banja Luka and he answered casually that it was just a careless driver. What did the prime minister know about the event at the time?

I told him the facts in the car before we arrived to the airport: that that the guy was suspicious, that the truck wasn’t registered, that he didn’t have any papers for it, that we’d check him out and work on it. While he was in the meeting and I waited for him in Banja Luka I received the information that the guy was Bagzi and that we should step up security in Banja Luka, which I did. I was told that the prime minister would be informed about it upon his return by the people in charge, and that I am not to inform him about it now. But there was another slip when the police released the information to Beta during his press conference in Banja Luka and the journalists found out it was Bagzi in the truck. Everybody in Belgrade immediately started talking about an assassination attempt. Basically, the prime minister was caught by surprise with the question.

B92: Do you think it was an unfortunate coincidence? Because after his statement, people thought: Well, all right. If Djindjic said it was nothing, it was probably nothing. “Careless driver”, he said, jokingly, the way he usually did.

He didn’t know it was an assassination attempt, he didn’t know it was Bagzi, he did not know it was an organised thing, the way it was being talked about in Belgrade.

B92: It's logical when something like that happens that things should be changed. About twenty days had passed before March 12. How was Djindjic's security changed? Did you have meetings? Did you change anything about his security?

I’d go back a little, to our return from Banja Luka and his finding out who was in the truck and what was it all about. So, we all clearly understood what had happened. We took it very seriously. However, no one interrogated me, me or my driver, who were in the car with the prime minister. No one took a statement from me. I think they took the driver's statement that day. I travelled with the prime minister to Frankfurt the next day and we were there for two or three days, I can't remember exactly. On my return I insisted on contacting the people from the city police who were in charge of the Bagzi case and giving them my statement, the statement which should enter the report and be submitted to the court. I was also questioned by people from the city police who were so disinterested in the whole affair that I had to inform the prime minister about it. I called him from the police station. I was there for two hours, speaking for two hours with a colleague working on the case, I can't remember his name. We waited for a typist who showed up an hour later!

Then I requested that I write my statement in hand, since in the meantime we had read in the papers an explanation from Bagzi's lawyer that the whole thing was an exercise in excessive force by the prime minister's bodyguards, that he was just a salesmen who has to feed his family and it will cost him dearly if he does not resume his travels, that he has nothing to do with the case, that he was scared of our arrogant behaviour on the road, that he did not see our cars, that we weren't marked. We read untrue statements from his lawyer in the papers for three days, which were in fact parts of his statement given to the investigating judge. His defence was actually prepared in the media, it was a public defence. And the public swallowed it just the way his lawyer wanted it. 

B92: So how did Djindjic’s security change?

The thing that changed in Zoran Djindjic's security was that from that moment we all worked together 24 hours. We were never separated from that point on. Both teams were with the prime minister around the clock, we have increased security at his house according to instructions received from the police. We received an additional team, which means there were more of us at the time. And it lasted ten days. After that the whole thing was watered down. We no longer received any instructions about the threat.

B92: There were a lot of stories during the state of emergency about what was happening before March 12. One of the stories was that the Zemun Gang had sent a clear message that it would kill the prime minister, that he practically knew it would happen, but he did not know when, and that this was even discussed with him but he didn’t take the threat seriously. Were there any threats in the period between the highway incident and March 12? Did you know about them?

We knew about the thing you're talking about, we read about it in the papers. There were no open threats. There was no information from the police. And that he commented on it the way he did was an actual fact – it was the Zemun gang, an organised group of criminals he had nothing to do with. He was probably trying to find some logic in it, what reason there could be for an organised group to try and kill him. The facts later showed something else altogether, that an organised police unit was behind it all, that a police colonel participated in the assassination, that the whole thing was organised by the Special Operations Unit, which is a police unit. And had he been warned in time about the unit, a lot could have been done about it. Because the whole case was taken as an organised crime group, he took it less seriously.

Legija: the man said to have masterminded the killing
Legija: the man said to have masterminded the killing

B92: After Operation Sabre an indictment was drafted naming the main organiser as Milorad "Legija" Lukovic, the former commander of the Special Operations Unit - a controversial man Djindjic himself had often spoken about. He spoke of the way they met and what Legija did on October 5. As far as you know, what was the relationship, if any, between Prime Minister Djindjic and Milorad "Legija" Lukovic? What level was it at and when did it end?

I know that we were trying to contact him before October 5. I know he was categorically ruling out "betraying his commander", as he put it at the time. I know that on October 5 they came with their unit and I assume that when they saw the mass of people that surrounded them they realised it was easier to surrender than do anything else. I don't see his role as crucial in the October 5 revolution. Contact or relationship between the prime minister and Legija? There was no contact or relationship, except an official one. He was the man who influenced his unit, the man who, on that October 5, told his unit not to listen to the orders of their then commander.

B92: And later, when Milosevic was arrested...

And later, when Milosevic was arrested. And the Red Berets rebellion, I didn't see him [Legija] there. I was with the prime minister in Kula at the time. When we went there to meet the rebel unit, I saw Zvezdan Jovanovic, I saw Gumar, I saw all of them. Legija was retired or suspended or something at the time, so he wasn't there.

B92: Did he represent a threat after that rebellion? When did you find out they were not friendly towards the Serbian government, the prime minister and the police?

I never learnt they were not friendly, as you put it, towards the government and the prime minister. It was negligence on the part of the service. We should have received that information. It was, as I mentioned at the beginning of the conversation, an error on the part of the man dealing with the unit's security. I didn’t know that the danger was coming from that side. We saw them as the Special Anti-Terrorist Unit, as any other unit that was part of the system, just like we were.

B92: It turns out that many of the people involved in organising the murder – from the man who reported that your column was on its way, allegedly for 1,200 euros, to Milorad Bracanovic, who was a senior official in the State Security – were a part of that system. How do you explain the fact that so many people remain in the service, even today, who could represent a threat to people like Zoran Djindjic?

I think there are many of them. In fact I think all of them are still around, I don't know what did actually change. I don't know what’s changed in the police since October 5. I don't know what’s changed in the police since March 12. They’re still around, doing the same jobs. It’s true what you said, that someone could have watched our cameras, the cameras through which we were linked to the security centre, which was already part of the BIA. And there is this absurd thing which I’ve pointed out continuously since we were transferred from State Security to the Public Security department. You had a vacuum in which everything happened, in which everything was cooked up. We have this thing that the monitoring of the prime minister's house is under BIA jurisdiction, and we don’t belong to the BIA. That’s exactly what you’re talking about now, that was a place from which someone could have watched cameras and seen on those cameras that we were on the move, how many of us were there, and report it to the people preparing the assassination.

B92: But even more absurd, at least for the public, is that some people were granted bail. Milorad Bracanovic, the man marked as one of the key figures in the whole story, was granted bail.

That is totally absurd. His capture was so spectacular, the revelation that he took part in it, organised it. He did or he did not, I don't know, but after all we found out about Bracanovic, he is somewhere around, walking free. But that’s really a question for the authorised person within the police. This is the man who, for example, was the unit's security chief at the time Legija was the unit's commander. This is a man who has friendly relations with Legija. They're each other’s best man. This is the man the police should have thought about the minute they appointed him deputy head of the department. This is the man under which the department changed, the departments were disbanded, the BIA formed. This is the man who should be asked a lot of questions.

B92: To finish. What concerns people in this country is the real motive behind the murder of Zoran Djindjic? The indictment specifies two things. One is the fact he was preparing to tackle organised crime, and the criminals found about it in time, and the other is his policy and what he was doing day-to-day as prime minister, primarily his commitment to cooperation with the Hague Tribunal. Of course, I don't expect you to give me the answer that no one has, but what are your thoughts on the issue?

Yes, I can only give you my opinion about it, but before I do that, I should say that it’s absurd that we have a murder but no motive. We’re supposed to see the motive as, according to the papers, the confusion of a crime group which had become scared of the fight against organised crime, a fight that had been announced for the last year and a half, and was nothing new. For me, a crime gang’s confusion is totally unacceptable as the motive for the murder of the prime minister, a man dealing in politics. I mean, we have Italy, we have Malta, we can conclude certain things from what’s been happening there over the years.

If the mafia has reasons to murder anyone then it’s judges, prosecutors, police, people directly "involved" in their business. I wouldn’t look for a motive for the prime minister's murder in that crime gang at all. I would analyse his political work. I think that the motive for his murder is his political work and his idea of Serbia, which probably differs from the views of others, maybe certain larger institutions, maybe even some countries, I don't know. But I would not look for a motive in the crime gang, which everything has boiled down to. We have arrested the crime gang, half of it is still hiding in Belgrade holes, and we are waiting for the police to arrest the rest so that they can explain to us who took the rifle from Admiral Geprat Street and put it under a rock in New Belgrade.

And what remains totally unexplained is how could they have retreated in three cars from Admiral Geprat Street at 1.00pm at the height of rush hour, and reach New Belgrade. And again we’re talking about the work and the connections in the police. On each intersection we have a policeman. Had only one of them gone out onto the intersection, received a signal something was happening, he could have blocked the traffic. I don't know how they’d have got away. Two things. How did they manage to be in the building for three or four days, as they claim they were, and how did they manage to get away?

B92: Who is in charge of checking buildings? I assume it's not your personal security team.

It’s the unit for securing buildings. The name says it all. But they are also in charge of securing the area. We’ve seen on the tape how they do their job. At the moment we were driving the prime minister from the government building, we couldn’t get out of the yard because of normal traffic. The fact is we have a guard post there, at least five other people who could have got out and at least stopped the traffic. 

B92: Do you expect to be summonsed as a witness when the trials start?

Certainly. 

B92: Would you repeat all this in court?

Yes. I have no reason not to.



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