“State secret” documents conceal oversights in security of murdered Prime Minister

Documents marked as “State secret”, which is the highest rank of security in Serbia, are conceal the oversights by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Secret Service (BIA) in securing the safety of murdered Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic.

Despite the recommendation in the Report by the State Commission that investigated the assassination of the PM Zoran Djindjic, the role or oversights of the two important institutions, the Police Ministry and the BIA, was never fully investigated. The Report of the Commission, widely known as Korac Commission, was made in 2003. All documentation is still classified as the State secret despite the fact that the trial for assassination of the PM Djindjic ended in 2007.

PM Djindjic was shot in front of the Serbian Government building on 12th March 2003. The trial for his assassination lasted for over four years and it was marked by great political pressure and life threats to the members of the Court and cooperative witnesses. Several witnesses were murdered during the trial, which revealed the connection between the state security and Serbian mafia in the assassination.

Since 2004, Insajder’s journalists have made 28 TV programs on the topic of the assassination of PM Djindjic. Based on years of their investigations, the journalists concluded that many of the unanswered questions could be solved if the “state secret” documents were declassified.

However, two Serbian Governments rejected to remove the “State secret” mark from the documents.  In 2008, Insajder’s journalists sued the Serbian Government over this matter when Mirko Cvetkovic was the PM, and again in 2015 when the PM was Aleksandar Vucic, the current presidential candidate. Both lawsuits are still in process in the Serbian Courts.

Forming the Commission

After the assassination of the PM Djindjic, the Government formed the Commission with a task to write a Report about the planning, organization, and functioning of the security of Serbian Prime Minister. This Commission was led by the Vice President of the Government Zarko Korac, and it operated from the beginning of June to August 2003.

While the Report of the “Korac Commission” was published immediately, the documents included in the report were marked as “State Secret”. Also, the Commission interviewed 32 people including the members of the police and the BIA whose names remain secret to this day.

This act was explained by the Commission as a sort of “protection of the witnesses who helped the Committee’s work”. At the time the Report was written, the police action of capturing the assassins and plotters was ongoing and many of the involved were still on the run.

This explanation was justifiable in August 2003, but it is still unclear how it is justifiable today when the assassination executors are either in prison or dead.

What is concealed in the “State secret” documents?

The Korac Report contained several alarming facts, including the claim that the system of security did not function in accordance with the Law and regulations.

The security personnel of the late PM Djindjic told the Commission that they never got an assessment of vulnerability of the Prime Minister, and the Commission found that it was primarily because the assessment had never been done.

According to the Insajder’s findings, the “State secret” documents also contain data on the Government’s unsuccessful fight with organized crime and individuals from the state institutions who collaborated with the mafia.

The Prosecution never started an investigation on this matter. Also, the Prosecution never conducted any of the Commission’s recommendations, which called for the police and the BIA internal investigations, and for determining the specific criminal and disciplinary responsibility of all persons who were directly or indirectly in charge of the PM’s security.

 Two Governments rejected to reveal the information

In 2007, after first degree ruling in the case of murder of the PM Djindjic, Insajder’s journalists asked the Government for the access to documents used in Korac Report, in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act.

However, the Government of Serbia formed by the Democratic Party at the time, denied the access claiming that “the documents used in the Report are State secret and only the Government has the authority to reveal them.” This led to a paradoxical situation in which the Government claimed that only the Government can order itself to declassify the documents.

Insajder started the administrative dispute at the Supreme Court in 2008 in order to reveal the documents, but the Administrative Court denied our appeal. In 2013, the journalists made an appeal to this verdict to the Constitutional Court, which ruled that the constitutional right of journalists had been violated, and ordered the High Court to do a retrial.

In its verdict, the Constitutional Court concluded that the fact that a document is formally and legally classified as strictly confidential is not only to deny public access, but to hide behind the classification an interest that should be protected.

Two years later, in 2015, the Government led by PM Aleksandar Vucic also denied access to the documents claiming that a request was made purely to satisfy the “curiosity” of the journalists and that there is no public interest in revealing the documents.

Insajder also made an appeal to the Administrative Court against this Government’s decision, and the process is still ongoing.

In March 2016, the current PM Aleksandar Vucic told Insajder’s journalists that he would check why we were denied access to the documents and that his Government would declassify the documents, but they are still inaccessible to the public.

“Declassification of the documents used by the Korac Commission is still in process of consideration”, it was stated by the Government to Insajder at the beginning of 2017.

The Commissioner: the Government’s decision should be reassessed

In the middle of last year, the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection, Rodoljub Sabic, said that it is necessary to reassess the Government’s decision not to reveal the documents.

His opinion is that the information from the "Report on the planning, organization, and functioning of the security of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Serbia" should not remain inaccessible to the public.

"As eight years ago, the Commissioner still considers it obvious that the information in the Report is valuable to the public, and he justifies and requires the reassessment of the decision to keep it classified.”

 Jelena Jankovic

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