The first episode transcript
At one point, in the early 90s, the business of founding and taking over football clubs became very profitable. That this was ‘good money’ even back then was illustrated by the fact that the new owners and presidents were partly characters from the underworld and partly state officials. All of them stated their passion for sports as a reason for their involvement with football clubs.
Aleksandar Olarević, FC Mladi radnik: He put the gun in my mouth and said, "Go with my men right now and apply at the Ministry of Sports for renaming FC Mladi proleter to FC Mladi Obilić." To save my life, I did it. If I hadn’t, I’d have been surely shot dead.
Žarko Nikolić, former FC Obilić chairman: I said, "You’re an Obilić player, we only have to pay Vojvodina. Who are these criminals who want the money?" Lazetić said, "I’m not an Obilić player."
Saša Marković, former FC Železnik and FC Red Star player: According to this indecent proposal, I was to give away a million Deutsche marks from the contract to a group of people who were effectively selecting national team players and they would guarantee I’d play every last 20 minutes at the 1998 World Cup.
Dragomir Tanović, international football referee and financial crimes inspector: Both you and I know that there is a football mafia.
Zoran Arsić, former president of the Vojvodina Football Association and international football referee: I’d ask the people of Serbia to show me another country where in sports so many football club chairmen were killed.
Between 1999 and 2006 three FC Bežanija chairmen were murdered. In 1999 – Petar Milošević, FC Bežanija chairman and local criminal gang leader. In 2000 – Radoslav Trlajić a.k.a. Bata Trlaja, another FC Bežanija chairman and a criminal, whose claim to fame was the saying – ‘small pond, lots of crocodiles’ in The Crime That Changed Serbia documentary. In 2006, Goran “Mita” Mijatović, FC Bežanija chairman and a member of the Bežanija criminal gang, was killed.
Two FC Zvezdara chairmen – Miodrag “Miša” Nikšić and Branislav “Trojke” Trojanović – were killed in 1995 and 2000, respectively. In 1998, FC Železnik chairman, Jusuf “Jusa” Bulić, was killed. In 2000, FC Obilić chairman, Željko “Arkan” Ražanatović, was murdered. Branislav “Dugi” Lainović, Novi Sad ‘businessmen’, former commander of the paramilitary Serbian Guard and FC Slavija chairman, was killed.
In 2004, secretary general of the Football Association Branko Bulatović was killed. In 2005, FK Proleter chairman Goran Gubić from Zrenjanin committed suicide. In 2006, Miko Brašnjević, OFK Beograd management board chairman also committed suicide in the Belgrade Central Prison. He was detained under suspicion of being involved in the so-called bankruptcy mafia. He’d been OFK Beograd Board of Directors chairman at the time when Zvezdan Terzić, current president of the Serbian Football Association, had been leading the club.
Murders and kidnappings in sport usually stem from vested financial interests. Billions of euros – from transfers, sponsors, ads, TV rights and other activities – in the past fifteen years have been flowing through football clubs, while state institutions have failed to control the cash flow and assess how much this has cost the state budget. No one can estimate how much money has changed hands.
Every bigger football club, as a rule, has the most powerful people from politics, police, business, financial police and judiciary on their boards of directors which protects them from serious investigations and control. Football mafia entails involvement of crime and politics in football. The most important aspect is the money received from a player’s transfer. According to all the laws, of the millions of euros made by players’ transfers, a part of the sum should go to the club and another one to the state as tax. However, due to a lack of any control, but also thanks to double and triple contracts and allowances, the money is channelled into pockets of individuals.
In the past fifteen years, Serbian clubs have sold hundreds of players without any control whatsoever. UEFA and FIFA allow clubs to regulate contractual issues as they see fit providing the Football Association and the Alliance of First Leaguers with an excuse that they have no right to interfere. This means everyone can do anything without suffering the consequences for violations of law and tax evasion.
A transfer may be worth anything between several hundred thousand and tens of millions of euros. To achieve a better price for the player, it’s vital for him to play for the national team. Everyone is trying to squeeze in his own player and national team managers mostly don’t decide who is to play for the national team. Simultaneously, an increasing number of criminals become football managers and agents usually managing several players from the biggest clubs.
Clubs’ profits are concealed. Huge sums made from sales of players end up in pockets of officials and shady characters who, posing as managers, are laundering their dirty money through sports. Football matches are fixed, and the money is made through bookies’ within the circle of the privileged. Events and sports associations are often just a front for syphoning budget funds into private pockets. Sports mafia business has been left intact. Beside players, officials and criminals, many businessmen and politicians are involved.
“Give up this ‘football mafia’ thing. They’ll kill you. There are too many of those interested in not publishing anything.” These and similar messages were an everyday thing during our work on the series. After months of investigation, you’ll see everything there is to know about the football mafia in the following six episodes.
Rules of the Game
- episode one -
Wars in former Yugoslavia presented opportunities for individuals to get rich, under pretext of patriotism, through plunder and looting. While the country was at war, and while the citizens were getting poorer, the privileged ones found ways to make millions by smuggling cigarettes, arms and drugs, and in many other ways. At one point, in the early 1990s, the business of founding and taking over football clubs became very lucrative. That this was ‘good money’ already back then is illustrated by the fact that new owners and chairmen were either criminals or state officials. All of them stated their passion for sports as a reason for their involvement with football clubs.
Zoran Arsić, former president of the Vojvodina Football Association and international football referee: There was only one thing that linked them – the money. Only the money. Firstly, no one wants to pick up a shovel an earn a living through honest work. Secondly, you see the way transfers were done... Show me one business in the country that is done so easily while generating so much money.
After the fall of former Yugoslavia, Serbian and Montenegrin football was dominated by two clubs: Red Star and Partizan. Without the competition of the Big Four, two Belgrade clubs with a long tradition were pitted against a series of small clubs from around the country. At the same time, thanks to the fact that Europe recognized the quality of Red Star and Partizan, during the period of sanctions and general poverty the two clubs became one of the largest exporters in the country. In those years, they made a profit by selling players for the amount of hundreds of millions of euros, which was an opportunity for individuals to become immensely rich. All these years, the two clubs protected their businesses by cooperating with state officials and influential politicians, playing the game of violence and fixing, dictated by some of the smaller clubs. In several of the following episodes, you will see everything about the rules of the game for Red Star and Partizan. In this one, you will see what was happening in the early 1990s in the world of football and what has remained top secret to this very day.
Zoran Arsić, former president of the Vojvodina Football Association and international football referee: Those were the years during all the conflicts in this territory, everything that has befallen our country, in general and in economy in particular. Sport could not have been exception in all that. It is a time when a certain number of people who relentlessly entered the world of sports and definitely did not belong there. Of course, today we can openly ask the question who is responsible, who let certain people who do not have a football background, who have no experience in sports whatsoever, becoming chairmen of clubs overnight.
Željko Ražnatović began his career in sports in earnest as the leader of the Red Star supporters during the birth of multiparty system and warmongering atmosphere in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Dragiša Binić, former FC Red Star player: While I played, he was the leader of supporters and they were organized in an exemplary way. Both at our Marakana stadium and at international matches around Europe. You have an example when we played with Glasgow Rangers. He was on the road with the group. People could not believe there could be such a well organized group of supporters, because they had a completely distorted picture of us over there.
At the time, the supporters rooted either for Slobodan Milošević, Vojislav Šešelj or Vuk Drašković. Arkan was the one who united them all. Instead of "Communist bastards", under Arkan's command the negative supporter energy quickly turned against Croats, then Muslims and Albanians. Psychological preparations of the masses for war were carried out successfully. Simultaneously, Arkan's influence in the club grew. For example, when Red Star won the European Champions Cup in 1991, according to the Vreme magazine, director Vladimir Cvetković told players in the dressing room: "Lucky is the country which has you, which has a Slobodan Milošević, and a Željko 'Arkan' Ražnatović." According to unofficial information, Arkan also trained his paramilitary Tigers at the Marakana stadium.
Mladen Stojović, veteran journalist of dailies Danas and Vijesti: Željko "Arkan" Ražnatović is a synonym for what we call the football mafia today. He took over FC Obilić in 1996, brought it to the first league within a season and won the title the next season. Those who followed football at the time remember what it looked like.
Željko "Arkan" Ražnatović had his first shot at success with FC Priština, which was in the second league, but could not enter the higher rank of the tournament. However, taking over the lower level Obilić was a perfect move. Officially, Arkan became president of the club in June 1996, but he controlled it before, by appointing former Tigers as the club's management. He made the team from cheap, but experienced second-league players used to a rough game. Each year, the team entered a higher rank of championship only to win the champion's title in its first season in the major league, 1997-1998.
Dragiša Binić, former FC Red Star player: As far as I know, he demanded a professional attitude, and I know he demanded maximum from average players. Not the greatest players our country had at the time, but from average players. He gave them maximum and demanded from them maximum. It was a professional relationship. And he jumped from one league to another...
B92: But how did he do that? Only because they played well, or because he made threats or merely because he was Arkan?
Binić: Not as far as I know... He entered the major league and in the first year he was in the middle of the chart... I don't remember exactly, because I was abroad. And when he realized what was happening in our football, it was normal for a man like that to show all those people that he can do it better. In necessity, people have to do things they don't want to.
That season Arkan held a historical lecture on the subject of how to use human fear and long years of catastrophic state in Yugoslavia to maximum effect in order to win the title and earn some money along the way. First he finished a school for coaches with highest grades, which gave him the right to sit on the bench during matches and with his mere presence put the fear of God in referees and rival players. Žarko Nikolić, president of FK Obilić during Arkan, claims those are arbitrary assessments.
Žarko Nikolić, former FC Obilić chairman: It was a time of war when people were apathetic and it was easy to win the championship.
B92: And Arkan did not enter the dressing room of the rival clubs and said: "You have to lose with toliko i toliko"?
Nikolić: I don't know that.
B92: Weren't you chairman of the club?
Nikolić: I don't know that, those were only rumours.
Zoran Arsić, former president of the Vojvodina Football Association and international football referee: It is true that late Željko Ražnatović de facto slapped me in the dressing room. My colleagues had problems too, they were threatened with not leaving the field alive... First of all, I am not at all surprised it has happened to me because the man was at the time so powerful, strong and mighty. He dispersed a whole police cordon just like that... When he entered the room he was so angry and nervous. And, of course, that match ended 0:2, Obilić lost that match. I did not want to give way an inch, I was brave in that sense, I showed my courage. It will remain deeply imprinted in my memory... Everything that was going on... We got to see a gun pointed to the forehead and slaps and all kinds of things.... I can't believe this is being told to the sports public today, in front of the cameras. You can speak openly and say – people, those things were happening. At the time, everybody knew about it and nobody did a thing. And it went on for years...
When he became powerful enough, after successes achieved by FC Obilić, Željko "Arkan" Ražnatović decided to expand and take over FC Mladi proleter, which at the time had its own football field and property, but owned by the Olarević family. According to family members, Arkan seized the club and its property from them and threatened them into renaming Mladi proleter to Mladi Obilić.
Aleksandar Olarević, FK Mladi radnik: Long time ago, in 1958, due to a strategic position, the state gave us this land in exchange for the house we had at the Balkan's stadium, the pre-war Balkan, and we moved here in 1958, so that my father could make a football field and home for his family, which he did. The club lived its normal life, children were training, around a hundred children a year, up until 1997, when Željko Ražnatović came and that's when the problems started.
Olarević says that Arkan promised his family ten apartments, ten restaurants and that a professional contract has been made. However, as nothing was happening in that regard, the Olarević family attempted to fight for their club.
Aleksandar Olarević, FK Mladi radnik: On November 9, 1999, on that very day, he invited me to discuss it with him, in this very office. I have a statement by two witnesses verified in court. He pulled out his gun, put it in my mouth and said: "Go with my men right now and apply at the Ministry of Sports for renaming of the FC Mladi proleter to Mladi Obilić". To save my life, I did it. If I refused, I would have been surely shot dead. I went with his body guards, who were armed, around one-thirty to the Ministry and applied... I have the paper here, dated November 9, 1999, and on November 10 they called me at nine-thirty in the morning to tell me that the decision is signed and to come and pick it up. For less than 24 hours... The then Minister of Sports, Zoran "Baki" Anđelković, member of the ruling Socialist Party of Serbia, signed it, and within 24 hours the 50 –year old name was changed from Mladi proleter to Mladi Obilić.
In those years, when it comes to football, the only problems Željko "Arkan" Ražnatović had problems were with UEFA and FIFA.
When Obilić became a Yugoslav champion, they played a match with Bayern in the qualifications for the Champions' League. Because of an international warrant for his arrest, Arkan could not travel to Munich, which is why his wife Svetlana Ražnatović led the club there. At the formal dinner in Belgrade, president of Bayern, Franz Beckenbauer asked for no photos or recording outside the football field, because, it was said unofficially, pictures with notorious criminal would be damaging for his and image of FC Bayern. According to unofficial information, then Arkan set out to assassinate the president of UEFA, Lenart Johansson, and sent his men to Vienna, but they pulled out at the last minute because they could not find the right opportunity.
Lenart Johansson, UEFA president 1990–2007: Yes, I heard about it. It wasn't the first time. I was only upset that something like this could happen. I discussed it with those close to me, my family and so, what can be done. There's nothing you can do when somebody who has the wrong mind wants to kill you. Of course you get afraid. Of course you get upset, but what can you do because somebody has the intention? I was upset and I wondered what can I do. There is nothing I can do to protect myself. You cannot protect yourself from someone who has such things on his mind. If it was an official threat, than I only had to presume that your government took care of it.
At the peak of its success, in 1998, FC Obilić was joined by Nikola Lazetić, former player of Red Star, Valjevo, Železnik, Milicionar. At the time, he was coming from FC Vojvodina. The official statement claimed it was an ordinary but valuable transfer. However, according to unofficial police information, it was not a transfer, but kidnapping. Namely, Zoran "Skole" Uskoković, the then leader of the Miljakovac crime gang, and his men from FC Vojvodina abducted player Nikola Lazetić and sold him to Obilić. Lazetić declined to speak to The Insider, adding that rumours about his abduction were not true and that, if he had something to say, he would not do it in front of cameras, but to official institutions. However, according to police information, Lazetić was owned by Zoran "Skole" Uskoković, so Uskoković, despite protests from FC Vojvodina, took Lazetić over and gave him to Obilić, under agreement with Arkan to be paid certain amount of money for the job. Since Željko Ražnatović did not pay Uskoković within the set deadline, it is suspected to be one of the possible reasons for the Arkan's murder in 2000.
Žarko Nikolić, former FC Obilić chairman: I don't know whether he was kidnapped or not. I know Arkan brought him to the club one afternoon, as Obilić's reinforcement.
B92: How did he bring him?
Nikolić: He came together with Arkan, Ceca and a couple of other people... Skole was there, Arkan and Ceca's friend, and another two men...
B92: When you say you don't know whether he was kidnapped or not, but that he was brought in – what does that mean?
Nikolić: I don't know whether he was kidnapped or not, but I know that he was brought in. I know there was a contract, signed by Obilić, to pay Vojvodina a million and a half Deutsche Marks for Lazetić. And there was a rumour around town that he was abducted.
Dragan Aca Bulić, president of the Alliance of First Leaguers and former chairmen of FC Železnik: Lazetić played for Železnik and he left Železnik for FC Vojvodina, from which he transferred to Obilic, when those unpleasant scenes occurred.
B92: How did that happen?
Bulić: From what I heard, because I did not witness those events, the fact is that he moved to Obilic unwillingly... I think that mister Šapurić ran Vojvodina at the time... I did not witness all this, but the fact is that certain tough guys from the Belgrade underworld pressured Šapurić into transferring the guy to Obilic.
Žarko Nikolić claims that, as president of the club while Arkan was alive, he did not know about any deal with Zoran "Skole" Uskoković regarding Lazetić's transfer to Obilić. He says that, only after Arkan's murder and Lazetić transfer to Istanbul, people from the world of crime started to emerge and demand money.
Žarko Nikolić, former FC Obilić chairman: You have Jorga, you have Skole and you have Dugi from Novi Sad. When I asked, "How come you claim the right to Lazetić as a player?", Jorga, Dugi, and Skole told me the same thing. They had a deal with Arkan, when Lazetić was brought to Obilić from Vojvodina, that when he is being resold, they will have their cut. Ceca sold him after Arkan's death in June 2000. Part of the money, two million, was paid to the account in Komercijalna banka, because they feared my ban to the Football Association, while the rest was paid to Ceca's private account.
B92: And for how much was he sold?
Nikolić: Five or six million Deutsche Marks.
In 2000, Žarko Nikolić filed a criminal suit against Svetlana Ražnatović over the illegal sale of players. Based on that suit, Ražnatović was arrested during the Operation Sabre, the procedure is still under way, there will be more details on that in the next episode. After the assassination of Arkan, Žarko Nikolić, as chairman of FC Obilić, put out an official ban on selling players from Obilić. He requested from the then Yugoslav Football Association and Branko Bulatović not to allow the sale of Obilić players if it is not specified that the money from it is paid directly to the club's account in Komercijalna banka. Those who expected money from the Lazetic transfer, based on alleged agreement with Arkan, then tried to obtain the promised money in every possible way.
Žarko Nikolić, former FC Obilić chairman: I told them, "Of all the documentation I have only the contract with FC Vojvodina, that we have to pay a reimbursement in the amount of a million and half Deutsche Marks, and if you have any other document, bring it to me, as a chairman I will acknowledge them if they are legal and you will get the money." They said, "We had a deal with Arkan, and Ceca knows all about it, she was there during the negotiations." "Well,", I said, "then ask Ceca for the money. I, as the chairman of Obilic, cannot pay you." And it is not true that I issued a ban. I banned illegal sale of players, I allowed players to be sold regularly.
B92: Okay, but did you ask them what is their deal with Arkan based on?
Nikolić: I did not want to enter a discussion... I asked them if they had a document.
B92: And were you not interested how come the arrangement was done with him?
Nikolić: They said, "We had an oral deal with him." When I asked them if they had any documents to prove he was their player, they told me, "We had an oral agreement with Arkan, Ceca was present at those negotiations." I told them, "Ask the money from Ceca, then." When they said he was their player and they were entitled to money and it was a deal made with Arkan, I immediately knew something was fishy there. Something was not right.
B92: And what happened with Lazetic when he...
Nikolić: When I told Lazetić, "You are an Obilic player, we only have to pay Vojvodina. Who are these criminals who want money?", he told me, "I am not an Obilic's player." That's what he told me. That's how it was.
B92: What does that mean?
Nikolić: I told him, "What do you mean you are not an Obilic player?" He said, "I came to Obilic for certain reasons, that's how it was..." When he left for Turkey, this Jorga character called me another two or three times and said, verbatim, "Tell that whore that I will break both of Lazetic's legs with a baseball bat, he will never be a player again, if he does not give me the money in Istanbul." That's how it was. That is the conversation I had with Jorga on the phone when he called me.
B92: And did you report this to the police?
Nikolić: Yes, I called the police.
At the trial of the Zemun Clan, Milorad "Legija" Ulemek, who was Arkan's best man, spoke of the murder.
Statement by Milorad Ulemek before the Special Court: After Željko "Arkan" Ražnatović was assasinated, there was some rumour of Skole organizing the murder and that he celebrated his death on the very same night in a disco in Germany. That's when I learned that Skole was involved with Arkan in the sale of some football players.
During the long standing trial for the murder of Željko "Arkan" Ražnatović, it was never established who organized it. The interesting fact is that Zoran "Skole" Uskoković is not mentioned in the murder charge, although police knew about his involvement. Another interesting thing is that only four months after the murder of Ražnatović, in April 2000, Zoran "Skole" Uskoković was assassinated too. Members of the Zemun Clan, organized by Milorad Legija Ulemek, were charged with the murder.
Statement by Nikola Lazetić in 2000 on Arkan: I looked up to Arkan, he was like a father to me, and I was like a son to him. I will never get over his death. All of us have lost so much. Serbian people lost their knight, Yugoslav football lost a lot too, because Arkan invested in it and fought for its development and progress. He invested in the construction of a football field and sport hotel...
Nikola Lazetić appeas in a music video by Svetlana Ražnatović, "Crvena" (Red One). It's from Ceca's last album closely before Arkan's death and in the video Lazetić drives a silver "audi TT" and playes a classical tough guy from the Belgrade underworld.
According to players and referees from Arkan's time, the only clubs which could get off easy were the ones headed by someone who could stand up to him. As an example, they mention Jusuf "Jusa" Bulić, the then chairman of FC Železnik, who was believed to be one of the toughest guys from the Belgrade underworld addressed by other criminals with respect. From the first Belgrade league, FK Železnik reached the very elite of the then Yugoslavia in only six seasons. After the murder of Jusuf Bulić in 1998, FC Železnik was taken over by his son Dragan Aca Bulić, who is chairman of the Alliance of First Leaguers today.
Dragan Aca Bulić, chairman of the Alliance of First Leaguers and former chairman of FC Železnik: My father loved football, when it comes to football, I simply wanted to follow his path. I loved football since I was a kid. I was training in Radnički, New Belgrade. I played actively till I was eighteen, after that I stopped. I resumed my studies in England, I married my wife there, I have two children with her... And my father was killed on my wedding day, then I had to come back and take over his football club.
B92: After your father's murder, your club played against Obilic in the championship. Was it your first game?
Bulić: Yes, it was the first game. At the time, Red Star and Obilic fought for the title. My first contacts with professional football were those two games. First, with Obilic, second, with Red Star. And they were directly fighting for the title that year.
B92: What was your experience? Is it true that Arkan told you "you have to lose 2:0"?
Bulić: He did not told me directly, but I saw how it was, so I lost the game.
B92: How could you see that?
Bulić: I knew him since I was a kid. He was my father's friend at the time. I knew him since I was seven. When I was 16 or 17, I even went to war and was a member of the Serbian Volunteer Guard, which means he was my commander. It was for two years. It was the same relationship: I was a soldier, he was a commander. After that, as I told you, I went to England, he resumed dealing with football and doing what he did. I don't know about it very well, up until the time I got back... Knowing who and what he was, I did not want to get on the wrong side of him in any way, so I lost the game.
Police have not found the murderer of Jusuf Bulić to this very day. However, police know that the transcripts of bugged conversations between members of the so-called Maka's Group, who were charged with murder of police general Boško Buha and acquitted, at one point say,: "When we paid the Turk off..." Since they were speaking in codes, sudski veštaci established that "pay off" means murder, and the "The Turk" was a nickname for Jusuf Bulić. Translated, the sentence means: When we killed Jusuf Bulić.
B92: The public talks that your father was a member of the underworld, you are his son, the public mentions you are involved in crime too... How can you become a chairman of the Alliance of First Leaguers with such a public image?
Dragan Aca Bulić, chairman of the Alliance of First Leaguers and former FC Železnik chairman: What can I tell you? That's nothing new for me. I am glad you asked me that question. I am carrying the burden of my father since I was a kid and I learnt to deal with it and that is why I did my best in all those things, especially in football, not to allow anyone to point a finger at me and say I did something wrong. It is a fact that people look at me that way, you know about the saying, "a chip off the old block". I am doing my best all my life to remove my stances and behaviour from that, to turn the image over. It obviously isn't easy, it might even be impossible, but I am not ashamed of it, I am not ashamed of my father. He was what he was. That does not mean I or my half-brother Đorđe are criminals and mobsters, only because our father was what he was.
At the time, according to many claims, people from the underworld had a final say in who will play for the national team. Former player of Red Star and Železnik, best goal getter of 1998, Saša Marković, was offered only five minutes after the murder of Jusuf Bulić to play for the national team, but under certain conditions.
Saša Marković, former player of FC Železnik and Red Star: If I tell you that it happened only five minutes after the murder of Jusa Bulić, owner of FC Železnik, then people who know football will understand what it means. The people had their offer. It was up to me to accept it or not. My reply was "no" and that's where the whole story about the national team ended. According to this indecent proposal, I was to give a part of the money from the transfer contract, a million Deutsche Marks to be exact, to a certain group of people who had influence on the Association... which was making the selection and they'd guarantee I would play the last 20 minutes of every game at the 1998 World Cup. I was asked for the money by a man called Slavko Mijović, who at the time had the state security ID, false or real I don't know. The same man indicated to me before, through mediators, friends and acquaintances, that he would like to work with me, but while Jusuf Bulić was around he didn't have a chance.
Slavko Mijović, a.k.a. Mija Pijuk, was murdered in October 2001. In the early 1970s he was sentenced to 12 years of prison for murder. Ten years later, upon getting out, he was considered one of the more influential people in the Belgrade underworld. In the 1990s, he was wounded in the leg in the Luv disco. He was close to Arkan and he held a night club across the street from Arkan's pastry shop. He was co-owner of one of the most popular Belgrade discos, Amadeus. For a period he co-owned the Fair Play casino in the Kazina Hotel. Saša Marković thinks that Slavko Mijović had to have a green light from the top officials of the then Football Association of Yugoslavia for those kinds of deals – who will play on the national team and who will not.
Saša Marković, former player of FC Železnik and FC Red Star: I will go to the 1998 World Cup, play 20 minutes in three games or four, if we get to another stage. Transfer will go through the Football Association of Yugoslavia. They'd charge it, take their cut, a million Deutsche Marks, and that's it. That's about how it worked in my case.
Saša Marković claims that the then national team manager Slobodan Santrač was not the man who was choosing the national team.
Saša Marković: I will give you an example: before every important game, Santrač would come to the dressing room and the first sentence he'd say was: "What can I tell you?" I think it was Piksi Stojković who replied to him: "Sani, at least tell us what is the team". I think that Sani never knew what the team was.
B92: Who was making that decision?
Marković: You should ask Slobodan Santrač.
At the time, Slobodan Santrač was a very unpopular figure in the Serbian public. So much so that during the protests in 1996 and 1997, protestors carried slogans "Sloba, Santrač", as an allusion to the more famous slogan, "Sloba, Saddam". Slobodan Santrač is currently in China. He told us briefly that he would speak gladly of everything when he returns, because he kept silent for too long. He also emphasized that he was always the only one who decided about the make up of the team and that all other claims are false. However, that various people from the underworld had influence on the make up of the national selection, not only then but later as well, is confirmed by long standing international referee Dragomir Tanović. Tanović was a player for many years and after that a referee with international FIFA license. In one of the following episodes, you will see how he was punished the moment he decided to oppose football officials and speak publicly. Beside being a football referee, Tanović is also an financial crimes inspector with the police in Subotica.
Dragomir Tanović, international football referee, financial crimes inspector: I was present when managers tried to squeeze in their players, both into clubs and national selection, a zillion times. He is not interested in whether that player, who is his property, he has a contract signed with him, deserves to play at that point or not, whether for the club or national team... He simply insists with the manager of the club or national team that the player must play. There is an element of fear, there is an element of power. That is the whole picture, you can't have one without the other.
Better results of the club and position in the first league is at the same time a guarantee that players from those clubs will play for the national team, which secures a better price when trying to sell him to a foreign club. Among other things, the games are fixed even at that early stage. That's why they know at the beginning of the season who would win in the end.
Dragan Aca Bulić, president of the Alliance of First Leaguers and former FC Železnik chairman: What can I tell you? I could have played a regular game with only two clubs. With all the others I did not dare do it, in order not to put myself in danger. At the time, there was FC Obilić, and Milicija, and Vojvodina with Živko Šoklovački and Sartid with Matković, to name just a few. All of them big fish at the time, whether in the Socialist Party, state top, politics, Security Service...
After the wars ended in former Yugoslavia, many football clubs were founded or taken over by either people with a rap sheet and returnees from the battlefield, or prominent members of the then ruling Socialist Party of Serbia, managers of rare successful companies working under the direct patronage of the authorities. Even the Serbian police enjoyed success at the time with their own club.
In the 1990s, the Interior Ministry joined the football business with their own club, training one of the biggest football phenomena of the times - FC Milicionar, without a single amateu player, all professionals, and according to the logic of the football market, club has climbed the ladder for five consecutive seasons, only to enter the first league in the season 1997/1998. In the late 1990s, the club had a prestigious pool of sponsors. The main financier was Komercijalna banka headed by Ljubomir Mihajlović, who turned to Milicionar when he failed to get at the helm of Partizan. The sponsors included Verano Motors and MPC Group. However, the main sponsor of the club was Vlajko Stojiljković, the then head of Serbian police. In that period he was telling the potential sponsors of the club: give some money to the club and we will know how to appreciate it. After the October 5 changes, Milicionar dropped out of the first league, and the donors withdrew, while the main players were sold, mainly to Red Star. After the decision by the police not to have a professional club in its ranks, Milicionar has given up its right to play in the second federal league in favour of Radnički from Obrenovac. Sports Centre in Makiš remained a property of the Serbian police.
The success of the football club Sartid came with the rise to prominence of Dušan Matković in the Socialist Party in Serbia, when he was at the peak of his political career in 1999. Senior official of the Socialist Party, Dušan Matković needed only a year to promote FC Sartid from Smederevo to the first league and European tournaments. Dušan Matković, as the minister of industries, director of the Sartid factory and the chairman of FC Sartid's management, was a symbol of both the club and the town in the 1990s. A football field was built in those years. Money was not spared when buying players and coaches, all the while the factory was deteriorated. All other members of the club's management were members of the ruling Socialist Party or Yugoslav Left.
Zoran Arsić, former president of the Vojvodina Football Association and international football referee: I was one of those who wrote to the president of the Football Association of Serbia and Montenegro, Miljan Miljanić, unfortunately sick at the time. At the Sartid-Red Star game they admitted certain notorious Zeka inside, a local strongmen, who threatened to kill me. B92 broadcast my statement, it was made public... The whole thing lasted for three days. A disaster. He went past the security and entered the dressing room, it's unthinkable, and in the end, nobody knew anything. Those are scenarios of the very same people. Why Sartid wasn't punished at the time? It was headed by powerful Matković... You could not go against those clubs. Those were all unbreakable ties between individuals...
In those years, beside Red Star and Partizan, the successful club's were Arkan's Obilić, then Milicionar, but also Čukarički, headed by Živadin Mihajlović from the Socialist Party of Serbia, also known as Žika Muštikla. The owner of Čukarički today is the son of Živadin Mihajlović, Aleksandar Mihajlović.
Aleksandar Mihajlović, FC Čukarički Stankom chairman: Everything just clicked, you know. It was the period between 1995 and 1998. It just happened that the selection of players who came to Čukarički was exceptional.
Živadin "Žika Muštikla" Mihajlović, a Socialist Party representative in the Federal Parliament and head of the Stankom company, was involved with the club Čukarički Stankom since the 1970s. The team became successful in mid-90s, when the club climbed four rungs in the tournament within two seasons and entered the first league in 1995. Živadin Mihajlović, is one of the founders of the Socialist Party of Serbia. After October 5, it was established that the company he headed owed its business success to privileges he had with the authorities. It was the second most taxed private company, whose basis for charging of the extra profit was 41 milion Deutsche Marks. It was established that Stankom was in a position to get nearly the whole sum under favourable conditions.
Aleksandar Mihajlović, chairman of FC Čukarički Stankom: I have to disagree with you. Let me tell you one thing, we have never ranked better than the sixth place. If that's a success, then I agree with you. You are trying to imply some thing here... You should look at the statistics, who entered the competition and what are their results. You should take into consideration my protests to Milicionar in 1997 and 1998, when no one dared say anything.
At the time when Željko Ražnatović entered the world of football, his then friend Žarko Pavlović took over FC Napredak from Kruševac. Known as Boss Žare, Pavlović was the owner of the YuSan holding company, and today he is the director of the Swiss company Private Project Managemen and the Total Holiday company. He participated in a political campaign with Arkan, promoting his Party of the Serbian Unity. He was arrested in France and spent several years in prison, under charges of being involved in the cigarette smuggling. A year ago, he returned to Serbia and at the tender he bought the former building of the Interior Ministry ruined in the NATO bombing for 34.5 million euros.
The man who made a stunning business career in mid-1993 was often arrested for tax evasion. Typical representative of the businessmen from early 1990s, Pavlović sponsored everything, presented awards, organized humanitarian concerts and opened an acting school. Beside selling medicine, through his company he dealt in selling fuel. Allegedly, he was the owner of five gas stations only in the vicinity of Kruševac. Many celebrities came to Napredak's football field, among them Radmilo Bogdanović and Miroslav Mišković. One of his favourite guests was Željko "Arkan" Ražnatović, who was coming to the field in an army helicopter.