The third episode transcript
This is how football players who agree to monthly provisioning from mafia people, assure to themselves a good car, girls and physical protection. The later pay back is multiple. In situations like these, there is no contract but solely a manager-criminal and football player, who has to keep his promise. During many years, the state and authorized institutions did not control business endeavors of sports clubs and hence allowed people with criminal record to enter sports and football. Criminally gained money laundry, as sports investments, was facilitated by the state disinterest.
Criminals enter football either by purchasing or take over of a football club or by buying players. In the latter case, there are several ways to gain money. In most cases, a certain criminal group selects a football player, offers him monthly provisioning a lot larger than the player’s clubs can afford, provides him with a good car, protection but also hilarious fun. When the player agrees upon this offer, usually without the knowledge of his club management, he then signs a so-called private contract with criminals. Afterwards, these strongmen apply considerable pressure to the club’s president and coach, to make the player a standard member of the first team and later a member of national team, so that foreign clubs managers could see his skills and so his potential transfer achieve a better sale price. Finally, after two years the most, the player is sold. The transfer amount can go up to several tens of millions in euros, and the majority is taken by the manager connected with mafia. This is how criminals, foremost those who have ruled and still rule the Serbian drug-market, invested small sums of money into players from whose later transfers they gained considerably more money. Football clubs managers knew what was going on, but they never complained about it. They blame the players and claim they have no means of prevention.
Criminal record, hence, was not an obstacle for many people to become owners or sponsors of football clubs or managers to football players in Serbia. State institutions never dealt with this problem. In the past years, criminals try to launder drug dealings money through investments in legal businesses, such as construction, chains of betting places, or, the easiest of all, by financing the young football players or take over of football clubs. In addition to football managers with FIFA license who operate by law, there are others who make private deals with football players and whose names do not appear in documentations. So, prior to operation “Saber”, active sports workers were Dušan Spasojević and Milorad Ulemek Legija. Zoran Uskoković Skole also had his players. Željko Ražnatović Arkan entered the football business before them. Presently active are members of the so-called Keka gang from New Belgrade. The assassinated owners of football clubs Bežanija, Zvezdara and Železnik were known to the police as mafia members. In the past few years, ten football officials were murdered.
Dragomir Tanović, football referee and inspector for industrial criminal: This present scales, I think they reached the peak five to six years ago, in time amplified even more. It is probably a question of domination in some sports spheres. Probably it’s predominance intertwined with conflict and clash. A conflict of interest.
B92: But all point out the sports mafia is, simply, stronger than the state.
Dragomir Tanović, international football referee and inspector for industrial criminal: It could be argued so, from the simple reason that no one so far banned it. Honestly, I think no one would do so.
Operation “Saber” revealed that Dušan Spasojević and the Zemun gang, convicted for the Serbian prime Minister assassination, had their players in the biggest clubs in Serbia and also good relationships with management of football clubs.
B92: How did it come about that the members of Zemun gang had their players from Partizan?
Ivan Ćurković, Partizan football club president from 1989-2006: I don’t know about it. I’ve heard that some players lived in Zemun, who were, you know…That Zemun gang had an influence, not on our players, I think, an influence, they were, I think…They did not influence the players, they were relatively modest players. They were not so significant players. And another thing is, they hanged out together.
B92: Which players do you know about?
Ivan Ćurković, Partizan football club president from 1989-2006: Well those… Which one do you think of?
B92: Well, I’m asking you, which ones you heard about?
Ivan Ćurković, Partizan football club president from 1989-2006: Well, I don’t know, I’ve read it…Allegedly, it was Jeremić, then that goalkeeper Radaković, then Lazović, allegedly, I think…I don’t know…However, those were more like sympathies, those people probably were fond of football, so they had…They were, they lived in Zemun, hence they were impressed by those people, not knowing of course, I don’t justify our players, they did not know who those people were those people…
B92: Did the Patizan managers know then that the Zemun gang…
Ivan Ćurković, Partizan football club president from 1989-2006: No, they did not. They were not…No, no, no, we should not do red herring here, they did not participate in anything. Nor they could participate. Those transfers were…Those players were…That fellow Radaković, who was a good goalkeeper, he came out of nowhere, so we brought him in, that young Jeremić was a player with modest skills, who went out then came back in, that’s unimportant. Well, their transfers were…I even think that Radaković didn’t pay anything when he left. Of course, Danko Lazović was, but that was, I think at the end, he didn’t have…That’s all not so important.
Two football players from Partizan, Danko Lazović and Dragoljub Jeremić, were interrogated during the operation “Saber”, under suspicion they were “owned” by the Zemun gang, that is, by Dušan Spasojević. Lazović gave an interview to Insider, where he for the first time, openly spoke about his arrest and his relationship with Dušan Spasojević.
Danko Lazović, a football player of PSV, former Partizan player until 2003: I’ve asked the same thing: “Explain why I am here. For you would have to arrest half of the Belgrade population, since everybody used to went there. I played football. I was not involved in business. I don’t know what to say to you. I have known people and that’s not a problem, but I know nothing more, because I have played football with them”. That was a difficult period, imagine parents learning that their son has a problem with police, and they knew that the whole story didn’t make any sense. And then they present you as a criminal, not as a football player. That story about me having a contract with Spasojević is untrue. And also it’s not true he participated in my transfer, because he was already dead at that time, I went to Feyenoord six months later, a dead man cannot participate in any transfer. But we always research into something unimportant, why we haven’t researched when it was necessary to do so, but five years later. I think we lag behind with it. I don’t deny knowing the man, and I don’t judge people by who they are but how they are. I didn’t really know, when I met him I was 13 years old, I didn’t know he was a criminal I only played “little football” with him. After what has happened, I couldn’t say: I met him, what it is, I won’t associate with him anymore. If I have played “little football” with him, I played “little football”, but I didn’t take money from him, I didn’t have a signed contract so he can make my career, I think it’s not normal that a man who is not in football makes a career for you.
Dragoljub Jeremić refused an interview with Insider. In 2004, Jeremić was sold to a football club from Skoplje, and in March 2007, he sued Partizan to Serbian Football Association arbiter’s committee, due to unpaid obligations specified in his transfer contract. Interestingly, Jeremić, who was in “possession” of Dušan Spasojević, transferred to football club Bežanija in January 2008. As a reminder, in the past several years three presidents of football club Bežanija were assassinated, while in 2007, the headman of the club was Dejan Mišić, Legija’s hairstylist. In April 2007, while Mišić was the club’s president, an incident happened at the game played between a football club Bežanija and Red Star, at Marakana. Bežanija won the game, and as a revolt, the fans of Red Star started to throw chairs at the representatives of the Bežanija management. The management of the football club Bežanija, seated in the honorary lodge, stood up and took out guns. Mišić later claimed those were scissors, not guns. The public heard about Mišić when Dejan Milenković Bagzi, witness-collaborator, told that Čedomir Jovanović was supposed to be killed in front of Mišić’s salon located in a hotel Hyatt, where the members of Zemun gang usually had their hair done.
As a response, Dejan Mišić commented on Bagzi in a daily journal Kurir: “I never met mister Bagzi, because I don’t meet with mousses but exclusively with strikers. Bagzi is a pussy and coward. He is a low life, a snitch, and I am Dejan Mišić, hairstylist, doing my job successfully for the past 25 years. Bagzi is a snitch pussy, not even his parent listen to him. Bagzi is unimportant person. He is a small mousse and it’s a piteous state that took him for its snitch. He is a low life, trying to save his life and Legija is right when he says that Bagzi’s life, after his testimony, is totally unimportant”. These were the words of Dejan Mišić, the then president of football club Bežanija.
Dragan Aca Bulić, First League Association president, claims he has helped football clubs to defend against criminals.
Dragan Aca Bulić, president of First League Association: It’s because I…because I’m my father’s son, so it’s not surprising I know all these people and somehow I didn’t want them to be involved in that football sphere…If this just was my good intention, or if I managed so, I don’t know, but I surely have helped all concerning these dubious individuals from mafia regarding their involvement in the Serbian football.
B92; You helped?
Dragan Aca Bulić: I’ve had helped football clubs.
B92: In what way?
Dragan Aca Bulić: In a way that they should get away from, and not participate in these activities.
B92: Which club asked you to help, for instance?
Dragan Aca Bulić: Generally, no one…No one ever came to me with an appeal for help, mostly, I approached them after I overheard those stories and asked the clubs if they needed any help, if I should talk to those other guys, etc.
B92: And what was that conversation, with those criminals, like, with those criminals who wanted to have their own players? What did you say to them?
Dragan Aca Bulić: Well, it appeared normal to me. I simply told them it’s not their sphere of interest, for they have nothing to do in there. Simply, I told them they couldn’t expect to take money out of it. Mostly, in this way I’ve tried to talk them out of it, this wasn’t what they’ve learned- that they can take a lot of money and to interfere in football and arrange things around…They mostly listened.
Ivan Ćurković, Partizan football club president from 1989-2006: I never seen any of those people at the stadium nor they have come to my office. Absolutely no one. I mean, I didn’t know them, I never had any contact with those people. As I said before, I was with…
B92: But, they supposedly had contacts with the Partizan management, to whom this refers to then?
Ivan Ćurković: I don’t know who they referred to. I really don’t know, you could have a private contact with someone, not connected at all with official contact…They never, I’ve never seen them at the stadium, nor at any football game, I’ve never seen them at all...I didn’t know them, I really didn’t know them.
The trial against the Zemun gang for kidnapping Verano motors owner Milija Babović, revealed that the ransom was carried by Milorad Ulemek Legija, together with Partizan Secretary General, Žarko Zečević. Ulemek was accused, among other things, for organization of the kidnapping. Babović was kidnapped on March 24th in 2002, and released after 40 days, after the ransom of 10 million euros was delivered to his kidnappers. During his defense, Ulemek told the kidnappers sent a video tape, played later in Partizan offices, at the presence of the Babović’s family and ŽarkoZečević, who was a family friend. Žarko Zečević, then Partizan Secretary General, testified at the Zemun gang trial held in front of Special Court. Zečević requested his testimony to be closed to public due to the fear of being slandered in media as many times before. The Court Council, headed by Marko Kljajević, however, denied such request, hence journalists had a chance to hear what Zečević had said.
Žarko Zečević’s attestation in front of Special Court: “I know Babović for 15 years, and we are family friends. I heard about his kidnapping while I was in Greece. I met with his business partner Baja Živanic and Legija in Athens, and we immediately went to Belgrade. Legija expressed remorse that Babović was kidnapped. He was excited and even cried some. The first ransom was 5 million and 200.000 euros, and the money was carried by Legija and Danko Mlađenović. The second time I carried the money with Legija, the same amount. A couple of days after the ransom was delivered, Milija was released. I was once in Schiller street, when Legija invited me to discuss what to do next, because the kidnappers, after the first ransom, had requested more money in order to free Babović. It is then that I met the leaders of Zemun gang, Dušan Spasojević Šiptar and Mile Luković Kum, but I’ve learned about them only after Zoran Đinđić was assassinated”.
Tanja Spasojević, a widow of the Zemun gang leader Dušan Spasojević killed during the operation “Saber”, told in front of Special Court, at the trial against Nenad Opačić, owner of football club Veternik, that her husband was engaged in football players’ transfer-sales, not in drug dealings.
Tanja Spasojević attestation in front of Special Court: “Neša visited occasionally Dušan even without his wife. They conversed due to football. As far as I know, my husband Dušan was not involved in drugs, he didn’t use any drugs, he was into trade, football players’ transfer, he traded with oil and cars”.
Ivan Ćurković, Partizan football club president from 1989-2006: With license, they could negotiate. How could they negotiate? They could negotiate for players, like I said before. They never negotiated for Partizan. They served as a connection. They said: Yes, that could do, but perhaps you would allow them to sign…What it would be before there was an official contact, what it would be, how much? Are they interested? How much? Then a sum was estimated, which was around 350,300, 200…from 100 to 1 million dollars at that time. And then they said: OK, for me it’s…both those with the license and without one. Here, you will give me 1%. Of course, those with the license were managers, they knew exactly what the tariff was and that’s how they got it. And that was the contact, those were the managers working with the club. Today you have…In practice, there is no player without a manager of his own. And that’s a big problem because they want to take him away, sometimes when the player is 17 years old, or 18, before he signs his professional contract etc. That’s how it came to, one…a disorder in everything. But, FIFA has everything under control, investigation all suspicious cases and that’s where we can complain.
Until 2001, FIFA issued licenses to managers but in March 2001, FIFA decided to transfer jurisdiction licenses to national football associations, hence Serbian Football Association became responsible for licensing managers. Interestingly, when FIFA was issuing licenses, there were only 10 managers from Serbia, while in the past years, Serbian Football Association issued 90 licenses.
B92: How it is possible that criminals became managers?
Dragan Aca Bulić, president of the First League Association: That’s the question for Serbian Football Association. It’s possible. Everything is possible in this country, so it’s possible that…Simply, you have an exam, so if you pass that exam, you can become a manager. Anyone can. Anyone can be…
B92: Well, not anyone can. The status regulates that a person with criminal record cannot become a manager.
Dragan Aca Bulić: Then he cannot become.
In the rule book about players’ agents of Serbian Football Association, regarding license requirements, under article 3, this is cited: “In order to obtain a license, a person should file a written application to Serbian Football Association. A person is eligible to file the application if he/she holds a Serbian citizenship, has a residence in the Republic of Serbia, and holds the residence in continuum for at least two years. In addition to the particular requirements from this rule book, a license candidate has to fulfill the following general conditions: he/she is not convicted of felony or under investigation. These conditions require a certificate from an authorized court”.
Serbian daily journals have often written about suspicious past of the brothers Asanović, who are presently FIFA licensed managers. Nenad and Predrag Asanović are known to the public as the brothers Bambalić, and their licenses were issued by Serbian Football Association. According to daily journals, the brothers Bambalić, after tempestuous and violent past, withdraw and entered legal businesses. In the past years, they have been working as sports managers and they presently represent several famous football players. Their names are not connected with a series of gunfights during the 1990’s but they have stayed in contact with some of the most powerful men in the Serbian mafia. Afterwards, they were not heard off, except they are mentioned in White Book by the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs as a connection to Predrag Tarbuk from Novi Sad, who is a leader of local gang suspected of steal and resell of stolen vehicles. Nevertheless, last year Nenad Asanović was badly wounded by an unknown perpetrator, while he was having a drink with a Red star player Nikola Trajković, in his bar Bambino. He is an influential manager: when Dragan Stojković Piksi became a Red Star director, Nenad Asanović, along with Rajo Božović was among the first invited. In 2005, Nikola Trajković, as the best player in the league, transferred from Zeta to Red Star, through Rajo Božović. Football players represented by the brothers Asanović, known in public as the brothers Bambalić, mostly come from Red Star and Čukarički: Pavle Ninkov and Đorđe Tuturić from Čukarički, Nikola Blažić and Nikola Trajković from Red Star.
Ivan Ćurković, Partizan football club president from 1989-2006: Firstly, there were licenses issued by FIFA, they were hard to get. You had to put in pledge 250 000 Swiss franks and to pass an exam. So, before everything else, you had to put down 250 000 Swiss franks, which wasn’t easy. So, there were very few managers with FIFA licenses. Then, a democratization of license came in, FIFA cancelled it. FIFA “cancelled” that detail, and everybody with the passed test could become a manager with the national football association. And it exploded.
The fact is there are many more sports managers in Serbia at present than in the past, when FIFA issued licenses. Did FIFA made a mistake by allowing national associations to issue licenses for sports managers?
Lenard Johanson, UEFA president from 1990-2007: No, they couldn’t keep everything under control, that whole system. In my opinion, who can forbid someone to have a personal adviser in closing a contract? A 15 year old boy and his parents pushing him to be a professional, to earn some money, if they would offer to you or to me to be his agent, if there are agents with criminal past, we have to consider that if they were punished and have served their sentences, they are not criminals any more.
In addition to FIFA licensed managers who consequently operate by law, there are others without a license but nevertheless have their own players.
Dragan Aca Bulić, president of First League Association: I think that the players are to blame for accepting these kinds of arrangements and deals, and then later they complain about not liking the decisions they have made themselves. By that time, it’s usually too late. I don’t believe a club has any influence.
Members of the so-called Keka gang, a criminal organization known to the police for years, have, according to unofficial but the police confirmed information, two of their players in Red Star football club. These are Vladimir Stojković and Dejan Milovanović. These football players have a private agreement that assumes that the members of Keka gang will get their own part of the share in transfer. Stojković was sold to Nantes in France for 2.5 million euros while Milovanović still plays football in Red Star. Milovanović, in his interview to Insider, claims however, he does not know who members of the Keka gang are and that he never heard about it. “This is the first time I heard about it. I really don’t know what this is all about. I have my manager in Switzerland for years”, says Milovanović.
As a reminder, several daily journals- Politika, Blic and Pres, have written in December last year about the Keka gang having their own football players, without citing the names but specifying they come from one of the largest football club in Serbia.
Dragan Aca Bulić, president of First League Association: As far as the mentioned gang, I am not aware they own any of the players. I don’t believe this is true- what media were writing about this case.
B92: So you think it’s not true?
Dragan Aca Bulić: I know it’s not true.
B92: But wait a minute, according to the police information, it is true.
Dragan Aca Bulić: How shall I explain this to you? It is very possible that someone from that gang lives in the same neighborhood as some of the football players of Partizan or Red Star or any other club. Perhaps they hang out privately, their relationship being totally outside football. It is very possible they have tried to gain access through those players to other players and maybe to control transfers or control players of Red Star and Partizan or whatever, but I think this just didn’t happen.
According to the police, the Keka gang was formed by certain Dejan; the gang initiation required that a member already killed or attempted to kill someone. For man years, this gang was in war with another gang, led by deceased Stevan Jezdimirović Jezda, over dominance of the New Belgrade territory. This war caused many killings and woundings. The core activities of this gang are murders, attempted murders, rape, robbery, shakedown, blackmail, violence, car stealing, return of the stolen vehicles with ransom, drug dealings. At that time, in addition to covering New Belgrade, they were present in Zvezdara too. They are well organized, armed, aggressive and ruthless group, which, when in conflict with the competing gangs and individuals performs assassinations. The group members are suspected of felonies, attempted murders and murders in Belgrade. According to the conclusion in White Book by the Serbian police about this gang, for the most of suspected felonies charges remained without final verdicts, hence the perpetrators are free. This group is led by a young man from New Belgrade, noted in White Book. Loyalty bonds the group together: the guys from New Belgrade are loyal only to each other so the police cannot access anyone from the group.
Božidar Cerović, Red Star Board member from 2001-2005: There were cases with such arrangements. We have tried to avoid it, I personally disliked it strongly. It’s not for the benefit of a player nor a club since it makes you in a way dependant. This will not be solved by privatization either, because the same system will…As long as there is a possibility for a connection like this, it will cause a problem. In practice, this is really not good, for you do not dispose of a player, that is, of his contract, his obligations and rights agreed in the contract…So, in a case of transfer, such player has obligations towards those, then you cannot get the full amount etc. That’s why this is not good for a club or for player, since he then does not dispose of his own income…
In order to achieve a better transfer price, a player should be playing football in the first team, and later on in the national team. It is then the pressure starts to build to influence a national team selector, for everybody tries to insert his own player. Clubs’ boards, coaches and football communities are aware of this but keep quiet. At the end, when the national team members become known, many are surprised but everything end with just commentaries. No one was ever legally blamed due to substantial financial interests.
Mladen Stojovic, a journalist of Danas and Vijesti: There were several interesting situations…at one of the largest stadiums in Serbia, in Belgrade, once a man showed up, suspected of being a member, that is, of being a head of one gang…and then he talks over the phone with someone, and at the same time at the other side of the football field, you see a coach turning, someone is addressing him, he raises his head, looks in the direction of the man, the man threatens with his finger, and afterwards the coach makes a change in his team…
Božidar Cerović, Red Star Board member from 2001-2005: That is.. .That can happen. We had similar situations, everybody had. They say it reaches to the national team, too. But I cannot claim “It surely is like that”. Again, this is the issue of organization. If a club is strong enough and organized, if the association is strong and organized well enough, this will not happen. If, on the other hand, you are in disorganized environment, like the one from the 1990’s, without a real motivation to contribute the clubs development, then you become very vulnerable, under various pressures, like this, or even political, for instance.
Dragomir Tanović, football referee and inspector for industrial criminal: Here, no one yet controls source of money. So, all the money entering sports right now, entering football as well, is not controlled for. In Western countries, football is an important institution and seen as production. And why ? It’s simple, those kids growing up, from children in the range of 9, 10, 12 years old, are being bought off by managers. So, if a player is bough at that age for let’s say 1000 euros, his price at the time of his transfer to seniors, will be a hundred times more. And that’s where the investment is, the interest of the people entering football.
B92: And who is responsible for this, is it Serbian Football Association, or the state, I mean who is in control?
Dragomir Tanović: No one.
B92: I don’t understand it. How is it possible that no one is in control?
Dragomir Tanović: Unfortunately, that’s possible here. Everything is possible in Serbia. There should be an institution supervising issues within Serbian Football Association, which should control these issues too.
The operation “Saber” was a rare occasion when someone dared to say what was going on in the Serbian football: Vladan Lukić, a former Red Star player and official of Belgrade Football Association, gave an interview to Blic News. He said that in general, football organizations did not have legal possibilities to reckon with criminals.
Vladan Lukić, Red Star former player: Various businessmen, mafia people and politicians alike threaten even by physical violence. We couldn’t confront them. No one wanted to risk his own life. Football clubs, which survived exclusively on selling players, were losing a lot of money due to so-called “privately owned” players. I heard that, in the past several years, almost all the players who went abroad to play, had to give half of money away to some criminals, businessmen, call them as you wish. This refers to the players of all Serbian clubs, including the largest ones.
Nebojša Leković, Serbian Football Association, Blic News 2003: Everybody was afraid for his own life. People employed at football clubs would lose their lives if they publicly revealed about what was going on. It was enough to see who is seated in honorary lodges. They were taken by the most famous criminals but also some politicians. That strange mix, the whole situation within the society, many unsolved murders at the end, discouraged every attempt to publicly rebel against these things.
Ivan Ćurković, Partizan football club president from 1989-2006: In an environment where an individual can rise to popularity and fame very quickly, where money circles around, where you can gain an authority and reputation, in all these businesses there is also the other side of the story called- you’ve called it mafia…meaning those who benefit from it, who pass through gates. That’s why in a normal state, that’s why I always say and argue for…That’s why there must be a police in normal state, to control others, financial polite to control with constant controls. I mean, all the time at all levels. So, in sports too, there is such a thing, you could say there is, you know? If it is, you cannot, you know, when you analyze clubs, when you analyze who is there etc. Of course, murders…But, this is so omnipresent in our society that you cannot get rid of it.
Paolo Nicoletti, vice commissioner in Investigation Office of the Italian Football Federation, states for Insider that every state has to avoid that criminal influences sports, since this is the most dangerous thing that can happen to a state.
Paolo Nicoletti, vice commissioner in Investigation Office of the Italian Football Federation: My thesis is that a state should control, and that sports is not dangerous because it deliberately attracts organized criminal, but because, being a fantastic mechanism of positive, pure communication, could be used in various causes, including that of organized criminal, which needs a support. Support raising is an instrument which could be used by various people involved, including those in organized criminal, and that’s why a state has to avoid these structures being infiltrated into sports. In this situation, sport is more of a victim than a participant. This implies a need for a determined intervention by police, criminal jurisdiction and state.
Football mafia is a frequent subject of discussion in Serbia, but in addition to Svetlana Ražnatović, a widow of Željko Raznatović Arkan, who is accused of illegal transfers of the football players in Obilić, no one was ever arrested for it, even though a large sums of money circle in this sport through players transfers, betting places and match-fixing. “Private” football players became a subject only after the police in the operation “Saber” discovered that Dušan Spasojević gave 1 million euros to Svetlana Ražnatović, president of football club Obilić, and hence became a co-owner of the club.
ŽarkoNikolić, former president of football club Obilić: Problems started to accumulate after Željko Raznatović was killed. Four months after his death, I warned the entire management of football club Obilić, secretary and the rest from the club, that the players transfers, sold when Arkan was alive, were only partially paid off while the rest should be paid in 2000, and that Ceca Ražnatović, with her sister Lidija, in March, in February-March, took and deposited on her private accounts in Cyprus several millions of German marks, and that we ask from the management to schedule a meeting, to call Ceca Ražnatović and her sister, and Svetlana Poletan, who was brought into this by Ceca (her friend at that time). All three of them have worked on the players’ transfers.
In addition of being involved in the players’ transfer, Stanislava Čočoroska-Poletan is accused in Macedonia for smuggling of almost half of a tone of cocaine. In 2007, Stanislava Poletan was arrested in Belgrade and extradited to Macedonia. Her husband is Ranko Poletan, former captain of Željko Raznatović Arkan “SDG “.
Žarko Nikolić, former president of football club Obilić: Until March, Ceca used to come to the club with weapons, in her jeep and her godfather Pelević, who was a self-proclaimed general of SDB, Arkan’s deputy or something. You know what kind of weapons SDB had at disposal. They went through the city with rotational lights, in every jeep there were 10 weapons of all kinds, with several heavily-armed men. That’s how they went into the stadium.
Žarko Nikolić, former president of football club Obilić, in a written form informed Yugoslav Football Association about the illegal players transfer. In 2002, as Obilić’s president, Nikolić requested from Branko Bulatović that Obilić players going into foreign clubs- Lazetić, Šarac, Kovačević and Zorić- do not get certificate approval for transfers. Žarko Nikolić claims that Branko Bulatović was afraid of Svetlana Ražnatović and the Zemun gang, and that is the reason why, subsequently in spite of the ban, he illegally issued certificates to Svetlana Ražnjatović for the players transfer.
At the end of 1990’s and in 2000, more than ten Obilić players went abroad without any compensation shown in the clubs books, ran in this period firstly by Željko Raznatović and then by Svetlana Ražnatović. The players left the club with a certificate stating they are leaving the club without compensation. These certificates were regularly issued by Yugoslav Football Association. In this way, no money legally entered the club, and the state was left without the tax, which could be charged from the transfers worth many million euros. And while the players officially left the club as freelancers, the leaders of Obilić charged abroad every euro of their value. Foreign clubs, most of the time aware what was going on, paid the agreed amounts of money, instructed by managers, into accounts registered abroad. An account where the money was transferred was registered in Cyprus, at the name of Svetlana Ražnatović’s sister. Svetlana Ražnatović returned a part of these assets into the club, as donations. According to the criminal charge, filed in 2003, Svetlana Ražnatović so illegally gained more than 11 million euros.
Žarko Nikolić, after he had found out that the transfer money does not reach the club, tried to charge a payment for Ivan Vukomanović’s transfer to Bordeaux through the club’s account. Debt of one million euros should have reached Obilić in mid 2000, however, the Bordeaux president told Nikolić to discuss conditions for money transfer further with Ranko Stojić, manager and mediator in this transfer.
Žarko Nikolić, former president of football club Obilić: On the 8th, I talked with Ranko Stojić, who was a manager for this money transfer, and he openly told me he has to discuss it with Ceca, for he won’t risk his life and or troubles over it. I said: ”What’s Ceca got to do with Obilić ? Obilić is a state enterprise where I’m the president and she has no role in this”. At the end, she charged the million.
Ranko Stojić was Obilić’s manager at that time. He had FIFA license and today he is considered as one of the best football managers. He had a firm in France and Belgrade. Today, he owns football club Rad. He refused an interview with Insider. However, in 2000, police departments from several European countries but also media investigated the Obilić’s players transfer in Holland, France and Belgium. As it tuned out, all the foreign clubs who bought the players from Obilić, paid the transfers in cash, contrary to FIFA rules, which regulates that money has to transfer through banks. At the time of sanctions, football clubs smoothly sold players without tax payments. Today, they avoid tax payment by double invoicing-double contracts, reducing the real amount of money paid for a player; at that time, they were bringing money into bags and sacks. Žarko Nikolić was in charge for transfer of money while Željko Raznatović Arkan was alive.
Žarko Nikolić: I want to pick up money, or it was brought over by those who sold the players. So…
B92: So, everything went from hand to hand?
Žarko Nikolić: FIFA’s managers. One of them was Ranko Stojić, who, at one time in Dusseldorf, gave me 4.5 million German marks for Grozdić. I brought that money to Belgrade, that is, Arkan and Ceca waited for on an a gas station, Rodić’s gas station, they were waiting for me, there was a restaurant there, and I was with 3 cars, so, there were around 10 of us…One car up front, one at behind, I was in the middle, so, 10 around people were involved, who escorted the money from Dusseldorf to Belgrade, the money I brought in.
B92: And whom did you pay tax on it?
Žarko Nikolić: And I handed over the money…I had a dinner there, with Ceca, Arkan and those people around that were with me (10 of us), and from there we headed for Belgrade, came in front of Arkan’s house, brought in the bag with money, and left the money in his house. And Ceca took the bag and took it to the first floor. There you go.
B92: OK, but how do you pay tax?
Žarko Nikolić: Well, then I wasn’t a president, it was Arkan, and Ceca…And I was a vice president when I brought in that money.
Football club Obilić so sold its players, represented in the books as they have left the club without compensation, all with the approval of the then Football Association. The players appeared not as sold but as loaned to others, foreign clubs and this was one of the ways how football clubs damaged the state budget.
Žarko Nikolić, former president of football club Obilić: No foreign currency commerce. We did not gain anything by the players transfer. Allegedly, our players play as loaned, free of charge. There is a note in the police, they will give it to you.
B92: This means the police didn’t discover you brought in those 4.5 million in cash.
Žarko Nikolić, former president of football club Obilić: That’s right! Actually, that money, those 4.5 million should have been taxed with 28%, which was the sales tax rate in this country.
B92: So, have you reported this or what?
Žarko Nikolić, former president of football club Obilić: The criminal charge I filed states I have tried to protect the state for its tax, and to protect myself, but that I have failed on both. This says in the criminal charge I filed against Ceca. And Ceca is still free today. She was not convicted.
B92: So, this means the other football clubs did the same?
Žarko Nikolić: Yes, all of them, normally, if they didn’t report.
B92: So, they said they just loaned the players and that they haven’t…
Žarko Nikolić: I don’t know who’ saying what. I am…
B92: But, it functions in this way? That’s what I’m asking.
Žarko Nikolić: I revealed to the police how mafia operates, and they have tracked, to the last penny, how much money Ceca usurped.
B92: But you also have participated in these illegal actions?
Žarko Nikolić: No, I haven’t, I have, as a vice president of Obilić, brought that money in, but I didn’t…They should have paid the tax, pay to the state everything necessary. They should have brought that money to the club’s cash register, to…as I have asked for, to the club’s account, every payment for the players transfer should have gone though the bank account.
Svetlana Ražnatović, Arkan’s widow, was arrested on March 17th in 2003 in the operation “Saber”. She was firstly suspected of connection with the Zemun gang in the assassination of the Serbian Prime Minister, Zoran Đinđić, then for illegal weapon possession, found in her home. After the arrest, her sister Lidija was also detained, the investigation expanded also to abuse of power regarding the suspicious transfers of 15 football players from Obilić. There were ten addendums of the criminal procedure, but the procedure is still in effect. During this time, the ruling politicians publicly amnestied Svetlana Ražnatović.
Everything regarding business endeavors of the two largest football clubs, Red Star and Partizan, but also about Serbian Football Association, will be revealed in the next episode of Insider.