Published in Nacional number 701, 2009-04-21

Autor: Berislav Jelinić, Plamenko Cvitić

A secret witness: 'The murder of Ivo Pukanic was ordered by Joca Amsterdam'

SERBIAN MOB BOSS Sreten Jocic is in a hopeless situation as of last Thursday: a mob member turned state's witness has given irrefutable testimony before a Zagreb court accusing him of organising the assassination of Ivo Pukanic

Victim of a targeted terrorist attack in downtown ZagrebVictim of a targeted terrorist attack in downtown ZagrebCroatian investigators have finally achieved a key breakthrough in the investigation into the murders of Ivo Pukanic and Niko Franjic, as they have finally gotten their hands on key evidence on who ordered, and who carried out the assassination on 23 October of last year. This evidence has been verified by the testimony of a secret witness, a person who has never been mentioned to date in the frame of the investigation. So far investigators have put pressure on the arrested Robert Matanic and Slobodan Durovic, offering them leniency in exchange for information. Now that has been done by a person that has not even been mentioned to date, which is a significant success for investigators as they can finally move on to the next phase of the procedure – to arresting the principal organiser. This new phase draws the investigation outside of Croatia's borders.

And this is what the secret witness told investigators last week: "The murder of Ivo Pukanic was ordered and organised by Sreten Jocic aka Joca Amsterdam. He engaged the services of Slobodan Durovic and Robert Matanic for the job, who spent months planning the murder in Zagreb in detail, paid the other members of the criminal group with Jocic's money and assisted in carrying out the liquidation of newspaper publisher Pukanic. Durovic is Jocic's best man and chief operative, who does all of his dirty work for him, while Matanic a few years ago carried out contract killings in Bulgaria for Jocic, and as such also had a major role in the Pukanic case." This sentence, accompanied by many other useful details, was recently uttered before Croatian investigators by the secret witness, a male Croatian national who knows Matanic, Durovic and Jocic personally and was involved with them in various criminal undertakings in the past. His closest ties were with Matanic, and he has provided a series of details about his criminal career that could help in shedding light on some murders in Serbia and Bulgaria.

That this is in fact a real insider, a credible witness whose testimony explains the murder of Ivo Pukanic in great detail, seriously incriminates all of the actors of the criminal group and is to date the single greatest development in the police investigation, is evident from the fact that this person, who has turned state's evidence, was brought to Zagreb for a few hours last Thursday under the highest possible level of security and in complete secrecy. There, before the County Court investigating judge he gave testimony for five hours about all of the details of Pukanic's liquidation, and was then, after his entire testimony was entered into the court file as credible evidence that directly and seriously incriminates Robert Matanic, Slobodan Durovic and Sreten Jocic, taken to a secret location where he is being protected by the police under maximum security measures.

The information on the breakthrough in the investigation of the murder of Ivo Pukanic has also leaked these days to Nacional from among the Zagreb lawyers representing Robert Matanic, Slobodan Durovic, Luka Matanic and Amir Mafalani. Their lawyers were present last Thursday in County Court while the witness was giving his testimony and, according to some sources, the bad news for the actors of the murder, including Sreten Jocic, has made its way to Serbia this weekend. A great deal of nervousness has emerged there in the ranks of the Serbian criminal underworld because some of the mobster's lawyers predict that the next move by the Croatian police could be to issue an international arrest warrant for Sreten Jocic, which could finish in a trial that could see the mob boss condemned to many years behind bars. And, allegedly, just the testimony provided by the Croatian witness could help in shedding light on several liquidations in various countries that had been attributed to Jocic, but for which there had never been sufficient evidence for criminal persecution.

According to the information available to Nacional, several people from the criminal underground have decided to cooperate with the police in the investigation of the murder of Ivo Pukanic and Niko Franjic because they have learned from the criminal underground that Sreten Jocic intends to liquidate all those who could be embarrassing witnesses to himself or Matanic – people that could further implicate them in the Pukanic murder. In these circumstances they have grasped that that the only option open to them is to cooperate with the police in exchange for a certain kind of protection. The state's key witness decided to cooperate with the police after investigators told him of the danger he was in and after consulting with his family.

The secret witness claims that Matanic knew that the victim of the assassination was to be PukanicThe secret witness claims that Matanic knew that the victim of the assassination was to be PukanicAnd while the information on the identity of new witnesses is kept in the utmost secrecy, Nacional has learned that the state's key witness is s criminal who worked mostly with Robert Matanic in the past, but also with other members of the Serbian criminal underground. Since he was a person of Matanic's confidence, when Matanic was released from a Bulgarian prison in May of last year, the witness for the state soon joined him in planning various criminal undertakings, and Matanic later told him of the details of the contract out on Ivo Pukanic. A week after the explosion in downtown Zagreb the police arrested most of the actors, while there had evidently not been enough evidence then to also arrest this witness. Happy to not have also wound up in police detention, as time wore on, he began to believe that there was no danger to him from the police. Which was, in fact, true, but he had no idea that there was danger to him from the other side, that is to say that Sreten Jocic wanted him rubbed out.

When he grasped that his life was hanging on a string he decided to cooperate with the police, partly also because he knew from prior experience that mobsters get rid of all the evidence by eliminating all those that could ever threaten them. And so in the end he decided to cooperate, but under the condition that the Croatian police, the State Attorney's Office and USKOK (Office for the Suppression of Corruption and Organised Crime) guarantee him absolute security and the status of state's witness. According to some sources, Minister Tomislav Karamarko, Police General Director Vladimir Faber, Chief State Attorney Mladen Bajic and USKOK Director Dinko Cvitan have informed a foreign Interpol officer who is responsible in Zagreb for monitoring the entire investigation of this development.

Since he was in great danger until he gave his testimony before the investigating judge, the witness for the state was brought to Zagreb County Court in the utmost secrecy and under heavy security. Then the attorneys representing Robert Matanic, Slobodan Durovic, Luka Matanic and Amir Mafalani were invited to hear the testimony. What followed that afternoon shocked the lawyers who faced detailed claims that seriously incriminate their clients.

At the beginning of the testimony the state's witness told the investigating judge that he personally took part in the preparations made for the assassination of Ivo Pukanic. He said that he had known Robert Matanic for several years, and that he had known him from when he was still active in Bulgaria. He said that Robert Matanic was a paid killer who had taken part in several liquidations in Bulgaria ordered by Sreten Jocic. He spoke of Matanic as a very valued contract killer, who confirmed himself that he had been asked once to assassinate Hrvoje Petrac. The witness said that he had helped Matanic get out of Bulgaria, and corroborated this in great detail by giving precise descriptions of the places they stayed overnight during their trip from Bulgaria to Croatia.

Furthermore, the witness for the state described for the investigating judge how Robert Matanic had told him that the first attempt on Ivo Pukanic's life, on 9 April 2008, sometime before midnight, was also organised by Sreten Jocic. Robert Matanic knows the name of this killer, who came from Serbia, and in discussion with the witness Matanic expressed his amazement that they were unsuccessful in doing the "job". The witness said that Matanic told him after that foiled attempt that he was personally going to work on this brutal act. The witness stated that Matanic had told him in great detail back as early as in May of 2008 who was the intended target of the assassination. Matanic explained to him in detail who Ivo Pukanic was, telling him that he was a well known Croatian journalist and publisher. That detail from the testimony alone reveals that Robert Matanic lied when he told the police that he had no idea up to a few days ahead of the liquidation who was to be killed.
As it was not clear to the witness why Sreten Jocic would want to liquidate Pukanic, he asked Matanic directly. Matanic then told him that Pukanic had gotten into Jocic's bad books many times, but most of all because he had gone too far in writing about the Montenegrin tobacco mob, which Jocic "covers".

The witness stated that Robert Matanic explained for him that it was Sreten Jocic in fact who had sent money to the contracted killers months ahead of time so that everything could be carefully planned out. That does not necessarily mean that Jocic is the direct financer of the murder, because it is possible that other persons from the Montenegrin tobacco mob secured the money.

The witness related how the preparatory discussions for the assassination went, and the way and frequency with which Robert Matanic contacted with Zeljko Milovanovic and Bojan Guduric, the two assassins who are still at large. The testimony precisely describes how frequently Robert Matanic and Slobodan Durovic were in contact concerning the assassination. The witness also stated that he was present during phone calls in which Robert Matanic discussed the assassination directly with Sreten Jocic.

The testimony describes precisely the day when it was decided that Pukanic would be eliminated with the use of explosives, how exactly that would be carried out, and who had made the operative plans to bring the explosives to the courtyard in which the NCL Media Group had its headquarters. There was also allegedly a second plan to liquidate Ivo Pukanic if the bomb assassination should fail.

The secret witness told the coroner an entirely new detail in the investigation concerning the role played by 25-year-old Milenko Kuzmanovic. He said that Kuzmanovic was subordinate to Slobodan Durovic in preparing the assassination. He stated that Kuzmanovic had on several occasions, to monitor preparations for the assassination, been in Zagreb, and that he had even toured the courtyard at No. 40 Vlaska Street, the location of the headquarters of the NCL Media Group. Milenko Kuzmanovic was arrested the same day as the others suspected of having committed the murder, also at the petrol service station in Spacva. Kuzmanovic showed up there a little later than the others, and had not entered Croatia at the same border crossing as had Slobodan Durovic. Initially there had been suspicions that Durovic and Kuzmanovic had only been involved in assisting the getaway for those who had actually carried out the assassination. These charges were later changed, as Matanic had given testimony against Durovic, while the 25-year-old Kuzmanovic, aka Kojot, was released from police detention because of a lack of evidence. Kuzmanovic was in police custody for 55 days – from 29 October to 24 December of 2008. After being released, he was so brash as to decide to sue Croatia for damages. In an interview for the Belgrade Vecernje novosti newspaper Kuzmanovic said that he had "spent almost two months in jail without any evidence against me. The Croatian police fingered me as the driver that was to have made good the flight of Robert Matanic, accused of this double murder. My only sin was to have known Robert for a few years." Judging by the latest development, Kuzmanovic could soon be explaining to police inspectors, under different circumstances, from where and how he knows Robert Matanic.

Judging by the seriousness of the witness' claims, USKOK could this week already request the investigation be broadened to include Sreten Jocic and Milenko Kuzmanovic. Then the State Attorney's Office would send their Serbian colleagues a request for international legal assistance in the case, and it is very likely that the competent Croatian institutions will issue an international warrant for the arrest of Sreten Jocic and Milenko Kuzmanovic, into which Interpol should also be included. This development could cause a great deal of tension in Serbia and Montenegro. The Serbian police will get very solid grounds on which to take Sreten Jocic and Milenko Kuzmanovic into their custody. Which will not be a simple mission for them, as Serbia has to date been very considerate towards Jocic. By next week these circumstances could change dramatically. The Serbian political brass will get an opportunity to demonstrate before its own public, and the Croatian and international public whether their Interior Minister Ivica Dacic and President Boris Tadic were telling the truth when they recently stated that Serbia was firm in its decision to have it out with the mob. With this outcome Croatia would in fact be doing Serbia a great favour. The Croatian police has secured its Serbian colleagues solid evidence that Jocic is in fact a cold-blooded killer, something that has been rumoured for years. In this situation the Serbian police will be able to say that it has nothing to do with it, and blame it all on Croatia. It will have an excuse to actually arrest Jocic and Kuzmanovic. Then Serbia would put the two on trial for the assassination of Pukanic. At the same time the investigation will continue in Croatia, especially in the wake of leads that, besides his ties in the criminal underworld, Robert Matanic maintained ties with some people from the state and business sectors.

It will be very interesting to see what will be going on in Serbia these coming days, especially after Croatia officially issues an international warrant for the arrest of Jocic and Kuzmanovic, and after it makes the new evidence available to the Serbian police. It is possible that no one in Croatia wants yet to officially comment this case precisely because the competent Croatian institutions wish to respect protocol and first inform their Serbian colleagues of all the details. But the bad news for Jocic and Kuzmanovic already made its way to Serbia this weekend as the attorneys who represent the other actors of the Ivo The Chief State Attorney holds solid evidence, verified in court The Chief State Attorney holds solid evidence, verified in court Pukanic murder allegedly informed them.

It could prove to be a very embarrassing fact for Sreten Jocic that, according to some statements, the witness for the state stated that Jocic had during the past half year concealed in Belgrade Pukanic's fugitive assassins – Zeljko Milovanovic and Bojan Guduric. These two will certainly not be able to turn state's witness and barter for their futures with the competent institutions. For the others, Slobodan Durovic and Robert Matanic above all, that race could just be starting. They both know very well who, besides Jocic, could be the real principal behind the assassination, especially if it concerns in part the Montenegrin tobacco mob. But only one of them can be given the status of a state's evidence – the first to divulge all they know about the principals and provide useful evidence in this regard. So far both Matanic and Durovic have kept their lips sealed, most likely in fear of Jocic, as they know best just how dangerous a person he is. But in a situation in which Jocic may wind up spending 40 years behind bars, it is possible that they will change their minds and reveal the remaining unknown details of the background to this monstrous assassination.

Witness for the state in a pyramid

■ According to the information available to the investigation, the witness for the state took part in some of the preparations for the murder of Ivo Pukanic, as a friend and former fellow criminal of Robert Matanic. In the meantime he grasped that he knew too much about the conspiracy and decided to talk in fear of being killed. Besides Jocic, Milenko Kuzmanovic, an accomplice of Durovic's who was first arrested then released in Croatia, can also expect to be the subject of an arrest warrant. He later told the press that he would sue Croatia for damages, claiming to have been illegally detained. But the witness claims that Kuzmanovic monitored Matanic's group for Durovic while they set the groundwork for the murder.

All that remains is the question of who ordered the murder

■ The Croatian police have been successful in uncovering the entire network that organised and carried out the brutal bomb attack in which Ivo Pukanic and Niko Franjic were killed in downtown Zagreb on 23 October of last year.
■ The police have now to issue an international warrant for the arrest of Jocic, who lives at a known address in Serbia. After he is arrested, under suspicion of organising the murder, the question can be opened as to whether there are principals above him who may have ordered the murder.

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