Published in Nacional number 728, 2009-10-27

Autor: Plamenko Cvitić

A CONSPIRACY of silence at the Interior Ministry

'The police are concealing who pulled the plug on Pukanic's protection'

THERE HAS BEEN A YEAR of bickering and insinuations in the police force about who is to blame for not registering the criminals and many months of preparations for the assassination of Ivo Pukanic and Niko Franjic, and the responsibility for withdrawing the police protection enjoyed by the owner of Nacional, which only helped the criminals see through their intentions, has not been established

ABANDONED AFTER THREE MONTHS Pukanic photographed in the company of police officers at the celebrations of the 300th issue of the Extra magazine in late April 2008, not long after the first attempt on his life; in July the police withdrew their protection
ABANDONED AFTER THREE MONTHS Pukanic photographed in the company of police officers at the celebrations of the 300th issue of the Extra magazine in late April 2008, not long after the first attempt on his life; in July the police withdrew their protection There has been bickering and insinuations for a year now about the issue of who it was in the institutions of the national administration that is responsible for last year's death of newspaper publisher Ivo Pukanic and marketing professional Niko Franjic.

The brutal explosion in downtown Zagreb most vividly demonstrated the fact that there had been serious omission in the police and intelligence services, because they failed to register in time that a group of criminals had entered Croatia and organised the liquidation of Ivo Pukanic.

Not one of the competent agencies or institutions managed to detect the many months of preparations for this horrendous crime, and by its decision to pull the plug on Pukanic's protection the police only helped the criminals see through their heinous plan. These facts have been doggedly concealed and hushed up by the police for a year now, rather than give the Croatian public a clear answer as to who was responsible for the deaths of Pukanic and Franjic.

Besides the police, who failed thoroughly in the entire matter, no one has ever established the level of responsibility that lies with the Security & Intelligence Agency (SOA), in whose work there were also serious oversights - although it is their chief mission, SOA operatives failed to discover that Zeljko Milovanovic, a war criminal who was the subject of an Interpol warrant requested by Croatia, had been in the Croatian capital for months.

In Zagreb he hooked up with Robert Matanic, an international hit man who was under no police or security monitoring when he returned to Croatia from a Bulgarian prison in the spring of last year. The SOA also failed to register the creation of a multi-member criminal group that tailed Pukanic for months, and Slobodan Durovic, the right hand of Serbian crime boss Sreten Jocic, was in Croatia on several occasions without their knowledge of the fact.

Non of this was registered by the SOA, whose chief task it is to monitor such things, and then this agency for months sent the Interior Ministry their security evaluation that there was no threat to the life of Ivo Pukanic. On 23 October 2008, this group succeeded in carrying out an act of terrorism in downtown Zagreb, without the SOA have any prior indication that something of this nature could happen. It was a serious oversight by the then leadership of the police force, which made no serious effort to investigate the first attempt on Pukanic's life in April 2008 until his death.
On the orders of senior police staff the police's investigators spent less time investigating the first attempt on Pukanic's life, and demonstrated considerably more interest in investigating the demented accusations of Pukanic's former wife Mirjana and her allies.

Ivo Pukanic received a measure of satisfaction posthumously only late last year, when the State Attorney's Office finally rejected all of her accusations against him, but no one has ever established who was responsible for the fact that the investigations into the first assassination was for months on the backburner, because - as Nacional has learned from reliable sources - then General Police Director Marijan Benko and his deputy Ivan Nad did not at all take the first attempt on Pukanic's life seriously, and succumbed to the general opinion that Pukanic had concocted the entire affair.

As a result of this attitude the two adopted in last July of last year what is certainly the most shocking decision - to pull the plug on Ivo Pukanic's police protection, whereby he was de facto delivered to the mercy of his executors. It is clear now that even during the time he was under police protection that the police had been negligent and formalist, because none of the police officers that for a time protected Pukanic day and night noticed that he was being monitored and tailed the entire time by a group of criminals who a few months later did in fact take his life. For months they even circled him in cars, to which some of the participants of the conspiracy have now testified to.

The shameful and erroneous decisions made by high-ranking police officers have to this day been kept from the Croatian public for unclear reasons - the same evening Ivo Pukanic and Niko Franjic were killed, the newly-appointed Interior Minister Tomislav Karamarko told a press conference that Pukanic's police protection had been recalled in consultation with Pukanic.TOMISLAV KARAMARKO was at the helm of the Security & Intelligence Agency while international criminals spent months in Zagreb preparing the assassination of Pukanic
TOMISLAV KARAMARKO was at the helm of the Security & Intelligence Agency while international criminals spent months in Zagreb preparing the assassination of Pukanic

The Nacional editorial office vehemently denied that this had been the case the very next morning, because Pukanic's colleagues had known that he had expressed his disapproval as early as last summer over the reports that his police protection would be recalled, and then unwillingly resigned himself to it, and that he again in early October requested the police again provide him with a protection detail he was never again afforded. Pukanic's colleagues at Nacional also spent months conducting a private investigation in which they spoke with a number of riot unit police officers, who all denied the claim that Pukanic had tried to avoid them while under their protection.

Nevertheless, by early July police inspector Domagoj Anic tried to get him to agree to the recall of the protection detail. Pukanic resisted the idea, but gave in in the end, not wanting to antagonise the police, and at the same time naively believing that the recall of direct protection was a good sign. "If they are recalling my protection, that means that the investigation into the first attempt on my life is near its end and that I am no longer in danger," Pukanic told his colleagues at the editorial office at the time.

And while, after the murder of Pukanic, the press and politicians were for days told by the police that Pukanic had been "difficult to protect" and that he had "fled from his police bodyguards," which was an attempt to diminish the police's responsibility for the brutal execution, Minister Tomislav Karamarko and Police General Director Vladimir Faber ordered an internal investigation with the aim of establishing the real reasons Pukanic's police protection was recalled.

Nacional's sources among top ranking police officials confirmed last weekend that an internal investigation was led in November of last year, but that the responsibility for the poor judgment was spread out over a dozen people who took part in making the decision and that the final outcome was that there was no knowledge of a possible threat to Ivo Pukanic.

Some police officials who were last year involved in the entire affair point out that in terms of hierarchical responsibility the greatest role was played by then Deputy Police Director Ivan Nad, Marijan Benko's right hand man. The Zagreb police administration, which operatively covered the Pukanic case, was at the time, after the sacking of police chief Marijan Tomurad, led by Ivica Tolusic, who was replaced at the post by the middle of September of 2008 by Branko Peran. And while he told Nacional last weekend that the decision to recall the police protection was made by the head of the Zagreb police administration, former Police General Director Marijan Benko is allegedly the most responsible for the decision.

In a short telephone conversation his former deputy Ivan Nad said only that, as Benko's deputy, he had very clear authorities and that the decision to recall Pukanic's protection was "not made by Nad, but by the entire team." Ivica Tolusic, on whom some of the actors of the events have tried to load all of the responsibility, vehemently denied this. "The Zagreb police did not make the decision to introduce the protection measures, and could therefore not have recalled it. The decision on that was made by the Police General Directorate. As far as I can remember, I got the decision on the recall in writing from the Police General Directorate."

Then Interior Minister Berislav Roncevic played a certain role in the Pukanic case, who in fact did not wish to meddle in expert evaluations. According to Nacional's high-ranking police source he at least once rejected General Police Director Benko's who wanted the minister to adopt a decision on recalling the protection measures for Ivo Pukanic. "I am not going to deal with that, it's your job," Roncevic allegedly told Marijan Benko in mid July. According to Nacional's sources, the final decision to scrap the round-the-clock protection for Pukanic was made at a meeting of the headquarters staff meeting held in late July of last year at the General Police Directorate. The meeting was led by Benko's deputy Ivan Nad, and an official record of the meeting was drafted that the police leadership continues to this day to keep from the public, and it is also not known who signed the document.

MARIJAN BENKO was the General Police Director and claims that the Zagreb police, then led by Ivica Tolusic, was responsible for recalling the protection
MARIJAN BENKO was the General Police Director and claims that the Zagreb police, then led by Ivica Tolusic, was responsible for recalling the protection At the meeting, like at several earlier ones, then Police General Director Marijan Benko and his deputy Ivan Nad spoke in favour of pulling the plug on Pukanic's protection, and did so on the basis of the opinion that there had in fact been no attempt on his life in April. The fact that the police never made public a photofit of the person that had attempted the assassination, whereby it made it entirely impossible for possible witnesses and citizens who might have information about the attempted crime, supports this theory.

Last week, Nacional sought an answer from the current Police General Director, but police chief Krunoslav Borovec only repeated the now year-old police line that the decision to scrap the protection was made by a group of some ten people and that it had been difficult to protect Ivo Pukanic. This was also the response to the repeated query from Nacional that the Police General Directorate finally provide a detailed explanation on the recall of Pukanic's protection.

Unfortunately, the Nacional editorial office received a new shameful answer this Monday. "Dear sir, In regard to your query we remind you that we issued an official statement concerning the police protection of Ivo Pukanic on 24 October 2008, in which we stated 'Taking into consideration the dignity of the victim, we do not wish to speak about the details of conducting measures for the security of the late Ivo Pukanic, but wish to reiterate that the decision on a change in the scope of the security was adopted by a headquarters staff meeting that included the representatives of the Police General Directorate and the Zagreb Police Administration, on the basis of all relevant security data available to the police, in the process of which Mr. Pukanic himself was contacted on several occasions. Primary consideration was given to information concerning the conduct of measures of physical protection in the previous period in adopting this decision. The security measures for Ivo Pukanic were not recalled, but rather relaxed, respecting thereby the wish expressed by Mr. Pukanic that his private and other obligations be respected.

We reiterate, therefore, that as a result of the lifestyle and daily rhythm of Ivo Pukanic it was not possible to conduct constant direct police protection because Ivo Pukanic, without providing prior notification to the police officers responsible for his protection, carried out a great number of daily activities and contacts, which is contrary to measures of direct physical protection. We are unable to inform you of the composition of the headquarters staff that decided on the type and method of conducting measures of police protection towards Ivo Pukanic, as making public this information would violate Article 7 of the Ordinance on the confidentiality of official data of the Ministry of the Interior."

To the oral question concerning claims that then Deputy Police General Director Ivan Nad, by hierarchy the most responsible at the time, based the decision on the conclusion that the attempted murder of Ivo Pukanic in April had not actually taken place, Krunoslav Borovec of the Police General Directorate would say only that "This is not in the documentation." And while, it appears, that there are no written traces of it, common sense reveals the disgracefulness of the opinions held by the then leading police officials.

Had they believed that the first attempt on Pukanic's life had in fact taken place, and had they investigated it as the profession dictates, they could not have four months later claimed that there was no threat to Pukanic's life, because they would be aware that they had not up to that point succeeded in identifying and arresting the person who carried out the attempt and the principals behind it, as only that would have eliminated an immediate threat to his life.

When Minister Karamarko and General Police Director Faber learned of the results of the internal investigation, which established that Ivan Nad and Ivica Tolusic were the most responsible for recalling the protection, they could not do anything formally, because there are no regulations or procedures to this day within the police force dealing with police protection of threatened citizens, so that there was no way that anyone could have been subjected to disciplinary measures for a misjudgement with far-reaching, i.e. fatal consequences. Karamarko and Faber were not even able to degrade their colleagues as this had - for other reasons - already been done by their predecessors Berislav Roncevic and Marijan Benko.

Benko dismissed Ivan Nad, his deputy at the Police General Directorate and the head of the Crime Police, back on 12 September of last year, and Nad was quietly transferred to the Central Bureau of the Customs Administration at the post of Assistant Director, i.e. the head of the Supervision Service. He remains at this post to this day, and just two weeks ago was appointed by the Jadranka Kosor Government to be a member of an inter-ministerial working group for the integrated administration of the country's borders.

Nad, who was for two years the deputy to Police General Director Marijan Benko, was the operative leader of headquarter staffs in most major police cases, although among police officials it is often held that his misjudgements often caused Benko major embarrassment. It is Nad in fact that is held to be responsible that Davor Zecevic was liquidated in December of 2007, because he was not under police surveillance, even though the police allegedly knew that a contract was out on his life.

According to some sources Nad was not valued much among police officers themselves because, in April of last year, some of his poor judgements in the capture of Ivan Korade led to the death of police officer Mario Kusanic. By all accounts one of his last grave errors of judgement was the one concerning the threat to the life of Ivo Pukanic. According to some sources he was not alone in making poor evaluations - his superior, Police General Director Marijan Benko, who was sacked in early October, shared his line of thinking.
Only a few days after Nad was given the pink slip the same fate awaited Ivica Tolusic.

BERISLAV RONCEVIC was the Interior Minister at the time, and Nacional has learned that he at least once rejected Benko's request that he recall the protection
BERISLAV RONCEVIC was the Interior Minister at the time, and Nacional has learned that he at least once rejected Benko's request that he recall the protection After only three months as Director of the Zagreb Police Administration, Tolusic was sacked a day after the beating of Josip Galinac, i.e. just hours before the launch of police Operation Indeks. After being dismissed from the top job on the Zagreb police force, Tolusic was transferred to another police job - since then he has been the head of the Operations & Communications Centre at the Police General Directorate. And while it is now quite clear that the police evaluations of the level of threat to the life of Ivo Pukanic were completely off the mark, no one can say for sure why they took so light-hearted an attitude towards Pukanic's requests that they protect his life, i.e. why they did not believe that someone had in fact tried to kill him in April of last year.

If one disregards any possible personal animosity towards Ivo Pukanic, which, had it been present, any professional police officer should suppress, the reasons should perhaps be sought in statements made by some sources, according to which the country's leading police officers simply did not want to deal with the great number of media houses then ridiculing Pukanic and referring to the first attempt on his life as concocted and bogus. Present at the meetings that discussed the direct police protection of Pukanic on behalf of the State Attorney's Office was Mladen Bajic's deputy Dragan Novosel, who could have asked the police to step up their efforts in the investigation of the attempted homicide or opposed the recall of the protection.

It is clear today that, besides some of the press, some public figures, people like Ivo Banac or Sanja Saravanka, made statements and undertook concrete actions that directly obstructed the investigation into the first attempt on Pukanic's life without ever have answered for their actions - before a court of law or the Croatian public. In any event, the irresponsible actions of these people contributed to the tragic murders of Ivo Pukanic and Niko Franjic and significantly hampered and slowed the investigation of the entire matter.

This becomes all the more evident when one takes into consideration that it was only after the sacking of Benko, Nad and Tolusic that the investigation into the explosion in downtown Zagreb was broadened to include to re-opening of the investigation into the first attempt on Ivo Pukanic's life. This investigation then revealed a number of proofs that indicate that both attempts on Pukanic's life were organised and executed by the same group of criminals. Had top police officials then done their job properly and responsibly, the criminals might have already been apprehended after the first attempt, and the lives of their innocent victims spared.

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