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Sunday, April 30, 2000

All President's (Dead) Men

Vlada Kovacevic Tref (1958-1997)

The murder of Vlada Kovacevic was the first in a series of assassinations of people who were very close to Slobodan Milosevic. Radovan Stojicic Badza, Zoran Todorovic Kundak and the Minister of Defense Pavle Bulatovic were assassinated after Vlada Kovacevic. But unlike Badza, Kundak and Bulatovic, Tref (the nickname Tref means club as in the ace of clubs) did not put the president under obligation by any political activity. The connection between the two was the president's mischievous son Marko Milosevic.

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National Class

Vlada Kovacevic began his rise to stardom in 1980 on the Grobnik racetrack near Rijeka (at the time, a city in Yugoslavia, now in Croatia). He drove recklessly and fast and was considered one of the top drivers in the country. He won championship titles on mountain tracks one right after another, the third place on closed circuit racetracks twice and finished first in the drivers' championship of the top stock-car category.

In 1992 he founded the "Tref" sports-car club and racing team. During the next four years, the team won 29 gold, 20 silver and 15 bronze medals. The team also won the top award of the Automobile and Motorcycle Federation of Yugoslavia (AMSJ) - "Zlatna Plaketa".

Friendship With Marko Milosevic

The friendship between Vlada Kovacevic and Marko Milosevic began in 1992 when Tref signed Marko on as a member of the "Tref" racing team. Marko once bragged that his father stopped complaining about his speeding only after he had crashed his eighteenth car. Signing Marko on was a very calculated move because it was almost impossible to tell who was faster - Marko in his car or contributors, like the "Braca Karic" company, who eagerly raced each other in advertising on the presidential car (Marko's). Although the president, his son and Vlada Tref did not like walkers - people who demonstrated against the regime from time to time by walking the main streets in the cities throughout Serbia - they did not mind Johnny Walker as a sponsor. Even Giovanni Di Stefano, a friend of Zeljko Raznatovic Arkan and Radojica Nikcevic, was one of the sponsors. Had not Giovanni Di Stefano been arrested in April 1994 for exchanging currencies on the black market with exchange rates higher than officially allowed, his 70,000 DM ($35,000) sponsorship would not have ever been made public.

We remember a photograph from that time showing Marko hugging his girlfriend, a gun stuck in his belt. The photo was taken in Beranovci, a military camp near Kraljevo (a town in central Serbia) for training drivers of military vehicles, which was also used as a racing track. The photograph was published in the "Telegraf" weekly newspaper whose owner Slavko Curuvija was assassinated on April 11, 1999 in Belgrade during the NATO bombing campaign.

Soon, Vlada Tref and Marko realized that they could expand their successful sports careers to business.

Vlada Tref founded a school of karting in Ada Ciganlija (a recreational part of Belgrade), the "Tref" trading company which had the exclusive right to sell world-known sports gear like Nike, Reebok etc., and the "Tref" car service department in Banovo Brdo (a part of Belgrade). Tref has even been mentioned as one of the founders and shareholders of the "Interspid" shipping company which owned ten other companies in Yugoslavia, four companies abroad, a chain of duty-free shops and a radio and TV station.

The government apparatus controls foreign trade transactions in Yugoslavia (excluding Montenegro and Kosovo at the time being) by issuing various permits, quotas and other regulations. Since Marko Milosevic's father controls the government apparatus, Marko has been a very desirable business "associate".

On the other hand, Marko opened the "Madonna" discotheque at the entrance to "Serbian Kumrovec" (i.e. Pozarevac, the birthplace of Slobodan Milosevic; Kumrovec near Zagreb, Croatia, was the birthplace of Josip Broz Tito, president of Ex-Yugoslavia 1945-1980). He publicly announced that he was assisted by Tref but did not explain what kind of assistance it was. The night sky above Pozarevac has been lit by holograms of the discotheque's name. The discotheque has been renovated every year and its old equipment distributed to discos throughout Serbia. Marko also owns a chain of bakeries and the "Madonna" Internet service provider in Pozarevac, as well as the "Bambyland" amusement center. There have also been rumors about Marko being the owner of the new exclusive perfume shop "Scandal" in the very center of Belgrade.

Except for the involvement in one shooting, Vlada Kovacevic Tref was never mentioned in connection with Belgrade underworld. Owing to his friendship with the president's son, he could always provide for himself exclusive rights to highly profitable jobs and consequently did not have a need for mafia friends.

One of the most profitable jobs in Serbia is the import of cigarettes. The "Nedeljni telegraf" weekly paper, in its February 19, 1997 issue, published the interview with Bozidar Bob Radunovic - the man who controls the cigarette black market in Montenegro - who said: "The airplanes that transport cigarettes for Serbia do not land in Belgrade but in Nis (a city in south-eastern Serbia). From there, the cigarettes are distributed to all parts of Yugoslavia. If you are wondering where the cigarettes on the streets of Serbia come from, you'd better ask Mr. Marko Milosevic... Marko Milosevic is the biggest cigarette dealer in Yugoslavia at the moment. Everybody knows that 'Interspid' is the only company in Yugoslavia that is allowed to import cigarettes."

Twenty-four hours after the interview was published, the owner of "Interspid" - Vlada Kovacevic - was murdered.

Assassination

On February 20, 1997, Tref did everything he had always done on a working day. He arrived at the congressional center "Sava" in Novi Beograd (a part of Belgrade) around 11 a.m. The headquarters of his business empire was inside the center "Sava". He came out of his favorite Jeep and walked toward the technical entrance "A" that is used by the employees of the center "Sava". There he was awaited by the assassin who, according to the witnesses, was a young man wearing a black jacket and who fired four shots. Two shots hit the victim in the throat, the third entered the victim's head between the nose and the mouth, and the fourth was a miss. The murderer then hurried on foot in the direction of the "Hyatt Regency" hotel. Fifteen minutes later, Marko Milosevic, overwhelmed with grief and in tears, arrived at the crime scene.

Of course, as in other similar cases, the assassin has not been discovered. It has been more than three years after the assassination, but the police have not moved much further from the investigation of the crime scene. Or at least, the police have not informed us of any progress being made.

I Want My Part of the Inheritance, You Can't Cheat Me!

Probate proceedings usually follow such murders. Since Tref did not leave a will behind, his second wife Bojana inherited the whole and rather large estate.

Dissatisfied with the division of his patrimony, the 17-year-old A. K., Tref's son from the first marriage, decided to take justice in his own hands. With his two friends, the 19-year-old Filip Gavrilovic and 20-year-old Aleksandar Kostadinovic, Kovacevic Junior waited for Tref's accountant Biljana Stanojkovic in front of the "Sava" center on the night between December 4 and 5, 1998. They followed her in their Honda Prelude all the way to Dusanovac (a part of Belgrade) where they kidnapped her and took her to an apartment in Bezanijska Kosa (another part of Belgrade).

They returned to the center "Sava" around 11 p.m. A. K. went to his father's (now, his stepmother's) company office and greeted the night watchman Bratislav Dacic. After they had exchanged a couple of sentences, the watchman turned his back on Kovacevic Junior who then killed him in cold blood with one shot in the back of the head. He called his accomplices on the mobile phone and they brought Biljana Stanojkovic. After being threatened with a firearm and after witnessing a horrible sight of the watchman's dead body, she immediately opened the main office door with a magnetic card and used her personal code to open the safe. The trio then took seven million German marks ($3.5 million) in large notes out of the safe.

Then they got out taking the loot and Biljana Stanojkovic to the Nemenikuce village near Mladenovac (a town near Belgrade). In the garage of Tihomir Kostadinovic, Aleksandar's uncle, they hid a part of the loot. In all that rush, Aleksandar Kostadinovic managed to wound himself with a firearm.

A. K. and Filip Gavrilovic drove the accountant to the lake Garasko, near Arandjelovac (a town south of Belgrade) and the mountain Bukulja, where they murdered her with three shots in the back of the head.

The police did not have a difficult job discovering the murderers. The company was full of cameras and one floor above the office a folk dancing performance was taking place. Kostadinovic and Kovacevic Junior were arrested but the police did not find the whole loot. It is supposed that Filip Gavrilovic, who is still at large, holds the rest of the loot.

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