BELGRADE, Serbia, April 15 (UPI) -- A wealthy businessman accused in Republika Srpska as the money man behind its former president Radovan Karadzic and other war-crimes indictees was arrested in Serbia, Belgrade newspapers quoted police sources as saying Tuesday.
Momcilo Mandic, 48, was reportedly arrested on Sunday at a sports stadium along with his son Aleksandar and a bodyguard. Mandic moved to Belgrade in 1993 from Bosnia-Herzegovina's Serb enclave where he had been deputy police minister and justice minister in the previous two years.
Paddy Ashdown, the U.N. High Representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina, said last month that his office's pursuit of Mandic was not to pass judgment on him and his actions but "to disrupt Karadzic's support network in a practical way. If you want to destroy this poisonous tree, you need to strike at its roots."
Karadzic, the bushy-haired Bosnian Serb leader and former psychiatrist, has been indicted by the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, for his alleged direction of murder squads that killed thousands of Bosnian Muslims and Croats during Yugoslavia's bloody break-up along ethnic lines in the 1990s. He and his army chief Ratko Mladic are among the most wanted men in the world.
Reports Tuesday quoted Ashdown spokesman Julian Brightwhite as welcoming the arrest because of Mandic's links to organized crime and war criminals. He said Ashdown had frozen Mandic's financial assets in Bosnia-Herzegovina last month but had no powers to initiate his arrest although he possessed evidence of his criminal activity. Brightwhite described his arrest as "the beginning of an entire process."
Former Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Milorad Dodik had been to Belgrade a few days before the assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic on March 12. He then warned Djindjic and Justice Minister Vladan Batic that Mandic had a group in Republika Srpska connected with members of a paramilitary unit in Serbia known as the Red Berets and founded by ex-Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic's secret service. This, Dodik told the two officials, might pose a threat to the state.
The Red Berets were accused by the police of involvement in the assassination and most of their leaders have so far been arrested. The government dissolved the powerful organization itself shortly after Djindic's assassination, a move it had not previously dared even after Milosevic was ousted in October 2000.
Mandic owns a company, Man-Co, and the Commercial Bank of Serbian Sarajevo. His business worth, an estimated $100 million, has been concerned mainly with trading in oil and other fuels in both Serbia and neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina. Police said he had also invested in the right-wing Belgrade paper Nacional, which the authorities closed down immediately after introducing a state of emergency in the wake of the assassination.
Mandic was recently reported to have said, "There is no shame in owning money. The money I earn in Republika Srpska I bring and invest in Belgrade."
The American ambassador to Bosnia-Herzegovina, Clifford Bond, was quoted by the paper Danas on Tuesday as saying Mandic's assets in the United States had been blocked and he was banned from entering the country.
Serbia's Police Minister Dusan Mihajlovic named Mandic last year as a participant in criminal affairs and financier of Republika Srpska's ruling Serbian Democratic Party established by Karadzic.
Apart from Karadzic, Mandic has also financed the defense of Karadzic's top aide and one-time parliamentary speaker, Momcilo Krajisnik, who is awaiting trial on charges of war crimes and genocide in the U.N. tribunal in The Hague, according to police.