February 5, 1996 Vreme News Digest Agency No 226
The Asanin File
Miracle in Athens
by Dejan Anastasijevic
Instead of Brussels, Darko Asanin was brought to Belgrade to the relief of everyone. No one remembers the Yugoslav authorities ever trying so hard to get one of its citizens back
Anyone waiting for the arrival of the regular Athens-Belgrade flight at Belgrade airport on January 24 noticed that the police were also there: four policemen were waiting at the exit with sub-machine guns and body armor. They were there because of Darko Asanin, a Belgrade resident who was arrested in Athens four months ago and later extradited to Yugoslavia following unprecedented legal, diplomatic and other efforts to get him handed over. Eyewitnesses said Asanin was unpleasantly surprised at being handcuffed on arrival. He seemed to have been expecting a different reception. "If I'd know, I would have gone to Belgium instead," he said bitterly as they took him away.
Judging by what the regime press wrote during his four months in an Athens prison, Asanin really had the right to hope that he would be met as a hero in Belgrade. "Regardless of all the stories of involvement in the underground, Darko Asanin is primarily a patriot," Politika Ekspres wrote on November 18, 1995. "Traveling often in western Europe he showed perhaps excessive courage by propagating the idea of a strong Serbia although he knew that would cost him dearly. Will Yugoslavia protect its citizen or allow Albanian secessionists to kill him in Belgium?"
The regime press said Enver Hadriu, the Albanian activist Asanin is alleged to have killed in Belgium, was the worst: the former teacher from Pec (Kosovo) was described as a communist secret police defector who also worked for the KGB and CIA as well as Sigurimi and accused him of planning the assassination of Slobodan Milosevic although no details were given.
The media campaign and other steps made it clear that the Belgrade authorities wanted Asanin back very much and wanted to prevent his extradition to Belgium.
How did the former boxer with strong underworld connections become important to Serbian and Yugoslav national interests can be surmised from the reputation he won six years ago when Andrija Lakonic, boxer and Asanin's friend, was killed in a Belgrade night club. The investigation turned up 10 new passports, one of which was Asanin's. The others which the Belgrade police issued at the request of the federal police were all with different names but one picture: Asanin's.
The ensuing scandal caused great changes in the Serbian security services. The scandal resulted in a centralized police system concentrated in the home affairs ministry while city and federal services lost much of their authority and personnel. The Lakonic killing and scandal were good cause to remove some people but since then Asanin has become known as someone the federal security service used at times to eliminate political émigrés. Specifically, Asanin was blamed for the Hadriu killing and one other similar crime in Germany. The rumors somehow reached the Belgian police and Belgrade was asked to investigate Asanin and allow a Belgian investigator to attend the interrogation. That request was granted but Asanin had an alibi and nothing happened. In the meantime, the Belgian police found two people who confirmed that Asanin was in the country but the Yugoslav authorities refused to discuss him and the Belgians issued an international warrant.
That warrant didn't worry Asanin. He tried to avoid public appearances but not the good life and friends in the political and stage elite who gladly visited his casino near Belgrade. Asanin is so influential that he organized a dinner party for all the prominent lawyers attending a convention on the Kopaonik Mt. including the republican justice minister and several district court judges. He was always surrounded by body guards and a two car escort. Interestingly, he didn't use his reputation to get involved in the war which broke out at the height of his fame. He would have been forgotten amid the new gunmen on the streets if he hadn't been arrested in Greece.
The people who feared what he could say were terrified by his arrest. Asanin was arrested in Greece with a new passport issued just prior to the trip. Obviously someone in Belgrade passed the passport information on to the Belgians because the Greek police made the arrest under a request from Brussels. So Asanin became the tool of fighting among political factions for the second time. Again he was linked to federal officials and his opponents were named as Serbian police officials.
Despite the media campaign in Belgrade and engagement of the most expensive lawyers in Belgrade and Athens, there seemed to be little hope of preventing the extradition.
The rebellion in the prison he was held in and Asanin's wounding slowed down the process but early this year the only thing left between him and the Belgian police was the signature of the Greek justice minister. The biggest problem was providing a legal basis to allow the minister to refuse the Belgian demand.
That was found in article 536 of the criminal code which is part of many international extradition treaties. "If several states request the extradition of a person suspected of crimes, priority will be given to the state whose citizen the person is," the article says. So Yugoslavia had to re-open its investigation of Asanin and request him but a subject of investigation had to be thought up.
"We requested him because of Hadriu," lawyer Toma Fila told VREME, "but that wasn't enough for the Greeks." So the charges were expanded to a second murder which Fila says is imaginary.
This is probably a unique case of lawyers and investigators combining efforts to charge someone with an imaginary murder. But if it is imaginary, the suspect will easily be released which Fila said is certain. "There probably won't even be a trial," he said.
So the Greek minister met the Yugoslav request
the last day in office since the Greek government fell when Papandreou resigned on January 19. But then something happened that threatened the whole operation. Both ministers needed to send Asanin to the FRY (justice and foreign) were changed in the new government and the danger of the new justice minister annulling the decision loomed. That danger was increased by the fact that the Belgians were told of the former minister's decision in record time and their Athens embassy demanded Asanin be prevented from leaving. The new minister even issued orders to stop the extradition to Belgrade but he was late because Asanin was already in the air.
Athens lawyer Aleksander Likouresos wrote to Fila: "We accomplished a miracle". Even if the miracle hadn't happened there would have been hope because the letter mentioned the possibility of convincing the minister to ratify the extradition order which could be difficult given the pressure from Belgium.
At present, Asanin is in jai waiting for an end to the formalities. It'll be interesting to see who'll be invited to the party afterwards. He already told the judge at a January 29 hearing the he didn't kill Hadriu.