Serbian fugitive Dobrosav Gavric — who was driving mobster Cyril Beeka’s car when he was murdered — believes elements in the Serbian government will assassinate him if he is extradited to face justice.
Gavric believes he will fall victim to a revenge hit by allies of “Arkan”, a Serbian gangster and war criminal he was convicted of slaying in January 2000.
Unaware that he would be arrested the following day on an international warrant, Gavric gave an interview to the Mail & Guardian 10 days ago.
He has since applied for refugee status in South Africa and plans to fight a Serbian extradition request, claiming he is innocent, his 2006 trial was unfair, he will be targeted politically and assassinated in Serbia and incarceration will seriously affect his ailing health.
Gavric was a 23-year-old policeman when he was convicted of the January 2000 killing of Arkan, whose real name was Zeljko Raznatovic.
He fled Serbia and hid in South Africa for four years. His true identity was revealed after he emerged as the driver of the car in which Beeka was travelling when he was killed in a drive-by shooting in March last year.
The assassin’s bullet shattered Gavric’s forearm, landing in his chest, passing over his heart and exiting below his left arm, he said.
Arkan’s bodyguard also shot Gavric in the spine at the scene of Arkan’s murder. A November 2011 medical report seen by the M&G states that complications from that injury led to persistent bladder and testicular infections, resulting in his left testicle being removed, “multiple hospital admissions” and a depleted immune system.
In an affidavit prepared last month by Gavric’s legal team in anticipation of his arrest and an extradition request, which the M&G has seen, Gavric argues that Serbian Interior Minister Ivica Dacic and powerful populist MP Dragan Markovic had been close allies of Arkan and former Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic, to whom Arkan had been loyal.
In the affidavit Gavric states: “It is clear that Dragan Markovic and Ivica Dacic are both allies of war criminals Milosevic and Arkan and that they are at the forefront of my extradition request. I fear that my extradition will simply result in my own killing.”
Dacic has recently made public statements supporting Gavric’s extradition.
Vague and implausible
Gavric’s version of events is vague and sometimes implausible. He portrays himself as an innocent and unlucky man, despite being trained by the Serbian secret service and being shot during mob assassinations in two countries.
There are further questions about how a fugitive trying to avoid detection in South Africa was quickly linked to a network of underworld figures close to Beeka and sufficiently acquainted with Radovan Krejcir, a Czech fugitive from justice, to play poker with him.
Gavric is also vague about how he, his wife and two children fled Serbia and set themselves up in South Africa. The couple registered businesses immediately after their arrival, even though Gavric claims to have arrived on a tourist visa. This suggests that they had arrived earlier than claimed or that someone else — possibly linked to the state — had helped them. Evidence collected by the M&G also contradicts Gavric’s denial of involvement in a Beeka-linked betting chain in Cape Town with broader underworld ties.
In his affidavit Gavric tells of joining the Serbian secret service after finishing school. He told the M&G that he later joined the Serbian police’s “special forces”.
On the day Arkan was killed in the lobby of a Belgrade hotel, he said, he had just returned from holiday in his home town and was drinking with a friend.
“I saw Arkan there sitting in the lobby. And then they started shooting after 15 or 20 minutes.”
Re-enacting the event in the Cape Town restaurant where the interview took place, he looked over his shoulder as if shots were being fired behind him. “I first come down, like this, and after that I start running outside the lobby and I get a pain in the back. My friend then sees me on the floor next to the hotel and he takes me in his car to a hospital in my home town.
“When you live in Serbia in 2000 you can understand my reaction, because every day there is a murder. When you go far, it’s better for you.”
Gavric and two accomplices were sentenced to 35 years in prison for the Arkan hit in October 2006. But on the day of sentencing, Gavric and a co-accused vanished.
On the run
Gavric said he was warned that he would also be assassinated. “I got information that when I go to trial they will kill me. On this day I did not go to trial and after a few days I went into Europe.”
His first stop was Bosnia, where he picked up a false passport bearing the name “Sasa Kovacevic” — the identity he used in South Africa.
He then travelled to Italy, Cuba and on to Ecuador, where he remained for a year before applying for a South African tourist visa in 2007 and flying to Johannesburg.
“The reason I opted to come to South Africa was because I heard that it was a stable country with new opportunities. I wanted to build a new life and raise my children in a solid society,” he states in his affidavit.
Gavric was vague on the date of his arrival in South Africa, ultimately settling for “the end of 2007, beginning of 2008”.
When he fled Serbia, he left his family. “When I go, I have no plan. They [the family] left after one year.” He said he had wanted to “assess the standard of living” in his ultimate destination before the family relocated.
In his affidavit he states: “I eventually applied for a business visa in South Africa and under my spouse’s name I became involved in a restaurant in Johannesburg. The restaurant was eventually sold and with the profit I managed to start an import and export business and also became involved in the buying and selling of second-hand goods.”
But according to the Companies and Intellectual Properties Commission, Gavric’s wife, Danijela Lazic, started Tami Import and Export on December 14 2007, whereas Gavric started another business, Semberia Import and Export, three weeks later. They needed business visas to start companies.
Gavric’s legal team did not explain these inconsistencies and made no mention of Tami, but said Semberia “never traded”.
Gavric said he later bought into a club in Fourways, Johannesburg, which he left shortly before moving to Cape Town, when the club closed down.
Another vagueness in Gavric’s account is how, while intending to lie low and stay out of trouble to protect his true identity, he spent time with Beeka and Krejcir.
Gavric has admitted to playing poker with Krejcir, but said they barely knew each other.
Beeka previously served as Krejcir’s security consultant; the two made business plans together before they fell out.
Although Beeka’s broad links with South Africa’s intelligence agencies are unconfirmed, the M&G has established that he co-operated with elements in police crime intelligence.
In the interview Gavric said he and Beeka were friends: “I met him with some friends. We were sitting together and talking and we exchanged phone numbers.”
Gavric states in the affidavit that he expected a level of protection from Beeka: “When Cyril visited Cape Town we would usually go out together. I heard he was connected to the police and felt that if there was ever a threat on me and my family, I would be warned.”
Gavric was mum when asked whether South African intelligence agencies were supporting him, as Beeka-linked sources have claimed.
Gavric said he moved to Cape Town in 2010 for a better family life and to put distance between himself and Johannesburg’s large Serbian community: “When there’s nobody that knows me, I’m safe.”
The M&G has reported allegations that Gavric and Beeka were connected to a Cape Town sports-betting establishment, Olimp Sports Bar, which previously included Beeka’s friend, Herschel Maasdorp, as a director and Serbian national Aleksandar Ivanovic.
One of Gavric’s lawyers, Bertus Preller, who also represented Beeka and previously been involved in Olimp, confirmed Beeka’s involvement in the business, but was unclear on Gavric’s role. Gavric denied any involvement.
Ivanovic, who could not be traced, is a shareholder in Ten Cents Investments 13, in which Gavric’s wife is a shareholder. Ivanovic, in turn, is linked through a company to Chris Kouremitis, who was gunned down at a wedding in October 2010 and whose alleged role in cocaine smuggling is the subject of a police inquiry. “He’s just one guy from Serbia,” was all Gavric would say about Ivanovic.
Preller said this group of Beeka associates pulled out of Olimp after he was killed.
Gavric claimed that he was opening a pawn shop in Parow at the time of Beeka’s murder and that Beeka was supposed to be a partner in the business, providing security. But the shop never opened because “I never had enough money to finish it”.
Another Beeka-linked source directed the M&G to the intended site of the pawn shop, now occupied by a branch of Olimp.
Neighbouring businesspeople said this week they understood that “Sasa” (Gavric) owned the betting bar and one person said he was seen there in the past month.
Gavric was evasive on the source of his family’s income. “I’m not a guy who is sitting with millions and can pay everybody. I’m not a gangster.”
The Sunday Times reported that Gavric and his family had lived in a leased luxury apartment at the V&A Waterfront. The M&G has confirmed that this lease ran at least until July last year, after which Gavric’s wife signed a lease for a R3.6-million house at a high-end security estate in Tokai, Cape Town.
He and his wife’s business interests appear to be modest. They include co-ownership of a restaurant and a club that closed down, an import-export business that never traded, a pawn shop that never opened and allegedly a new sports-betting bar.
Did police know?
Asked who in South Africa knew his true identity before the New Age revealed it in December, and whether Beeka knew it, Gavric said: “Only a handful.”
Local police could verify Gavric’s identity after a small amount of cocaine was found in his bag in Beeka’s care on the night of his murder.
It is understood that the police shared identification material with the Serbian authorities only in December, after Gavric’s identity was leaked. However, it appears they had been informed of his identity at least by June.
In November police handed Gavric’s legal team internet printouts, dated June 21 2011, containing details of the Arkan assassination.
“The information, according to [investigating officer Paul Hendrikse], was obtained via information from the South African police crime intelligence unit,” Gavric states in his affidavit.
Gavric also professed to have known in March, when Beeka was murdered, which authorities knew of his identity: “I suspected that crime intelligence had a fair idea as to who I was.” It is a mystery how he could have known it.
Hawks spokesperson McIntosh Polela said the South African police had sent identification information to the Serbians through Interpol “in or around October”.
He had no information supporting claims that Gavric had been protected by the South African police.
- The print version of this story incorrectly stated that lawyer Bertus Preller had previously had a minority share in Olimp. This has been corrected.
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