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October 24, 1994
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 161
Crime: Belgrade Underworld Showdown

The Death Of "Saban''

by Jovan Dulovic and Perica Vucinic

On Tuesday, October 18, Dejan Marjanovic, better known as ``Saban,'' was murdered in the Zvezdara neighborhood of Belgrade. He was 23 years old. At age 22 he drove a BMW 850 and was romantically involved with a pop-folk music star. He was at his zenith then. The rest of his life was a road towards death.

The murder did not come as a surprise, even to those who only read about crime in the newspapers. This was predicted at summer's end when the wider public became familiar with Saban through an interview in the Belgrade newsweekly ``Telegraf.'' Perhaps because a large segment of our population has been forced into the underworld, everyone who has spent any time in local bars and was familiar with the name ``Saban'' knew that ``the arrow was already released.''

Dejan Marjanovic ``Saban'' was murdered in front of his building, at Bulevar revolucije 300. Crime columnists at the daily newspapers reveal that he had scheduled, but then cancelled, a meeting with them on the fateful day. He wanted to tell the press about the previous night of October 17. He left Vladan Dinic of the Belgrade daily ``Vecernje novosti'' a pager message in which he promised that he would tell Dinic about the attempt upon his life at around 3:30 that morning. He never called back. He probably thought that the danger was over. Now others are telling the story instead.

The story is as follows: Marjanovic came home at around 3:20. He didn't turn on the hallway light and, when he unlocked the door to his apartment, someone began to shoot from the stairs a floor above. Marjanovic jumped inside and quickly closed the door. The other residents were overcome with panic and the hitmen escaped. They returned at 2 p.m. ``Unidentified young men'' riddled him with bullets from their automatic weapons. The newspaper headlines were classic: ``The murderers were quicker.''

And so the story ends. But, as usual, things could have turned out entirely differently. Branka, a former classmate of Marjanovic's agrees. She says that his good looks and charm made him stand apart from the rest, that everyone knew that his father was a bigwig, and that nothing indicated that he would later find himself among criminals. He indeed rose to a prominent position among them. Branka used to see him at the ``JB'' cafe, frequented by many well-known people in show business and the underworld.

Dejan Markovic first attracted attention to himself through his association with the well-known pop-folk singer Ceca Velickovic (rumored to be having an affair with infamous criminal and paramilitary leader Zeljko Raznjatovic ``Arkan''). During October of 1993, a journalist at one Belgrade entertainment review wanted to find out why Velickovic had cancelled some of the concerts scheduled in her Yugoslav tour. Here is how she describes the investigation:

``Ceca's manager Bane Stojanovic, the head of `Centro scene', takes us along the Bulevar revolucije until we reach `Lion' (area in the Zvezdara neighborhood). We enter a building and climb the stairs until we get to an apartment with `Marjanovic' written on the door... Problems with her ex-boyfriend, and pressures from her relatives, friends and the public have driven Ceca to exhaustion... She is lately always accompanied by a young man who tenderly calls her `Svetlana'. She gently calls him `Dejan' and this is how we learn that Ceca has a new man in her life.

This man is Dejan Markovic, better known by the nickname ``Saban.'' Dejan does not hide his sympathies. However, he does not care to comment upon rumors that he is a member of the `White Eagles' (paramilitary group) and that he distinguished himself in the battles around Cajnice (eastern Bosnia). His father is the well-known architect Milutin Marjanovic. Dejan owns a few cafes, likes to socialize, especially with pop-folk singer Mira Skoric (Ceca's best friend)...''

This is what was written in the ``TV Novosti'' article a year ago. During the summer of 1994, when the romance with Ceca was already a forgotten better time in the past, ``Telegraf'' put Marjanovic on its cover page and presented him inside as ``the uncrowned king of the Zvezdara neighborhood, the area around the Kalenic open-air market, and the center of the Vracar neighborhood.'' In the interview, Marjanovic wants to reveal who was responsible for the explosion in front of the ``Avala'' hotel in Budva (Montenegrin resort) in which a well-known criminal was killed, but does not reveal a single name; he tries to present himself as a businessman, but is unconvincing; he makes accusations against police superintendent Dragan Mladenovic (who had provoked a scandal with his statements about police corruption) without revealing any supporting evidence... Essentially, he introduced himself and announced a bloody summer. ``I don't know who will settle accounts with whom, but there will be murders. I once again repeat that the underworld itself must clear the streets of the crazy idiots who shoot without thinking and take the lives of completely innocent people.'' He also announced his exit from the underworld: ``I am getting off of the Belgrade streets because I don't want anyone to test whether I can take a bullet. Murder is not an art. Staying alive is an art... Pistols, well they are for idiots and fools.''

He liked to read about himself. At the beginning of September, he wished to talk to VREME. We spoke in an apartment in New Belgrade, where he was hiding. There was heavy security in the apartment and around the building. He was on edge; he rose at every sound and approached the peephole on the door; at the same time, he said that he was not afraid. He said that he wanted to tell ``the newspapers'' that the police tore up his passport when he was returning from Italy. Because of its untopicality, his story, recorded on a cassette, waited until now:

At the beginning of our conversation, Dejan said, ``I am not afraid of anyone. Security is purely a preventive measure against those who are out to get me, whether they are police officers or criminals who may try to harm me under orders from the police.'' He joked, ``I am not afraid of anyone except my wife, Jelica Matic.'' When asked if he had reason to be afraid, he answered, ``I don't have any reason to be afraid, but to be cautious-yes.''

Dejan spoke about his arrest five days prior to our conversation:

``I was on vacation with my wife, even though there was some kind of warrant out for my arrest. I don't know why, because I haven't done anything wrong. When reentering the country, they immediately took away my passport at the border. They tore it up and said: `Saban, you motherfucker, Yugoslavia issued your passport and I swear you'll never leave this country again.' Three days later I was arrested. This happened at 4:30 AM on August 30.''

``I spoke with my wife on the telephone regarding plans to go to America. Then they came in the morning and not one of them identified themselves as a policeman. They forced open the door and they stood outside it for half an hour-they were afraid to enter. They reloaded their guns, but I wasn't afraid at that moment even though I thought that they intended to kill me. There were about ten people in my apartment, because I literally don't even sleep alone. When I heard that they had gotten the orders to kill my pet pit-bull, who had literally stopped them in their tracks in front of the door, I went out and handed myself over to them.''

``They took me to the police station. No one told me anything. While searching my apartment they found and confiscated a large amount of hard currency. They returned it three days later, after I went to the Belgrade police office with my attorney. They also found a pistol under my brother's mattress. I honestly don't even know where that pistol came from... They showed me pictures of some Albanians that I had allegedly killed. They framed me in the hijacking of the Belgrade-Bar train (when 26, mostly Muslim, passengers disappeared), allegedly with my buddy Milika ``Ceko'' Dacevic, for which they have absolutely no material evidence. They framed me for the murder of many Muslims, which I did not do... Those are all absurd accusations. I was involved in the liberation of the villages of Skakavci and Hasovici (Bosnia) while the `White Eagles' commander for Montenegro. I spent only four days there and that is the only help that I gave Serbia.''

Marjanovic says that they never told him why they arrested him only to partially release him three days later. ``On the third day they released me and gave me a statement of release. But, as I was about to exit the office, some men in civilian clothing, who I assume belong to some other security service, entered the room. After the first handcuffs were taken off, the others handcuffed me with `theirs'. They took me out of Belgrade, toward the Zagreb highway. I don't know who or what they are. That day I was told: `Saban, we are very well aware of who and what you are. You can either make a deal or you can end up under a bridge somewhere.'''

Saban did not want to talk about what kind of deal they had in mind. He thought that the time was not ripe for that story because, ``I have a wife and I really don't want anything to happen.'' He also said, ``It's better that something happen to me instead of her. Above all, I told them: `Let me live a little bit; I'm 23 years old'. They told me that I would leave either by making a deal or that I would end up six feet under.''

He attempted to avoid commenting upon the remark that he is not six feet under and that he must have therefore made some kind of a deal. ``I didn't make an agreement, but I can thank my attorney Nikola Nikolic.''

``The police are turning criminals against me, but thankfully I'm very strong and I won't let anyone get near me. The police would like to use me in the pursuit of some of their goals. I want to have a family, to live a peaceful life and to buy a house in whatever country my fiance wants to live in, but they won't let me.''

Marjanovic says wife one moment and fiance the next, and that probably isn't the only inconsistency in the story. He also spoke about things that he was not asked about. Above all, he seemed to want to refute the rumor that he is a narcotics dealer. He says that he is a businessman who is forced by circumstances to carry a pistol. At the very end, he explained why he was hiding. ``I don't want to cooperate with them now, or in a hundred years.'' When asked with whom he did not want to cooperate, he answered: ``Neither with the police, nor with that unknown group.''

A few days after this conversation, he joined his fiance in Italy. He had to return because someone had attempted to kill him. His return to Belgrade was obviously not unnoticed.

That is his story. He wanted to talk, but to hide many details. He never identified the police or the ``unidentitied group.'' He simply needed to talk. Even if there had been no murder at the entrance to Bulevar revolucije 300, this story would not have seen the light of day. The ``big bosses'' of the Belgrade streets claim that ``Saban'' was not among the highest ranks of the Belgrade underworld.

Dejan Marjanovic ``Saban'' is a victim of the business that he was involved in. He was a handsome and well-mannered young man from a good family. He chose crime as his occupation and reached his zenith too early. Even worse-he outdid himself.

Vaso's Appetite is Back

The Belgrade underground is following former boxer Vaso Pavicevic's recovery very carefully: someone recently showered him with automatic weapon fire and seven bullets found their target. He was taken to the hospital in very serious condition and it appears that the doctors saved his life. According to Montenegrins in Belgrade, on Wednesday he had lunch for the first time since being wounded.

Pavicevic is the boss of one of the strongest and most dangerous groups in the Belgrade-Montenegrin underworld. He was charged with the Gracanicka Street murder of Slobodan Dapcevic in Belgrade over two years ago. The Belgrade Police began prosecuting the case a year after the murder and the Belgrade District Court sentenced him three months ago. He was not sentenced (which the Serbian Supreme Court affirmed) because of a lack of evidence.

The main witness for the prosecution, Dragoljub Jovetic, who categorically confirmed that Vaso Pavicevic shot and killed Dapcevic in his pre trial deposition, was meanwhile murdered in Italy under unexplained circumstances. Those familiar with the underworld assume that the murder was made after an agreement between the Montenegrin mafia and its men in Italy. In any case, we can expect more murders as a result of internal underworld power struggles.

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