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April 24, 1995
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 186
State Security Scandal

The Mihajlovic Identity

by Milos Vasic

Roger Cohen's article in the New York Times on April 13 introduced Cedomir Mihajlovic as a "former high ranking official if the Serbian secret service who has documents that could prove Milosevic's involvement in war crimes".

The NY Times is a serious newspaper and Cohen is one of its best reporters. Mihajlovic is not just anyone in this business either. The secret police title isn't the only one he has assumed: Mihajlovic has claimed to be owner of a diamond mine, aircraft, stable of thoroughbreds, villa in South Africa, fat bank accounts, helicopters, restaurants. He also claimed to work for Genex (the biggest Yugoslav export company), "representative of important companies", industrialist, and even an intelligence officer for a friendly foreign country. Mihajlovic got up to his tricks in Belgrade, Cyprus, Pale, Great Britain, among émigrés and who knows where else. He has spent the last few months in Holland, the US and Switzerland. His success varied.

The extent of Mihajlovic's career as a con man became clear when reports about him broke in Yugoslavia. Customers, tricked partners, people who got useless bank cheques from him came forward. And not just them.

VREME was given insight into Serbian state security files on Cedomir Mihajlovic.

A high ranking state security official who insisted on anonymity (because of the nature of the job) told VREME: "To get a job in the police you need some brains. Can you imagine an ordinary policeman signing an order to execute innocent people without a trial?"

This reporter was shown originals of documents including a forged Bosnia-Herzegovina passport in the name of Emir Gujic No. BH486237 issued in Vienna on September 10, 1993, a photocopy of another passport issued by a state called Haute Bay (in English and Afrikaans), as well as police files showing that Mihajlovic had been sentenced several times for repeatedly stealing cars, break-ins, cons and forgeries of official documents (the last in 1981). The police source also showed me an inexpertly forged radio amateur's license.

The Bosnian passport has stamps that confirm frequent trips to Hungary and visas for Germany and Kuwait that were never used.

The police official said the service arrested Mihajlovic in mid-September 1994 but refused to give details. Mihajlovic was arrested over reasonable doubt that he was spying. Mihajlovic's parents said two plain clothes policemen brought Mihajlovic to their apartment on September 11, searched the place and took away two suitcases and two passports (one US (possibly forged), one Yugoslav).

The service said they held him for over three days and opened a full investigation. His parents said Mihajlovic appeared two days later and left for Macedonia on October 10 with his family.

The state security official said the investigation was dropped. Mihajlovic got his passport back and was released. When I asked why, he showed me a video tape of Mihajlovic being interrogated in prison (and that's the only place in the service he's ever been, the official said).

The tape showed MIhajlovic talking about being blackmailed into working for the secret service of a friendly foreign country. He spoke convincingly at first, recalling names, places and dates but later the story got watered down. The impression I got was that the service officials realized who they were dealing with and got rid of him (just like everyone before them). The film is sad.

So why did the service drop the charges? There was no other proof but Mihajlovic's confession, there was no evidence of him working against the state. The conclusion seems to have been that it was better to leave him alone so he wasn't charged with possessing military radio equipment nor forging the license.

So, both the police and his parents proved Mihajlovic was lying to Cohen about his disappearance from Belgrade. What else was a lie?

The police said he never worked for them and didn't have any links with them. The service official said the documents Mihajlovic has are a primitive forgery and showed me real documents (not sensitive) which look completely different (Cyrillic lettering, computer printouts, different sorting codes, clearly visible stamps and signatures). "If they have real documents they can let us see copies. The copy in the NY Times had no signature or stamp, the typewriter is of dubious quality, the wording isn't what we would use."

Also, documents that are state secrets (as the NYT claimed) are not marked str.pov. (strictly confidential) but with a number that begins with DT (state secret). At the time that Mihajlovic claims the documents were written, the service was still called SDB not State Security Department. Mihajlovic made a mistake with the start of Arkan's cooperation with the state police (1986), he could have read in the newspapers that Arkan was identified as a federal police employee in 1983.

Considering his background, Mihajlovic's story loses credibility.

Last week the Hague spoke up. First a Dutch ministry of the interior spokesman told VREME that: one, "all the documents were returned to Mihajlovic and the ministry has confirmation of that in writing" and second, "the ministry and its experts found that the documents were forged". Then the International War Crimes tribunal (judge Richard Goldstone) said "all the documents MIhajlovic handed over to the Tribunal are worthless".

The Dutch authorities washed their hands of Mihajlovic early in March. So why does Mihajlovic claim that the originals of the documents were not given back? VREME sources assume its a maneuver: he has copies of his papers; the Dutch and the Tribunal read them; now he can easily claim he doesn't have the originals and make the job even more difficult for US experts.

Before he left Holland, Mihajlovic employed a translator (Serbian into Dutch and English) to translate his résumé which claims he graduated from the Moscow Institute of Security Studies, that he was security advisor to the Cyprus government and that he needs the résumé to get a job with the Brazilian government. The translator saw him leave a house in the Hague on March 2, 1995 with heavy suitcases.

Where he went then isn't clear. The NYT said the US. He saw a lot of people there it seems. Official US sources made various statements to the NYT: the documents could be real; if they disappeared they must be real; some Western governments are afraid of what will happen; the documents could be a reconstruction of what Mihajlovic saw and; the documents look like what they are claimed to be. An associate at the Hague Tribunal (a man with police and intelligence experience in the US) told a VREME source that he is "99.9% certain the documents are forgeries".

In the meantime a fuss was raised by people ranging from naive citizens to the state security and the noise was heard in the US and other places.

An interesting profile of Mihajlovic can be reconstructed from everything VREME learned.

Mihajlovic is a charming and convincing man. He has principles: he invest the same effort to trick someone out of five dollars and two million. He asked a close friend to draw a portrait of his son; that portrait soon appeared on the packaging of a mass produced toy. MIhajlovic ignored his friend's complaints and they ended up in court. The cheque he used to buy racing horses in the US bounced (120,000 dollars). He brought the horses to Subotica and kept them in stables owned by respected singer and horse lover Zvonko Bogdan who faced an embarrassing situation when the real owner found them. We know of at least four similar cheques totaling close to 300,000 dollars. Mihajlovic seems to have forged cheque books which wasn't too hard, he had experience with printing machinery (he worked for Crossfield until he was thrown out for tricking customers, and De La Rue a major producer of money printing machinery; his father was security chief at Belgrade's mint). Some graphics experts believe he earned between one and two million German marks from the Crossfield operation alone.

When he got to the US, Mihajlovic contacted Roger Cohen. How the contact was made is the key question here. Some official US sources suggested that Mihajlovic phoned the NY times but then how did the Associated Press get hold of "an unnamed high ranking US administration official" who gave them the story on April 12? Only Cohen knows the answer to that.

Mihajlovic disappeared from public after the NYT article and resurfaced on Tuesday in Geneva for an interview with ABC TV. ABC a serious company, checked his story carefully, including stories that he imported arms into Yugoslavia from the Titan company which is a big unknown.

Some of the press and other people asked some inevitable questions in the meantime:

1. How could Mihajlovic's father have been security chief in the mint if his son was a criminal? The job is a highly sensitive post with thorough checks of everyone.

2. Where did Mihajlovic get a bill from the Serbian police for a two hour helicopter flight dated October 1990? It's unlikely the police would have rented a helicopter to anyone who had dual citizenship and spent time in jail, especially in 1990 when there was enough funding to go around. (Dragan Raznatovic, director of the Belgrade race track said he flew with Mihajlovic once).

3. Security ID card No. 2676 is still under dispute: the service said it was invalid (lost or stolen) and could have come from the Bosnian Serb Republic (RS). NIN said on Thursday that the Dutch, Americans and Hague tribunal confirmed it was real and that Mihajlovic worked for the service laundering money, sanctions busting etc.

4. It still isn't clear why he went back and forth into the RS. Some sources said he was arrested on September 10 returning from the RS. Official Dutch sources think the whole thing is a trick by the Bosnian Serbs aimed against the Tribunal. Some Belgrade analysts think the same thing. Namely, in the summer of 1993, sources close to Radovan Karadzic said there are claims the war crimes in Bosnia were committed by "imported para-military formations controlled by the Serbian police, since we would never kill our neighbors".

In any case, Mihajlovic's credibility has been ruined.

The MIhajlovic affair won't live very long but there is a lingering feeling that something isn't right yet. It seems the service used his services and regretted it later. The arrest and release last September seem to have just been a warning. Or maybe the whole thing is just another episode in Mihajlovic's colorful life.

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