domenica 27 febbraio 2011
Oriano Mattei : False King Ratko the Small
27 Febbraio 2011
Who is Ratko Knežević, a man who for several years now has captured the attention of the media all over Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro, and in recent times the attention of prosecutors, special courts, the police, politicians and ministers all over the former Yugoslav states? Behind this person is there an uncompromising campaigner for justice and adversary of criminals, a respectable and successful journalist, writer, intellectual, playboy, favourite of women, powerful and successful businessman, friend to royal families and the most powerful people in the world? Or is he a conman of provincial mentality, a man with no morals or honour, a characterless upstart, without scruples – a merciless and corrupt fop from the craggy villages of Montenegro, hungry for success and fame at any cost? In fact both of these descriptions have accompanied the person and deeds of Ratko Knežević over the last two decades.
The main objective of the Tobacco Affair was to bring down the legally elected leadership of Serbia and Montenegro. Even though it was obvious that the directors, initiators and promoters of the affair were closely connected and had common interests, and that certain diplomats actively took part in trying to cause political instability, it was only after the murder of Zoran Đinđić, during the “Sablja” police operation, that the authorities in Serbia found transcripts in the archives of the Military [Intelligence] Service of the conversations of key figures and official notes on the connections between them. These confirmed the role of Ratko Knežević and of his connections, which he used to order articles in the media and to disseminate lies and disinformation, and the way he coordinated the work of the Montenegrin parliamentary committee formed because of the Tobacco Affair. Knežević tried to send a message via his erstwhile friend Blagota ‘Baja’ Sekulić, to Swiss businessman Stanko Subotić, that he would stop the Nacional articles if the latter paid him one million six hundred thousand [Deutsch]marks. A day after revealing this blackmail attempt by Knežević in an interview with the Monitor newspaper, Sekulić was killed, his car riddled with bullets in the very centre of Budva.
WARRANT FOR KNEŽEVIĆ: Subotić filed charges against Knežević with the Second Municipal Prosecutor’s Office in Belgrade for the crime of blackmail, pursuant to article 181 of Serbian Criminal Law, and the investigating judge opened an investigation under case number Ki. 635/03. In the charges it was stated that Knežević had, via multiple persons in Belgrade, in London via Blagota Sekulić from Montenegro and directly by phone in conversations with Stanko Subotić, demanded one million six hundred German marks against a supposed, but in fact non-existent debt owed to him by Montenegro, threatening that otherwise he would give false information to the media about Subotić and would do the same with Subotić’s business partners and foreign banks. The investigating judge in the proceedings heard Stanko Subotić as witness and plaintiff, and Ljubiša Buha from Belgrade as witness too. Blagota Sekulić was to be heard next. Since Knežević refused to accept the summons and stayed in hiding, the investigating judge ordered a warrant for his remand to be issued. Despite this, Knežević was not brought before the court since he was in Croatia, where they refused to hand him over to Serbia. After two years, illegally and in unexplained circumstances, Knežević was heard in Croatia through a letter rogatory, without either the relevant public prosecutor being informed, or the plaintiff or his legal representative, after which the criminal proceedings against Knežević were dropped. The key witness in [the case of] Knežević’s blackmail of Subotić in these proceedings was to have been the murdered Blagota ‘Baja’ Sekulić.
MURDER OF PUKANIĆ, TRIGGER FOR KNEŽEVIĆ: In late October 2008, Ivo Pukanić was assassinated. Although the murder happened in Croatia – immediately after the brutal murder of the daughter of the lawyer of General Zagorec, Ivana Hodak – straight after the murder of the owner of Nacional there was an clear desire both on the part of the authorities in Croatia and Pukanić’s journalists to ‘rid Croatia’ of the murder and make its focal point Montenegro. Although most of Pukanić’s enemies had been in Croatia itself, first and foremost powerful people he had racketeered, or the dangerous criminals he had fraternised with, but “sold down the river” at the drop of a hat, somehow it was clear from the beginning that both the authorities and the people around Pukanić wanted to pin it on the people against whom he had waged a merciless mercenary campaign for years, a campaign that over time was revealed to be the product of articles ordered by powerful individuals.
In August 1994, Ratko Knežević was a party to the theft of the boat Malambo, valued at two million dollars. The boat was the property of Italian [boat] builder Tullio Abbate, who had come to Sveti Stefan with another businessman, Englishman Monti Volpi. Knežević, who was staying on Sveti Stefan at that time, made every effort to get close to the two, and they sailed on the boat together and partied. However, one day the boat just magically disappeared! When it happened Knežević clumsily explained that the boat was actually being overhauled in Italy since the motor had supposedly been damaged by poor quality fuel! The Italians were stunned. They demanded the immediate return of the boat. Knežević even accused the boat’s skipper that in fact he had stolen the boat. However it turned out that the truth was a little different. The boat disappeared but after some time surfaced in the Montenegrin port of Zelenika. It remained docked there for several months, just long enough for the ‘thief’ to find a buyer for the stolen boat!
Writing to order was in any case characteristic both for Nacional and Pukanić. The discovery of the immediate perpetrators and their connections to certain criminals from Serbia and Montenegro tipped the scales in the direction of completely shifting this murder out of Croatia and pointing the finger at the two neighbouring countries. Shortly after this became a hot topic in the region, the Tobacco Affair from 2001 was also revived. Knežević reappeared with the same story, now reinforced with accusations relating to the murder of Pukanić. The distribution of political forces in Serbia and Montenegro and [desire for] revenge on the part of Serbian politicians for the Montenegrin recognition of Kosovo were enough to shift the ‘conspiracy’ story – launched by Pukanić’s journalists with the help of Knežević – over to Serbia, and for it to become not only the sole but also the main topic covered by the print media and discussed by politicians. Knežević, realising that he could also benefit from this personally, used individuals in the media and government in Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro, to begin making more and more serious accusations on a daily basis, without presenting a single shred of evidence.
TIJANIĆ, KNEŽEVIĆ’S MENTOR: Those close to Knežević claimed that he, conscious of everything he had done and the crimes he had committed, came to the panicked conclusion that the best way to protect himself would be to present himself as the greatest critic of the Montenegrin government, to directly criticise and attack all those he feared or thought could take revenge on him and that by way of this monstrous media witchhunt conducted against a handful of people, he would succeed in gaining the support of the public and certain politicians and in doing so avoid all possible court or police proceedings that might be initiated against him. He found support in Serbia in his erstwhile mentor, today director of Serbian television, Aleksandar Tijanić, who also – though for reasons of his own interests, fear and panic – criticised and accused all those he feared.
The Tobacco Affair was the first in a series of attempts to criminalise Zoran Đinđić in the media. This media criminalisation contributed to the murder of the first democratically elected Serbian prime minister. Even in these latest interviews by Knežević published in 2009, he did not desist from making accusations against Zoran Đinđić. So, for example, in an interview given to Vijesti broadcasting company, Knežević said of Đinđić that after the articles by Nacional, Đinđić “no longer had the courage before the public” to allow or facilitate smuggling on the territory of Serbia!
Knežević’s interviews got particularly special treatment on RTS, the so-called state television, controlled by Aleksandar Tijanić, ringleader of the witchhunt against Zoran Đinđić, one-time media adviser of Vojislav Koštunica and government minister during the rule of Milošević. Some sources claimed that Knežević was in constant contact by phone while Tijanić was on the boat belonging to Bojana Bajrušević (accused of cigarette smuggling before the Special Court in Belgrade), where he also wrote Knežević’s interviews. This cooperation between them was not hindered by the fact that a mere 10 or so years ago, Knežević and Tijanić had been sworn enemies, insulting one another and Tijanić claiming that Knežević was threatening him with "the Montenegrin mafia".
GELBARD REFUTES KNEŽEVIĆ: Ratko Knežević, in his Vijesti interview, name-dropped Robert Gelbard, claiming that at a dinner in Washington, at Knežević’s house, the diplomat had told Milo Đukanović he should be careful not to meet with people who were blacklisted for laundering dirty money. To make the story more interesting, Knežević spiced it up with a couple more juicy details. However, Robert Gelbard refuted Knežević saying that these were the lies, inventions and fantasies of Ratko Knežević. In an interview for Pobjeda, the former American diplomat said, “Everything I read in Knežević’s interview is completely false, except the fact that we were at his house... Over the years I have seen from his statements that he is trying to get revenge on Prime Minister Đukanović for some reasons that I cannot grasp. All the statements he has made over these years, that I have seen, have been false, at least as far as I know". Gelbard, who during the campaign was on the American president’s staff, when asked by the Pobjeda journalist to comment on Ratko Knežević’s claims that he had very good contacts in Washington high up in the administration and that he could influence a change in the attitude of the administration towards Montenegro, Gelbard said, “That is absolutely all in his mind. Let me be clear: the government of the United States of America has great respect for the government of this country...“
NEW LIES AND FABRICATIONS Ratko Knežević, via intelligent circles, got close to people from the office of the Croatian president Mesić. He abused those contacts for the purposes of the campaign against Đukanović and Subotić. In order to get the best possible exposure for his articles, Knežević exploited his personal friendship with the editor-in-chief of Jutarnji List. He used him to gain media exposure in Croatia. Knežević’s main contacts in Serbia were: Aleksandar Tijanić, director of RTS, Vojin Lazarević, a businessman of Montenegrin origin, and Srđan Šaper, personal friend and adviser of Boris Tadić. It was via these three that articles were published in Blic (via editor Veselin Simonović),
Press (via editor Svetomir Marijanović), while exposure in Večernje Novosti and Politika was got for him by Milan Beko, a businessman of Montenegrin origin and former minister under the Milošević regime.
On 27th July, a week after the interview in Vijesti, the daily Blic devoted space to Knežević and published an interview with him in two parts. Knežević repeated his accusations from previous interviews but also attempted to meddle in Serbian politics by making false accusations against the political rivals of the Democratic party. Knežević went as far as to put forward the stunning piece of information that Croatian president Stipe Mesić had given material to Boris Tadić from which it could be seen that because of the arrest of the suspects in the murder of Ivo Pukanić Boris Tadić’s life was in danger.
Stjepan Меsić denied this, while Tadić’s office was ‘mysteriously’ silent, neither denying nor confirming Knežević’s claims. Evidently buoyed by the media and political support he had received from government circles in Serbia, Knežević wrote a letter (supposedly in reply to a denial by the lawyer of Stanko Subotić) published in Blic on 12th August 2009, in which he intensified his accusations and directly accused Milo Đukanović of taking out contract killings! Knežević went as far in his letter as to accuse the director of the German WAZ media group, Bodo Hombach, that he had been corrupted by Subotić!
Although all of Knežević’s interviews were recycled versions of the false accusations already made in 2001 and 2002 in the Tobacco Affair, references to tales from "Podgorica and Budva cafes" and based on his own beliefs and notions, and although Knežević possessed not one shred of evidence for his claims, his accusations were given huge prominence not just in the Serbian media but in government circles too. For example, the Serbian special prosecutor for organised crime, Miljko Radisavljević, personally phoned Knežević and asked if he and three of his colleagues could meet with him informally. Knežević agreed and so three deputies of the special prosecutor actually went to Zagreb to talk to Knežević!
HOMBACH: KNEŽEVIĆ – A LIAR AND A DENUNCIATOR: Bodo Hombach, president of the WAZ Media Group, responded to Knežević’s accusations against him in a letter to Blic. In it he wrote: “There are subjects and persons who degrade the person talking about them. In my country there is a saying, “He who defends himself, accuses himself”. It is quite certain that this liar and denunciator – I can of course say this on the basis of the comments made against me – whom, by the way, I do not know personally, wants to achieve exactly that. However, one should not even afford him that satisfaction. I do not want to say anything about myself. This is precisely because what he is accusing me of is absolutely ridiculous.”
KNEŽEVIĆ ON ĐINĐIĆ: During the Tobacco Affair, another of Ratko Knežević’s targets was Zoran Đinđić. So it is especially surprising today that the party which supposedly represents the continuation of Đinđić’s policies actually promotes and favours Knežević. This is how this looked in Knežević’s interview for the newspaper Svedok on 14th August 2001.
SVEDOK: Đinđić has announced that the Tobacco Industry Act will be passed this month?
KNEŽEVIĆ: He has obviously realised he is a pig in a poke. The man has been caught involved in some things that have come to light and now he has to get himself out. Big money is at stake.
SVEDOK: Regarding the Tobacco Affair, prime minister Đinđić pointed the finger at the Rovinj Tobacco Factory?
KNEŽEVIĆ: Today in the Balkans, primarily in Serbia and Montegro unfortunately, the only profitable business is smuggling, and in that business the king of smuggling is cigarette smuggling. During the bombing of Serbia Zoran Đinđić was in Herceg Novi. He saw how Milo lives, how a true boss lives and got the desire, unfortunately, to transfer this to Serbia when he came to power. His business model is Milo Đukanovic.
The headquarters of the Tobacco Affair did not conceal that the campaign against Đinđić and Đukanović was being run from the same office, where the newspaper articles were being pumped out too. The extent of the inertness and carelessness of the participants of the witchhunt against Zoran Đinđić and Đukanović could be seen in the fact that Aleksandar Tijanić and Ratko Knežević wrote articles in the newspaper Nacional (banned in the Sablja crackdown after the murder of prime minister Đinđić) with almost identical headlines. Their objective was to serve up false accusations against the prime ministers of Serbia and Montenegro as frequently as possible. The form this took was obviously of lesser importance to them.
CONTRADICTIONS OF THE HANDSOME GRINGO: In an interview with the Vijesti broadcasting company, asked by the journalist whether he had proof of the serious accusations he was making, Knežević said that he was not a forensics expert, nor an insider, i.e. he was not a direct participant in events but rather his ‘truth’ was based on indications on which he based his assumptions, and knowledge he had come by in reading the charge sheet of the Italian prosecutor Schelzi and stories that were going round in Podgorica and Budva cafés.
Knežević’s obvious need to attract the public attention through sensationalism meant that he took no care with even the simplest, most easily verified details of his story. Careful reading of Knežević’s interviews and statements given over these nine years – which is how long he has tried to impose himself on the public through the publication of fabrications and lies and through manipulation of the media – reveals that his statements are largely contradictory and nothing but manipulation, easily proven false. Here are just a few examples:
KNEŽEVIĆ: “And in December 2001 Mr Subotić’s aeroplane landed in Belgrade with, according to his admission and that of Mr Kestner, his hitherto key business partner, five million Euros in cash.“
(Blic, 12th August 2009) * FACT: The Euro only appeared in 2002!
KNEŽEVIĆ: “Bokan was murdered in Athens by none other than Baja Sekulić using a false Swiss passport and a so-called ‘honeytrap’, while all the logistics were handled by the now new protégé of the police, Goran Žugić (Blic, 12th August 2009). * FACT: Goran Žugić was murdered in June 2000 and Vanja Bokan in October 2001. So the dead Žugić could not have prepared the logistics of Bokan’s murder.
KNEŽEVIĆ: “Croatian President Stjepan Mesić gave Boris Tadić material in Sofia connected with threats to the Serbian president uncovered in the investigation into the murder of Ivo Pukanić and Niko Franjić (Blic, 27th July 2009) * FACT: Stjepan Mesić stated in November in Vukovar: I did not take any documents to Tadić”.
KNEŽEVIĆ: “Đukanović approved and ordered the murder of Radovan Stojčić Badža"
(Blic, 12th August 2009) * FACT: Asked by the journalist if he had any proof of his accusations, Knežević replied: “That’s how you have construed it… Those are indications, knowledge on which I base my assumptions”.
KNEŽEVIĆ: “I have proof of the ties between the state and the mafia (Blic, 24th August 2009) * FACT: Asked by the journalist whether he had presented proof of this claim, Knežević replied: “I’m not a forensics expert, I’m not Eliot Ness”.
RATKO LOBBYING FOR RATKO: Although Ratko Knežević says of himself that he is just an “interested outside party”, that he is not interested in politics, it is obvious that his political ambitions have never died out, despite the 2002 debacle. No sooner had he ended his ‘summer of media appearances’ than Knežević came to a new idea as to how to once again draw attention to himself and present himself as someone with connections and influence in Washington. In late October 2009, Knežević made it known to the public that he had hired lobbyist Trey Barnes to lobby the American administration on his behalf in relation to the Montenegrin government, corruption, connections with organized crime and human rights violations. Knežević supposedly paid Barnes’ company $10,000 to lobby on his behalf. Information available on the Internet shows that Trey Barnes is the director of Global Policy Partners and that Ratko Knežević is his employee, covering the region of Eastern Europe. So it sort of turns out that Ratko paid himself to lobby on his own behalf!
Nevertheless, Knežević managed to enchant some Montenegrin politicians with his ‘connections’ in the American administration.
Knežević’s political hopes became newly pinned on Nebojša Medojević. The two of them, as Medojević stated, would get together in order, supposedly, to bring down the government of Milo Đukanović. The reaction to this news is perhaps best illustrated by the comments of a blogger who wrote, in regard to the creation of the new Knežević - Medojević ‘axis’, “I think that Medojević and Knežević will make an excellent pairing. It will be nice to see two vanities combined, each of them of the opinion that it is just he who should be Milo instead of Milo.”
BUSINESSMAN WITHOUT A BUSINESS: Ratko Knežević likes to portray himself in interviews as a successful businessman with connections all over the world, companies in Great Britain and America, contact with world statesmen, diplomats and the jet-set. The truth is somewhat different. Specifically, Ratko Knežević has no part in any British company, nor the position of director (data from the British companies register). Confronted with these facts, Knežević admitted that he in fact did not have a company in Britain, but did in America. Several years ago he claimed to work in the American company DC and had a monthly salary there of $25,000. A search of the American database revealed that no such company existed and that Knežević was nowhere registered as the owner of any US company. What can be found among the data is the fact that Knežević, while he was head of the Trade Mission, reported annual revenues of $42,000. Since he lived in a house belonging to the state, Knežević boasted of its value and wrote that he owned a house worth over four million dollars!
At the end of this biography, we come to the answer to the question of what, for a full eight years, has motivated and encouraged this man to meddle unscrupulously in the lives of others, mount monstruous witchhunts against people who were until yesterday his friends and benefactors, falsely accuse and target innocent people, manipulate, sow lies, create intrigue and impose himself unbidden. A merely superficial look at the details of Knežević’s biography reveals evidence that he is an itinerant character, of imagined greatness, in constant conflict with his true self – i.e. a character of criminogenic personality, sick ambition and megalomaniac desires and expectations – and what he thinks he should be: a rich businessman, upwardly mobile politically, powerful and influential.
A boy with promise: Ratko Knežević, Pioneer
Perhaps his famous quote, that he can only talk about himself in superlatives, best indicates the self-absorption, conceit and egocentrism that are the mark of Knežević’s personality. Only such a person could live in the conviction that it was he who had been created to be the new president of Montenegro. The realisation that his ambitions were based primarily on his own arrogance and vanity cost him – he became the subject of sneering and jest, or, as one newspaper dubbed him, False King Ratko the Small. Convinced that he was cleverer, more capable and more handsome than anyone else, he could not bear this defeat. Others were to blame! Those who know Ratko Knežević well say that he is a very vengeful person. The awareness that he had not achieved what he believed belonged to him by dint of logic motivated him to exact revenge on all those he targeted as representing obstacles on his road to riches, fame and success.
Apart from the negative motivation, the constant need to be the centre of attention and the constant desire for revenge, it is clear that material interest drives Knežević. One of the parties to the Tobacco Affair (S. Kestner) claimed that Knežević had had financial problems and had seen the initiation of the affair and participation in it as a good opportunity to make money. With no significant income, at odds with his former friends, lost in a new set of circumstances, Knežević had to find new masters and was forced to do their bidding. As it was, he did not find that onerous since his daily media appearances revealing ‘exclusive’ information satisfied his insatiable desire to constantly be the centre of attention. Like the show business stars who have fascinated him all his life, thanks precisely to those media appearances, he got the chance to make some good money.
A fugitive, constantly in fear of the poverty in which he had spent his childhood, the hunger for money and power turned this man from Nikšić – of mediocre abilities – into a caricature of a human, the stereotype of the ’Balkan businessman’, formed during the shameful and dishonourable nineties war years. In this system of displaced values, of immorality and evil, while honest people took refuge and suffered, the dregs of society floated to the top. Chief of them all became those who were most vociferous, most arrogant, least scrupulous – those utterly lacking in any sense of shame, ready for anything. Knežević is the prime example of this kind.(Fonte "E-Novine").