By The Center for Investigative Reporting
Zoran Copic, a Serbian businessman and associate of Montenegrin drug lord Darko Saric has been sentenced to five years in prison for laundering Saric’s money.
Drago Nizol, director of Copic’s Avio Rent company, was also sentenced Tuesday in the Banja Luka County Court in Bosnia’s smaller entity, Republika Srpska (RS) to four months in prison
Judge Olga Malesevic said RS prosecutors have proven all eight counts of the indictment. Among the evidence the prosecutors presented were recorded conversations between Copic and Nizol and members of various criminal organizations.
According to the indictment, Copic joined Saric and his associates from Serbia to launder drug money. Knowing where the money came from, Copic injected it into the economies of the RS and Serbia, along with legal proceeds that masked the drug money.
More than US$5.8 million was deposited into the accounts of Copic’s export-import company Agrocoop between the end of 2008 and mid 2009. Of that, US$3.4 million came from Lafino Trade LLC and Mattenico LLC, registered in the US state of Delaware. Serbian prosecutors previously determined that both companies belong to Saric. Agrocoop received money from 14 offshore companies linked to Saric.
Copic used some of the drug money to buy the Bijeljina Sugar Factory in northern Bosnia, and transferred the rest to the account of his other companies in Bosnia and Serbia.
Ljubo Mrdjen, director of Agrocoop in Banja Luka, also participated in the scheme. He pleaded guilty during the trial and was sentenced to six months in prison.
In an interview with journalists from the Sarajevo and Serbian Centers for Investigative Reporting (CIN/CINS), seven days before his arrest, Copic denied getting money from Saric to launder. He said Saric owed him for the purchase of Mitrosrem, one of Serbia's largest agricultural companies. Following Copic's arrest, CIN reported that Agrocoop was paying installments for the privatization of the Bijeljina Sugar Factory at the same time that money from Saric's companies was arriving into Agrocoop's account.
Judge Malesevic said that the money which came from other offshore companies, such as
Eurotrade Holdings LTD registred to Milosa Hamovic, son of Serbian energy mogul Vuk Hamovic, was also obtained through crime.
Nizol got a significantly lower sentence than Copic because the court determined he laundered money out of negligence.
While working as director of Avio Rent, Nizol borrowed nearly US$938,600 from Banja Luka-based Unis Tours, to buy a Cessna plane and a fuel cistern. Unis Tours was owned at the time by late Tomislav Vrhovac.
Nizol repaid part of the loan with money that came to AvioRent via Agrocoop, from Saric's offshore company Lafino Trade, thus, according to the court, unknowingly money laundering. However, the judge also said Nizol could have known about the origin of the money, given his position as director.
The Court also confiscated Copic's assests, including stock in the sugar factory worth US$11.45 million, the Cessna and cistern, and a house in Banja Luka. If the sentence is confirmed, these will become the property of the RS.
Prior to sentencing Copic noted the large number of journalists filling almost all the seats in the courtroom, and said, ''This is certainly not a good a sign.“