By Valerie Hopkins
South African police discovered a person who could be fugitive narco boss Darko Saric and will confirm with Interpol and authorities in Serbia and Montenegro whether the man they are investigating is him.
Spokesman McIntosh Polela confirmed to OCCRP on Thursday night that the country's Police Hawks Unit (the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations) has tasked its international fugitives desk to track down the whereabouts of Saric in South Africa.
Polela told the Podgorica daily "Dan" that the person, believed to be Darko Saric, is currently near Capetown, South Africa’s second largest city.
"Saric was not arrested, but is the subject of our attention, and when we confirm with Interpol and the governments of Montenegro and Serbia, we will take further measures,” Polela said.
“We will send photos and other evidence of this person to Interpol for further consideration, he added.
According to Serbian authorities, Saric led a powerful Balkan criminal organization which for years trafficked cocaine from South America through the Balkans, Italy and Slovenia to Western Europe and profited around one billion euros each year. He was relatively unknown to the public until October 2009 when more than 2 tons of cocaine was seized near the Uruguayan coast in ‘Operation Balkan Warrior.’
Company records obtained by OCCRP show that Šarić laundered money by investing in the privatization of important Serbian hotels and buying companies from people who were charged or convicted for organized crime, mostly cigarette smuggling. Saric also worked with Zoran Copic, a Serbian businessman who was arrested by Bosnian authorities last year for money laundering. Copic is currently on trial in Banja Luka.
Saric first came to the attention of South African authorities when local newspapers reported on the slaying of local crime boss Cyril Beeka. Beeka reportedly was linked to Czech fugitive Radovan Krejcir.
The South African Revenue Service (SARS) raided Krejcir's Johannesburg home last year in what was reported by the Mail&Guardian newspaper as part of a larger investigation into Krejcir and his links Eastern European crime families.
Krejcir has denied links to Saric.
Beeka was murdered last year in a gangland style attack. With him at the time was his driver Dobrosav Gavric, himself a Serbian hitman best known for being charged with killing Zeljko “Arkan” Raznatovic, the leader of the Tiger paramilitaries involved in ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the last war there.
Polela wouldn’t confirm Thursday if the authorities’ interest in Saric was related to the investigation into Krejcir and Beeka.
"The investigation whether Saric is in South Africa may take another week to complete," Polela said.
Cobus Coetzee contributed reporting from South Africa.