Prior to the continuation of the trial of gendarmes for the attack on Andrej Vučić and Predrag Mali, BIRN publishes new details from Đorđe Gačanović’s testimony and biography

By Jelena Veljković (BIRN)

During the Pride Parade on 24 of September 2014, the members of the Gendarmery squad from Niš who were guarding the manifestation used force against Andrej Vučić, the brother of the ex-Prime Minister and currently the President of the Republic of Serbia, and Predrag Mali, the brother of the Mayor of Belgrade, and against two members of the Cobras military unit. Serbia’s High Prosecution Office in March 2015 brought charges against eight members of the Gendarmerie, for attacking army officers in the performance of their duties, abuse and torture and abuse of office.

A new hearing in the case against eight members of the Gendarmerie who are being tried before the Belgrade Higher Court for intervening against Andrej Vučić, Predrag Mali and their security from the Cobra military unit at the 2014 Pride Parade has been scheduled for Friday, June 2, 2017.

The previous hearing was scheduled for February 24, 2017, but was postponed because the deputy public prosecutor and a lawyer failed to attend.

The presenting of evidence will continue at the next hearing and also expected to arrive in court are still frames from the video of the event that was taken by TV N1.

The trial, in this case, has been going on for over two years now and a considerable number of witnesses has been questioned. Testimonies range from those saying that Andrej Vučić, Predrag Mali and Cobra members failed to identify themselves and tried to break through the police cordon with threats such as:

„You don’t know who we are, we’ll  destroy your unit“, to those according to which they properly identified themselves but, in spite of that, gendarmes used batons.

Since the participants include the prime minister’s and the mayor’s brothers, from the very beginning the incident was accompanied by many speculations on whether and to what extent politics are involved in the legal proceedings before the Higher Court.

The testimony that triggered the most controversies is that of the key prosecution witness, Đorđe Gačanović, especially in the light of the fact that he describes himself as an associate of the incumbent authorities.

Gačanovic at the great election event of the Serbian Progress Party in Belgrade (Photo: Facebook profile of Đorđe Gačanović)

Key prosecution witness

„I went into the restroom in Mali Paris (Little Paris) and when I came out I saw a crew with a camera and I stopped to see what was happening…“.

This is how Đorđe Gačanović, the key prosecution witness in the trial of the eight gendarmes, explained the combination of circumstances that on September 28, 2014, made him an eyewitness of the police action against the brothers of the prime minister and Belgrade mayor, Andrej Vučić and Predrag Mali.

Đorđe Gačanović, the key prosecution witness, told a hearing held on October 19 last year that gendarmerie members IDed the civilians who came by and the persons accompanying them, yet that, in spite of that, the gendarmes intervened.

According to Gačanović’s own account, when the incident happened he was the director of the Security and Investigation Department of the NGO Russian Initiative which is led by Siniša Vučinić, a member of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS). He is currently a spokesman for the non-representative Independent Police Labor Union whose activity is significantly reflected in statements of support for the police minister, prime minister and the prime minister’s associates.

In addition to this, Gačanović is also politically active, which he makes no effort to hide, so on his Facebook profile, there are many posts voicing support for the SNS and its leader but also photos with party leaders and state officials. In an interview with BIRN, he said that he was not a member but a supporter of the SNS but also described himself as “an associate of the authorities”.

Along with the fact that Gačanović likes to have his photos taken with famous and prominent persons, BIRN’s activities also did not escape the attention of this police union member and key witness – he “boasted” of this, posting on his FB profile a photo taken in Belgrade’s Radisson Blu Hotel in which BIRN had organized a debate entitled “Media in Serbia 2020”.

„Of course, I follow your work, I’ve been to a few of your debates”, Gačanović told BIRN.

Gačanović at the public event organized by BIRN Serbia (Photo: Facebook profile of Đorđe Gačanovića)

Đorđe Gačanović’s statement

In his testimony before the Higher Court in October last year Gačanović said that his then boss Siniša Vučinić had ordered him, as the director of the Security and Investigation Department of the NGO Russian Initiative, to pay attention to police motivation, to whether they are acting on orders and IDing civilians, and to look out for any fan groups.

Gačanović told the trial chamber that he did not have any ID or authorization for this oversight that he performed on behalf of the Russian Initiative but that, in the event of a problem, he would have phoned Siniša Vučinić, who was, according to Gačanović, in SIV (Interior Ministry head office, author’s remark) or in Andrićev Venac.

It remains unclear as to how he would have phoned Vučinić if the need arose since he told the judges that his phone battery went flat at one point.

According to Gačanović, just minutes before the disputed Gendarmerie action he was on his way to the Russian Embassy in Belgrade which is on Deligradska Street. While he was going there he said he turned onto Svetozara Markovića Street or Birčaninova Street, adding he was not sure which of the two because he is not from Belgrade.

„As I was going towards Little Paris, somewhere at a distance of about 10 meters a gendarme passed by and I heard him say something along the lines of ‘Bro, they are coming in 10 minutes’“, Gačanović told the trial chamber.

He then went to the restroom in the restaurant and when he went back out onto the street he saw a crew with a camera and tried to find out what was happening.

He saw gendarmes who were not in a cordon but grouped together (he said the opposite in the investigation) and 4 civilians of a large build and dressed in sporty clothes.

He heard their discussion which was becoming heated. Gačanović claims that they mentioned an ID card but he is not sure whether or not one of these civilians who “was taller than the others” showed his ID. According to him, the gendarmes said ‘you can’t go through’ and, in this commotion, he also managed to see two civilians who were showing their official IDs and said – “he is a protected person, we are the Cobras”.

Gačanović described the fight to the judges, saying that the gendarmes hit the tallest civilian the most and that someone was shouting that he was the prime minister’s brother and a protected person.

The tallest civilian started withdrawing, 4-5 gendarmes went after him, someone hit him and he fell down, said Gačanović, adding that more gendarmes arrived at the spot but that at that point he left.

According to his testimony, one of the gendarmes fell down on the ground after he tripped on the edge of a kerbstone around a tree pit (instead of falling because one of the civilians had pushed him like the gendarmes claim).

He also talked about the object that, as it shows in the TV N1 video, flew from Andrej Vučić’s hands in the direction of the gendarmes. However, Gačanović saw this differently.

He said “the tallest civilian” held an object in his hand which he did not see him throw at someone or throw at all but that he, instead, saw “that he dropped the object when he fell down on the ground”.

In the course of his testimony Gačanović presented various information about the distance from which he observed the incident – 5 to 10 meters, and, occasionally, he said he was standing at a distance of no more than 2 meters.

At the hearing, defendants’ lawyers Vladimir Vučinić and Saša Ćurčić asked Gačanović questions about the many illogical things contained in his testimony.

In connection with the suspicions that the lawyers voiced regarding the credibility of the witness, since he has photos with Mayor Siniša Mali, former general police director Milorad Veljović and General Momir Stojanović (SNS) posted on his FB profile, Gačanović said that he did not know any of these people at the time when the disputed incident took place.

„I took a selfie with Mayor Mali at some later gay parade”, said Gačanović, adding that he did not know Veljović before the incident either, but that he met him later on when he was already retired. He said the same about Momir Stojanović.

Gačanović remained secretive about this matter even during his interview with BIRN. Asked about his recommendations for the job of overseeing the police, he said:

„I already said – experience from my previous job,“ replied Gačanović but declined to explain what jobs he was referring to. He just added that they mostly involved security, not in the state sector but “more towards the non-governmental sector”.

Police work under oversight by the Russian Initiative

Could Gačanović at all oversee the police without any documents, decisions, approval and official identification is the question we asked Saša Đorđević of the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy, an NGO whose projects include the monitoring and analysis of police work.

He says that the Law on Police stipulates that oversight of the work of the police can be performed by the citizens and the public, but that the manner in which this is done is not defined.

However, he adds that, when it comes to external oversight, the law very precisely defines the competencies of certain actors and the kind of oversight they can perform.

„Citizens can ask the police questions, but what the witness was talking about in court, that is direct oversight of the police in the field. There would need to be some kind of paper, a decision, something… What happened in 2014 is an exception, because of an institution or an organization overseeing the work of the police in the field without any legal framework, that is not possible,” Đorđević told BIRN.

For the time being, we are unable to learn the findings of Gačanović’s alleged oversight of the police because not only has the Russian Initiative failed to post any kind of a report on this on its official website, which is the usual practice, but this NGO does not even have a website.

In an interview with BIRN, Russian Initiative president Siniša Vučinić said that what Gačanović told the court was true – that he had no approval for oversight of the police.

„Well that us, since we are an NGO, we did not ask for permission, I mean, we look at how the police are working, to see how the police are working, since they had been announcing a strike, to see what it would be like and to have in our archives a report, to see, right, how, because the Russian Initiative simply did, we have been working a lot since our founding in 2005 and since his Excellency Ambassador Konuzin came that some things have changed in Serbia a great deal, a great deal for the better, especially since 2012, but we continue to monitor so there wouldn’t be omissions in the way work is done, to report, how work is done, etc.”

Asked to whom the Russian Initiative reports and whether the public can read its reports anywhere, Vučinić said that that wasn’t possible.

Vučinić on Gačanović’s testimony

BIRN: During oversight, you have no approval of any kind from the police? People who do similar project say that they absolutely have to have permission from the police and then to do research based on that…

SINIŠA VUČINIĆ:„Well, you see, agreements exist, but I cannot tell you before we get approval, we have those agreements, maybe they are oral, maybe they are written, but I cannot tell you anything more about this “.

But Gačanović said at that trial that he had no authorization nor any ID for that oversight. How is that possible?

„He had my authorization as the director of the Security and Investigation Department, he was the director at the time, he isn’t any longer, we have a new director, I mean, his term in office expired, that’s the only reason, there is no other reason, because he did his job very well, he told the absolute truth, because exactly the way he told me he also personally read the statement in court, the way he briefed me that is also how he gave his testimony in the capacity of a witness in court”.

So it was just by chance that he happened to be so close so what he could…

„No, no he wasn’t there by chance, he went there to monitor work, and he looked wherever there were some, he wasn’t the only one, I had 127 observers that day all over Belgrade, and he happened to be there, I didn’t know that he would be there. He came and said I have quite a good, my report is good, I saw this, this, this, some other observer could have also done the same, but the director moved around the center, he has privileges from me to be in the center, not to go wider not to monitor some extremes some who are organizing some other gathering and so and we simply have to see if we live in a safe country.”

At the hearing Gačanović said that he was pretty close, he mentioned 5 to 10 meters, at one point he even said he was 2 meters away, but the interesting thing is that the N1 camera never captured him in those moments that he describes…

„He was in constant contact with me, he kept informing me on his whereabouts at all times, he was at the distance of which he says he was, he could see, I don’t know why the camera didn’t capture him if the camera was there, I really don’t know that… “

So how was he in constant contact with you if he told the court that his phone battery went flat?

„He was in contact with me as much as was sufficient for me, when I called him at one point he had to recharge the battery, I could always reach him. He said, let me tell you if that’s the point of the question, he said the absolute truth at that trial, as a witness he told the absolute truth. Firstly, I have no reason to doubt a director of the NGO that I am the president and founder of, therefore, I don’t have a single reason, secondly, it just absolutely coincided, how shall I say it, from another aspect, I am not naïve that he could say in his testimony the identical thing that he gave to me in the report, he also gave it like that in court.“

It is an unusual combination of circumstances that a key witness is at the same time so close to senior SNS officials.

„Well he is not close, he has never seen those SNS senior officials. I don’t know, he is only close to the officials, I am, one thing is engaging in politics in the sense, the Russian Initiative, almost all our members are, not almost, but all our members are also SNS members, and, to my knowledge, Đorđe Gačanović didn’t know any of those attacked by the gendarmerie, certain unfortunate members of the gendarmerie who fiercely beat Mr. Andrej Vučić just because he is Vučić’s brother and now all of that shows through these events, I am deeply convinced of that, that Andrej Vučić was beat up just because of that, for no other reason…He made a recording for me, he made an entry for me, and I got the report.“

Did he make a video or take a photo?

„He forwarded me a photo in which it shows…“

Did he submit the photo as evidence in the case?

„He did everything right, by the book and he did not have a single reason to take anyone’s side there, he just told the truth, meaning what he saw, the fact that this now doesn’t suit someone who doesn’t have a clean conscience, that’s a different matter.“

Who is the key witness

Since December 15, 2015, Đorđe Gačanović has been “performing the work of the Serbian Police Independent Labor Union’s information and public relations”. According to Serbian Police Labor Union leader Veljko Mijailović, this is a small labor union of the total of 26 police labor unions.

„This is one of the labor unions set up in order to repudiate representative unions such as ours,“ Mijailović told BIRN. He says that these are unions with no more than a few members but which present themselves in public as being equal with the big unions.

The Independent Labor Union does not have a web presentation while posted on its FB page are some statements, many of which contain congratulations on the prime minister’s electoral victory, on the appointment of the team that he will be working with (for example, the election of general secretary Novak Nedić), offer support to Minister Stefanović in connection with “the media attacks” “orchestrated” against him, request that Gačanović be protected from the threats addressed to him in connection with his testimony before the Higher Court…

A conclusion that can be drawn from some media reports is that the Union was founded in 2013 and that it assembles police officers who were engaged in Kosovo.

The Union’s leader, Predrag Đorđević, shared on April 4 with his FB friends a photo taken at the MP Club in Dedinje of him and Zoran “Zelja” Milojević – a controversial SNS member from Kosovo.

Đorđević and Gačanović also shared photos from this same place showing them in the company of the prime minister’s son, Danilo Vučić, General Secretary of the Serbian Government Novak Nedić and head of the Office for Kosovo Marko Đurić.

Gačanović’s photos on his FB profile include those of him and Ana Brnabić, Tomislav Nikolić, Ivica Dačić, Bratislav Dikić, Ivan Tasovac, a close associate of Russian President Putin, Alexander Babakov, photos from the SNS exhibition entitled “Uncensored Lies” and those from the big SNS election rally in Belgrade.

The congratulations Gačanović sent out include those he posted on his FB profile in April last year addressed to the Alibunar municipal council head Predrag Belić. Gačanović’s post reads “Bravo, Baki”, in which he sent a message to Belić that he achieved success in local elections (on the SNS list of candidates), in spite of “the most primitive insults” that he put up with in the course of the election campaign. Đorđe Gačanović is from Banatski Karlovac, which is in the Alibunar municipality of southern Banat.

The aforementioned Alibunar municipal council president Predrag Belić is known to the public for his arrest in the 2003 Sabre operation, while the media wrote that these are not the only crimes in his record. According to the same sources, we were in prison on two occasions and was charged with extortion, acts of violent behavior and possession of weapons.

His name was even more present in public after two recent court rulings. Based on a criminal complaint filed by Predrag Belić as well as two other “controversial” SNS officials from Southern Banat, Dejan Simeunović and Branko Malović, journalist Stefan Cvetković from Bela Crkva was recently sentenced to as much as two years and three months in prison under a decision of the Vršac Court of First Instance.

After the Pančevo Higher Court, as the second instance court, quashed the conviction, this court’s president Staka Simonović was targeted by the local TV Pančevo and was, for days, exposed to a smear campaign in the TV Pančevo news program.

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TAGS: AnalysisExternal OversightSerbia