Painting led Serbs to last Balkans war Crimes Suspect

James Bone
The Times

AFTER seven years on the run, a cash-strapped Goran Hadzic was brought undone by a painting.

The last war crimes suspect wanted by the UN tribunal in The Hague for atrocities in the Balkans bloodbath of the 1990s was arrested in Serbia on Wednesday.

The leader of the breakaway Croatian Serb enclave of Krajina was picked up on a forest road near the Krusedol Orthodox monastery in the mountain region of Fruska Gora, not far from his old home in the northern city of Novi Sad. He was carrying a pistol.

“We nabbed him while he was about to meet a helper. He had changed his appearance somewhat and had fake papers on him,” a Serbian agent said.

Vladimir Vukcevic, Serbia’s chief war crimes investigator, said Hadzic had maintained contact with only a few people in recent years, including members of the Serbian Orthodox clergy. He dismissed initial reports Hadzic was arrested at the monastery.

Investigators found his trail, he said, when the cash-strapped fugitive allegedly sought money from the sale of a painting purporting to be by the Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani. The painting, entitled Portrait of a Man and dated 1918, was found in December at the home of Zoran Mandic, a businessman and friend of Hadzic, in Novi Sad.

Mr Mandic insists he acquired it in 1991, but Serbian authorities suspect it belongs to Hadzic.

“The breakthrough was information that he (Hadzic) wanted to sell a stolen Modigliani painting, as he was running out of money,” Mr Vukcevic said.

State-run RTS television aired footage of Hadzic during the arrest that showed he had put on weight and lost much of his hair, wearing a moustache instead of his trademark beard. He later appeared in court in a T-shirt.

Hadzic is the last of 161 war crimes suspects wanted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

“Twenty years after the start of the wars of Yugoslav disintegration an important chapter in the history of the region is closed when the last person indicted for war crimes by the UN tribunal is arrested,” said Carl Bildt, Sweden’s Foreign Minister and former EU and UN envoy to the Balkans. “I warmly congratulate Serbia.”

The UN said the arrest would serve as a warning to other war crimes suspects, such as Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, that international justice will eventually catch up with them.

“A strong message has been sent today to those who commit human rights violations that they will be held accountable, if not by domestic judicial processes then by international justice mechanisms,” said UN human rights chief Navi Pillay.

Hadzic faces 14 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for the murder and “ethnic cleansing” of thousands of people from the Serbian enclave in Croatia between 1991 and 1993. He is accused over the massacre in Vukovar in 1991 in which about 250 people were taken out of the hospital and killed, in one of the first atrocities of the war. He also faces charges in relation to at least three other massacres, at Dalj, Erdut and Lovas.

Serbian President Boris Tadic compared the seven-year search for Hadzic to the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden. “We have been working very hard,” he said. “We have been working systematically. At the end of the day, we finished.”

Hadzic’s capture follows that of the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic in July 2008 and the military commander Ratko Mladic in May. Serbia has now apprehended all 45 Serb suspects sought by the tribunal.

“The moment they arrested Mladic it was quite clear that Hadzic would be arrested soon himself,” said Sonja Biserko of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia. “The fact he was found in Fruska Gora, where people speculated he was all the time, shows they probably knew where he was all the time.”