Bosnia and Herzegovina: Country's 'Most Dangerous Organized Crime Group' Jailed

A court in Bosnia and Herzegovina has delivered a prison sentence of 40 years to an organized crime kingpin who murdered five people including a pregnant woman, whom he buried in decorators' plaster.

Zijad TurkovicZijad Turkovic, 49, was found guilty of murder, attempted murder, drug trafficking, banditry, endangering the public, possesion of weapons and explosives, extortion, and money laundering.

At a hearing yesterday, the court also sentenced four other members of Turkovic's gang on related charges. In total, the judge ordered the defendants to serve combined prison sentences of 95 years.

Contract killer Milenko Lakic was sentenced to 35 years in jail for murder and attempted murder, Sasa Stjepanovic to 12 years for drug trafficking and banditry, Fadil Aljovic to five years for organized crime and murder, and Muamer Zahitovic to three years for extortion and money laundering.

The Bosnian Prosecutor's Office said it was a historical sentence, and that Turkovic's group had been the most dangerous criminal organization in the country. The court remarked that the gang had struck fear and insecurity into citizens across the country.

Turkovic's group was found guilty of murdering Mario Tolic, Verner Ajdari, Rajko Milovanovic and Midhat Mekic, along with Mekic's pregnant girlfriend Lucia Salas-Cortez. He also planned the murders of Anes Kurbekovic, Naser Kelmendi, and Kelmendi's son Elvis.

Turkovic and his group were also found guilty of trafficking a large but unidentified quantity of drugs internationally, and subsequently laundering the proceeds.

The sentencing marked the end of a grindingly slow legal process of three and a half years, which began September 2011 when the court heard its first witnesses.

One of them was Turkovic's best man Sead Dumanjic, who had been sentenced to five years in prison as an accomplice in the 2010 murders of Mekic and Salas-Cortez.

As part of a plea bargain, Dumanjic testified that Turkovic had obtained the key to the house in Binjezevo in which Mekic lived, entered it, and shot Mekic and the pregnant Salas-Cortez with a Heckler gun.

The bodies were then dumped in a shallow grave near Dumanjic's weekend house in Hadzici, and covered over with plaster.

The trial also saw the testimony of Turkovic's former clan member Isljam Kalender. Turkovic had been best man at Kalender's wedding. Kalender described to the court Turkovic's plot to detonate a bomb at the wedding of Elvis Kelmendi to kill kim and his father.

Kalender also testified about the group's international drug trade, in which they trafficked heroin from Turkey and cocaine from Colombia. The drugs were couriered by Sasa Stjepanovic in a hidden compartment in his BMW car.

The court found that the group had robbed more than 2.5 million Bosnian marks (about US$ 1.4 million) from the cargo center at the Sarajevo International Airport in December 2007 and that, together with Zahitovic, Turkovic extorted shares from the owner of the sock factory "Kljuc" to gain a stake in ownership.

Turkovic was not present at his sentencing.

The court ordered the seizure of all property, vehicles, profits and stocks the gang gained through their brutal criminal enterprise, and demanded that the defendants cover the costs of the trial. Turkovic was ordered to pay US$ 165,000 in relation to his crimes.

After the trial, the son of Mario Tolic, who was murdered in March 2010, said that justice has been done.

During his testimony, Sendi Tolic had described how his father was friends with Turkovic, who owed him € 35,000 (US$ 32,295). He believes the debt was the main motive for his father's murder.

"These people, monsters, deserve to never see another day of freedom. Now I will go to put some flowers on my fathers grave," he said.