Serbia: Drug Lord Šaric Sentenced to 20 Years
By Bojana Pavlović, KRIK
Darko Šarić, convicted of organizing a criminal group that smuggled tons of cocaine from Latin America to western Europe, was sentenced today to 20 years in prison.
Šarić remained in his cell and did not attend his sentencing. His two closest associates, Goran Soković and Želiko Vukanović, were sentenced to 20 and 18 years respectively.
Rodoljub Radulović, also known as "Miša Banana", was sentenced to 11.5 years in absentia, as he remains on the run. Three others received between 5 and 10 months' imprisonment.
Šarić's lawyer, Radoslav Baćović, said that he will appeal.
Šarić was originally indicted in 2010. In the following two years, the Serbian prosecutor for organized crime filed five indictments against Šarić, charging him with money laundering and organizing the smuggling of 5.7 tons of cocaine.
After four years on the run, Šarić surrendered to Serbian authorities in March 2014. Minister of Justice Nikola Selaković said then that Šarić surrendered unconditionally in order to avoid arrest and possible bloodshed.
Although Šarić owns real estate, cafes, nightclubs, restaurants, and companies in Belgrade and Novi Sad, not many people in Serbia knew who he was. He was, however, well-known as a wealthy businessman in his hometown of Pljevlja in northern Montenegro.
Investigators with the Serbian intelligence service say they had been aware of his involvement in the drug trade since 2005, but it was not until 2008 that an investigation was opened.
In October 2009, police seized 2.1 tons of cocaine on a yacht near Montevideo, Uruguay, in a police operation dubbed "Balkan Warrior." It was a joint action of the Serbian Security Information Agency (BIA), Uruguayan and Argentine police, and the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
That same day, three men were arrested in Serbia. One was Vujanović, who is also Šarić's first cousin. In January 2010, Serbia issued an international arrest warrant for Šarić.
Ten days before the warrant was issued, Šarić had sought to renounce his Serbian citizenship to become a citizen of Montenegro, saying he intended to return to his home town because of his mother's illness and because he had lost a job in Serbia. Serbia denied his request, however, and the plan fell through.
Prime Minister of Montenegro Milo Djukanović in February 2010 told a TV interviewer that Montenegro had indeed promised Šarić Montenegrin citizenship, noting he had not been convicted at that point.
"We should not deprive the people of fundamental rights on the basis of suspicion, namely the right to citizenship," Djukanović said. "We are not giving him freedom. We are not giving him the Nobel Prize."
At his trial, Šarić denied he had anything to do with cocaine smuggling. He said the trial was instigated by the previous Serbian government and by people who wanted him to testify against Montenegro.
Belgrade-based investigative journalism center KRIK has reported extensively on Šarić's murky dealings, including a secret land deal with officials of the ruling Montenegrin party.