To Sejla Turkovic, Fahrudin “Fahro” Radoncic was a friend, a mentor, a confidante, a great boss.
And no, she says, they were never lovers.
Turkovic is a key witness in a sprawling indictment accusing Kosovo-born Naser Kelmendi of leading a major drug trafficking organization. That indictment names presidential hopeful and Turkovic’s former boss Radoncic as a key co-conspirator in Kelmendi’s organized crime activities including the 2007 murder of mobster Ramiz “Celo” Delalic.
Turkovic’s detractors have called her crazy, promiscuous and intent on protecting her crime-figure husband.
“If you want to discredit a woman, it is easiest to say she is a whore,” she told a reporter for the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and CIN in a long and rambling interview in her huge home on Hercegovacka street.
“If I were promiscuous, and if I had all those relationships that they tried to tie to me, would I have ended up staying four years alongside my husband, suffer all that I have suffered, to live without a cent?”
Although Turkovic’s house is said to be worth almost half a million Euros, its many rooms were silent and sparsely furnished. She claims to be living on only her mother’s 300 KM (US$ 200) pension, and she rolled her own cigarettes during the interview.
Dressed in a dark t-shirt and gray sweatpants, her hair was disheveled and she seemed nervous, insisting that the interview take place in a small room she said she was certain was not bugged.
She spoke rapidly and at length during her conversation with OCCRP, seeming sure of her facts and intent on making herself understood.
Her husband, Zijad “Zika” Turkovic, was convicted last year and sentenced to 40 years for a series of crimes including drug trafficking, an audacious 2007 robbery at the Sarajevo Airport cargo department, and five murders, including one of a pregnant woman. An appeals court last month overturned that verdict and ordered a new trial; he remains in detention.
At 38, Turkovic is a strikingly attractive woman, her looks a valuable asset in her work as a television presenter. Radoncic, who founded a media empire, has since left the media business to move into politics. During her years with the former media mogul, she says she was privy to the innermost secrets of his empire—information she is now using to destroy her former mentor, who she now depicts as a cold-blooded monster.
Radoncic has been named in a 49-page indictment as a member of a criminal gang headed by the investigation’s main target, Kelmendi, who is accused of running a major drug trafficking ring that moved drugs from Afghanistan and Turkey into Europe. Kelmendi is currently jailed in Kosovo awaiting trial, which is expected to begin in October.
The nine-count indictment has two main areas of focus: Delalic’s murder and Kelmendi’s alleged drug trafficking empire. While Radoncic has not been charged with anything, the indictment accuses him of helping to plan and pay for Delalic’s murder.
Police have suspected links between Radoncic and Kelmendi for years. The two have engaged in land and auto deals over the years. Radoncic, who founded Bosnia’s largest daily newspaper Avaz (Voice), is now running for one of the three presidential slots in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the October elections.
Turkovic says she knows plenty about the interactions of Radoncic and Kelmendi over the past decade. She has told her story in great detail naming specific names, dates and events to prosecutors and is prepared to tell it all again at trial. She is under 24-hour police guard to ensure that she gets the opportunity to do that.
Radoncic did not address any of these issues in his interview with OCCRP but has repeatedly called her a liar, saying she is doing it to protect her criminal husband.
Kelmendi (through his son, Besnik) and others targeted in the indictment agree with Radonicic that she is a liar and is only blaming them in an attempt to deflect attention from her husband and the nefarious activities of his criminal organization.
Besnik Kelmendi was particularly vehement. “What does that idiot Sejla know about (his father) Naser? Nothing! She screwed around with Fahrudin, so she says this is the connection—she with Fahrudin and Fahrudin is good with Naser. But she knows nothing about Naser and so how can she be a witness against him?”
Radoncic says the only evidence the authorities have against him comes from Turkovic, and that it is a tissue of lies. “My name is mentioned in the indictment solely on the basis of the false testimony given by Sejla Jugo Turkovic to investigation authorities,” he told OCCRP/CIN. He has repeatedly pointed out that he has not been charged with any crimes.
Turkovic says they are all denigrating her because they know what she knows, and that it can hurt them. “If I were a compromised and unreliable witness, the American prosecutor would not have listened to me for three days (and) he wouldn’t ask me to be a witness in Kosovo,” she said.
But “because they compared my statements with other information, they saw that I am speaking the truth. Because I was involved, I was present at all the events related to Radoncic and Kelmendi.”
It is quite a tale she tells.
Turkovic says she was working at the Ministry of Interior as the personal assistant and spokesperson for then-Minister Ismet Dahic in 2001 when she first met Radoncic, who was looking for someone well educated and fluent in English to help him out in important meetings with politicians and businessmen.
“You know the conditions at the Ministry—low salaries and so on. He offered me a job and said that I could call him whenever I want, to come work for him, that it would be better for me than at the Ministry, that it’s a madhouse there, that new people arrive when the government changes, blah blah blah,” she recalls.
“After some time passed I decided to change jobs because of the salary, and that is how I started to work for him. In the meantime, we became really good friends and he trusted me, ” because she never had a bad word to say about her former boss and that she never revealed “any of the things I knew from the Ministry of the Interior.”
She says the media mogul was surrounded by “yes” men, but Radoncic liked the way she would disagree with him when she thought it warranted. “This is how we became close friends. I became virtually family with him and Azra,” his then-wife.
She also discovered that some of his associates were “people who, objectively, came from a milieu who should not have been close to him … people who were close to Naser Kelmendi, people from the Serbian criminal circles. Darko Saric (a major Serbian drug dealer) even came to his hotel, I am telling you the truth.”
Turkovic had good police contacts from her ministry days, so Radoncic “put her in charge of the crime chronicles for his Dnevni Avaz newspaper,” the indictment says. In that capacity, in 2006 she was interviewing Delalic in Turkey for the newspaper when she saw a fight erupt between Delalic and another alleged mobster, Mohamed “Ali” Gashi, who then turned to his friend Kelmendi for help.
“Delalic received a phone call from Kelmendi, threatening he would ‘send you the Kurds, who will kill you within an hour,’” the indictment states.
Radoncic says it is ludicrous to think that Lekic’s death provided him with a motive to harm Delalic. “The truth is, however, completely different,” he said, noting that Mersudin Cosovic, not Delalic, was convicted of Lekic’s murder.
Over time, Turkovic says she began to understand more about the relationship between Radoncic and Kelmendi. The indictment states that the former Minister of Security provided political protection to Kelmendi, his “business partner.”
Turkovic made other allegations about the pair, including specific details about how money was used and the drug trade operated, but the information could not be independently confirmed by CIN and OCCRP and it was not included in the indictment, which focuses primarily on Kelmendi.
Turkovic believes that Radoncic wanted her to attend his meetings with Kelmendi because he realized that despite all his police connections, some day Kelmendi would be arrested and Radoncic would have to distance himself from him. “If Kelmendi decided to speak, Fahro would have me on his side, a respectable person,” she explains. “In the end, he would be respectable, and who would then believe Kelmendi?”
Yet during this period her personal life was becoming complicated, as she started seeing the man she would eventually marry, Zijad Turkovic. She says she did not want Radoncic or Kelmendi to know about it, as she knew they would think she was passing sensitive information to another gangster.
After Delalic’s murder, she became frightened, although she insists she never told Zijad anything about what they were doing.
“I tried to find another job,” she says. “I was simply scared for my life…I was afraid because when (Radoncic) found out that I was in a relationship with Zijad Turkovic, that was an annoyance to him and he was afraid that I had already told Zijad everything. He was afraid that Zijad could abuse that information in some way, and so he was in a terrible panic.”
Turkovic says she eventually spoke to Kelmendi on the phone. “I told Naser then that he does not have to be worried, that everything that is said at this table stays here. So I wanted to give him assurance, because you know how it is—you can’t speak so openly on the telephone, and he is a man who has learned to speak in code. It was clear to him what I wanted to say.”
Today Turkovic mostly stays in her house, guarded by police, and waits for the trial to start. And, she says, she has more information stashed away that she can use if she needs to.