Murder sealed with the Seal of the State: 11 years since Milan Levar’s murder

Tomislav Karamarko has been pursuing me for years because of the knowledge I have about the circumstances of Milan Levar’s murder and recently he has offered me a ‘truce’ / The State Attorney Mladen Bajić has questioned Milan Mrla, the link between Gospić assassination and Karamarko. 

The murder of Milan Levar, a witness to the war crimes in Lika, which was perpetrated exactly 11 years ago on 28 August 2000, has marked the rest of my life. It is now an imperative of all my activity to urge the institutions to find and punish those who ordered and executed the assassination of the man I had known for less than a year, but whose determination, courage and honesty had been an inspiration to me. My goal, which is not to allow a murder to go unpunished and a murdered witness, my friend and my source, to be forgotten has so far cost me my career, brought me social isolation, damaged my health and disturbed my family life. 

One figure invariably appears in my life story about Milan Levar. Tomislav Karamarko, the present Minister of the Interior who was at the time of the murder acting as the Head of the National Security Office (UNS), the umbrella organization for intelligence services, was very upset in 2004 when after a two-year break from the civil service, as a new Chief of POA (Counterintelligence Agency, formerly called SZUP and now a part of the Security and Intelligence Agency) he discovered, upon going through some papers, that I held him responsible for obstructing the investigation of Levar’s murder. Since then he has done a number of things, using all the power he has at his disposal, to make me give up that story. It is his doing that I have lost my job, have been arrested and sued twice (once for disturbing the public peace and once for infringing the confidentiality of procedure), and during his term of office as Minister the police filed charges against me for sexual harassment of my underage daughter on the basis of an anonymous notification. He had lost these lawsuits. Neither the police nor the social services have found any trace of evidence of my alleged sexual or any other form of harassment of my child (20. 04. 2011). 

He is now planning a brilliant political career. He gives the current Prime Minister and himself most credit for dealing with the corruption, which is the reason ‘Croatia was given a start date for EU negotiations’. He will activate his HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union) membership and in the forthcoming elections represent the right wing of the party that had been in power for 17 years in the democratic Croatia. The story of Milan Levar and myself would be unpleasant reminders of the past in the light of his future plans, which is why he is offering a ‘truce’. He has informed me through his messengers that he has nothing against me, but he was upset by my claim that he had killed Milan Levar. He is generously prepared to meet me for coffee and withdraw all official charges. To his messenger, a former high police official suspected of committing a war crime after operation ‘Storm’ (also Milan Mrla), I replied sharply that he was not authorized for any kind of negotiations and that I am not trading in truth. 

The man who introduced himself to me as collaborator of the Croatian secret service and told me two days before the murder of Levar that my friend be killed, is called Milan Mrla. He is still under the protection of the Croatian authorities.

Karamarko’s failed attempt at ‘making a truce’ coincides with the fact (confirmed to me by two witnesses) that the file on Milan Levar’s murder has been in the hands of the State Attorney Mladen Bajić since the end of last year. The case has been transferred from Gospić to Zagreb. The witnesses who have spoken to Bajić about this say that he claims the Levar case is now his priority, that he has already questioned the retired Croatian Army officer Milan Mrla, the person I suspect had informed Levar’s killers about his whereabouts, and that he would also summon me for an official interrogation at the State Attorney’s Office. This information reached me six months ago, but the summons has not arrived yet. However, I don’t think this has been easy for Tomislav Karamarko. Milan Mrla, now questioned by the State Attorney, formerly boasted that he was not going to give a statement to the police about Levar because he had the protection of Tomislav Karamarko. Milan Mrla is the link between Levar’s murder and the current Minister of the Interior, who is not concealing his huge political ambitions. 

Until recently I used to come across Milan Mrla in the streets every now and then, and my friends and acquaintances in various ways connected with the Gospić case have been informing me about communicating with him. After being questioned by the State Attorney, Milan Mrla seems to have vanished off the face of the earth. Nobody has heard from him or seen him for months. Knowing how Bajić works, I dare say that he will continue with the investigation in this direction only when he is certain that Tomislav Karamarko is politically dead. The case of Ivo Sanader is the best evidence of this. The Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor announced that the parliamentary elections would be held by the end of this year. I don’t expect there will be any new developments concerning the investigation until that time. 

After numerous Amnesty International appeals sent to DORH (Croatian State Attorney’s Office), expressing the urgency for prosecuting those responsible for Milan Levar’s death, as a way of encouraging other war crime witnesses to testify, Mladen Bajić’s office replied that Levar’s killer was known to them and that he had even been arrested and confessed to the murder while being detained in the police station, but since the confession was obtained without the presence of his lawyer, he could not be prosecuted. This was not the first major mistake of this kind the police had made when murders of high media visibility are concerned. An identical case occurred ten years earlier, in 1992, when the arrested members of reserve police forces, while being questioned in the police station, confessed to the killing of the Serbian family Zec who were living in Zagreb. The arrested were released and have never been prosecuted for the multiple murders because the confession was rendered invalid due to having been obtained without the presence of a lawyer. 


Dubravko Novak (left, with beard) and Karamarko (center, top) at the Mass for police officers in the Catholic shrine of Marija Bistrica

The Head of Gospić police Dubravko Novak, who was in charge of the investigation of Levar’s murder during the first few months, must have known about the ‘mistake’ of his colleagues, just as any average newspaper reader in Croatia knew about it. Still, he did not ensure that the arrested Ivica Rožić Roka known as Beli Vuk (White Wolf), had a lawyer present during the questioning. Furthermore, unofficial versions of the event circulating around the police and the press say that the police told Ivica Rožić, when he himself confessed to planting a bomb to kill Levar, to stop talking about it because that was not the reason of his arrest. During Ivica Račan’s term of office as Prime Minister, Dubravko Novak was removed from office and degraded. When Tomislav Karamarko became Minister of the Interior in 2008, he promoted him into his Chief of the Cabinet. Karamarko did the same for Milijan Brkić, another police officer connected with the Gospić case. As a commander of a special police unit ‘Alfa’, Milijan Brkić refused to follow orders of his superiors to arrest the retired general Mirko Norac who had often been publicly named by Levar in relation to war crimes and for whom an arrest warrant had been issued. In 2004 Tomislav Karamarko transferred Brkić from the police force to the secret service he himself was running and appointed Brkić as his deputy. When Karamarko became Minister of the Interior, he appointed Brkić as Deputy Police Commissioner. The media are now speculating that, in case HDZ wins the elections, Brkić might be the new Minister of the Interior and Tomislav Karamarko the Vice-President of the Government. 


Tihomir Orešković on the county court Rijeka

When I was embarking on the battle for truth in the murder case of Milan Levar, I did not consider the kind of obstacles I would be encountering, how much it would cost me, who would my opponents be and how they would fare. When the person whose testimonies I used in three big cover stories in Globus weekly in 1999 was killed, the Croatian Journalists’ Association publicly asked that I be given police protection. I could not accept that police guards become part of my everyday existence because that would have negative consequences for my work in the first place. I would lose valuable sources, those who would not be prepared to be seen in my company by the police. I was offered a so-called intelligence protection in the form of being in touch with an agent of a service then called SZUP (Service for the Protection of the Constitutional Order, now a part of the Security and Intelligence Agency). Agent I.K. was there to warn me about certain dangerous situations or people and ask me to watch myself, while I, on my part, gave him all the information I had about the circumstances of the murder. Among other things, I warned him that the police should question the above mentioned Milan Mrla because he was an associate of Levar’s, he helped him collect evidence against the war crimes, he told me that Levar was going to be killed a day before it actually happened, he spoke to Levar several times on the day Levar was killed (as I later learned, the police records show that on the day of the murder Milan Mrla contacted Levar every ten minutes before the time of the killing, and his call was the last one recirded in Levar’s mobile phone). Also, as he personally revealed to me, a few hours after the killing he met the main suspect for ordering of the murder, Tihomir Orešković. The agent duly noted everything down, promised to inform his superiors and the police and advised me to stay away from Milan Mrla in the future. A few days later I met a man who, I believe, significantly contributed to Milan Levar’s assassination in the street. He attacked me screaming all sorts of things – he wanted to know who had reported him to the police, he said he was not going to attend any questioning about the murder because Karamarko had promised him so, he also said Karamarko had ordered the police not to harass Milan Mrla. as he was a HIS (former Croatian Intelligence Service, at the time under Karamarko’s jurisdiction) associate. That same evening, rather upset, I asked the agent I.K for an explanation. 

– It is true that Karamarko has done this. The police and us are in this case powerless, he replied shrugging his shoulders. 

In 2005 I notified the State Attorney Mladen Bajić about all of this in writing, and in 2006 I gave an official statement at the State Attorney’s Office in Gospić, so I see no reason to be questioned again. I do not consider myself to be a powerful person and I do not believe institutions are powerless. Unlike me, they lack motivation because the murder of Milan Levar, it seems, has been sealed with the Seal of the State.

This text was published on November 28 08th 2011 and applied for the Lorenzo Lorenzo Natali Journalism Prize – 2011.

Amnesty InternationalBeli VukCounterintelligence AgencyCroatian ArmyCroatian Democratic UnionCroatian Intelligence ServiceDubravko NovakHISIvica RačanIvica RožićJadranka KosorMilan LevarMilan MrlaMilijan BrkićMirko NoracMladen BajicNational Security OfficePOASOASZUPTihomir OreškovićTomislav KaramarkoUNSWhite Wolf
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