Desperate for cash after years on the run, Goran Hadzic tried to sell a stolen painting believed to be a Modigliani and supplied the vital clue for capturing the last major Yugoslav war crimes fugitive.
Serbia's president announced the arrest of Hadzic, a Croatian Serb wartime leader indicted for crimes against humanity during the 1991-95 Croatian war, on Wednesday.
In a later news conference, Serbia's chief war crimes prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic said the 52-year-old was arrested in a forest near the village of Krusedol after investigators followed the trail of a painting attributed to Amedeo Modigliani, the Italian 20th century figurative artist.
"The breakthrough was information that he (Hadzic) wanted to sell a stolen Modigliani painting as he was running out of money," Vukcevic told a news conference.
Earlier this year Serbian tabloids reported that the painting, allegedly titled "Portrait of a Man," had been discovered in the home of a friend of Hadzic.
The Art Loss Register in London, which tracks lost or stolen paintings, lists four Modigliani portraits of men as stolen, said executive director Christopher Marinello.
"We have worked with the Serbian authorities before and we are currently working with them on a number of cases," he said in an interview.
Marinello said Modigliani paintings had sold for between $4 million and $10 million recently, but the seller of a stolen painting might get just 5-10 percent of its value if it was traded on the black market.
There is also a fair chance that the painting, which was apparently exhibited in Belgrade in the mid-2000s, was a fake, said a law enforcement agent who had investigated stolen art works.
"We had suspicions about that particular painting because it was part of a large number of fakes sold to a collector," said the investigator, who did not want to be named.
He said the Serbian market for stolen art was at its height during the late 1980s and early '90s -- a period in which Yugoslavia collapsed and war broke out -- before it subsided after 2000.
Marinello said there are many cases involving stolen art in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union as enforcement is not always robust and corruption widespread.
"Recovering stolen art in that part of the world is extremely difficult," he said.
Former Croatian Serb rebel leader Goran Hadzic appeared before Serbia's war crimes court on Wednesday hours after his arrest.
Hadzic, 52, looked pale and sported a three-day beard. Compared to the picture on his wanted poster he appeared to have gained some weight, but looked to be in good health.
The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia welcomes the arrest today of Goran Hadzic by the Serbian authorities. Today marks the arrest of the last fugitive remaining at large out of the 161 persons indicted by the Tribunal.
Hadžić has been a fugitive since July 2004 when the indictment charging him with crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war committed in Croatia was made public. Arrangements for his transfer into the Tribunal’s custody are under way and he is expected to arrive in The Hague within days.
In relation to the arrest, Prosecutor Serge Brammertz stated the following:
“I welcome the arrest today of Goran Hadžić the war-time Croatian Serb political leader of the self proclaimed Republic of Serbian Krajina. Hadžić’s transfer into the Tribunal’s custody is a long awaited development for the victims of the crimes charged against him. It is also an important milestone in the Tribunal’s history. Eighteen years after the Tribunal’s creation, we can now say that no indicted person has successfully evaded the Tribunal’s judicial process. This is a precedent of enduring significance, not only for this Tribunal, but also for international criminal justice more generally.
We recognize the role of the Serbian authorities in apprehending Goran Hadžić, particularly its Action Team in charge of locating and arresting Tribunal fugitives and the National Security Council. We also acknowledge the role played by the Services who carried out the arrest operation. The international community too has played a role in supporting measures to secure Hadžić’s arrest and we express our gratitude for the support we have received.
Goran Hadžić has been apprehended less than two months after the arrest of war-time Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic. These combined events mark a long-awaited step forward in Serbia’s cooperation with the Tribunal. Serbia has now produced visible evidence that cooperation with the Tribunal is not an empty promise but a genuine commitment and we look forward to Serbia’s assistance with our ongoing work. In the weeks and months ahead we will continue to ask Serbia –and all states of the former Yugoslavia – to support our cases by providing access to archives documents and witnesses.
As we pause to reflect on the significance of Hadžić’s arrest for the Tribunal, we are mindful that the Tribunal is part of a much broader process for establishing accountability for atrocities committed during the wars in the former Yugoslavia. The victims of thousands of other crimes are still waiting for justice. The prosecution of war crimes in national proceedings remains a critical challenge for the region and its people. The Office of the Prosecutor will continue to use its best efforts to assist the fight against impunity in the former Yugoslavia, by providing national prosecutors with information, evidence and expertise. The international community also has a key role to play in ensuring that national prosecutions can successfully take over the Tribunal’s work in establishing accountability for the atrocities committed.
With Hadžić’s arrest we take solace in the knowledge that the Tribunal can now complete its work. But to ensure full accountability for the atrocities committed during the war in the former Yugoslavia, we must also redouble our commitment to supporting the remaining national prosecutions.”
Serbian President Boris Tadic announced on Wednesday that Goran Hadzic, the last fugitive wanted by the UN war crimes court in The Hague, had been arrested.
"This morning at 8:24 am Goran Hadzic was arrested. With this Serbia ends the most difficult chapter in its cooperation with the court," Tadic told a press conference.
Goran Hadzic was a key figure in the breakaway Krajina Serb republic in Croatia, and after the arrest of wartime General Ratko Mladic less than two months ago, he was Serbia's last remaining figure sought by the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in the Hague.
Hadzic is the last of the 161 people indicted ICTY to be caught.
His arrest would remove a major obstacle for Belgrade's efforts to reintegrate into the international community following years of international sanctions and pariah status in the 1990s, when Serbia — led at the time by nationalist president Slobodan Milosevic — was widely viewed as the main culprit for the wars in the Balkans.
Hadzic was indicted in 2004 with war crimes and crimes against humanity, including "persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds, extermination, murder, torture, deportation and forcible transfer" as well as "wanton destruction ... or devastation."
The indictment alleges that Hadzic committed the crimes with an aim to drive the Croats and other non-Serbs from the territories controlled by his self-styled authorities.
Hadzic has managed to evade justice for years, despite international pressure for his arrest. He narrowly escaped arrest in northern Serbia, apparently thanks to a tip from within the Serbian security authorities.
The country's post-war authorities have for years faced accusations that they are not doing enough to hunt down the war crimes suspects. The issue had also blocked Serbia's bid at EU membership. The country now hopes to become a candidate for entry later this year.
More than 10,000 people died in the Croatian war which ended when Zagreb retook the territories held by the Serbs in 1995.
Serbia's wartime president Milosevic was transferred to the Hague tribunal in 2001 and died there in 2006, while on trial for genocide.