Published on Croatian at 15 December 2011
I spoke to Ivica Orešković, a retired Croatian Army officer and formerly a high-ranking counterintelligence agent, twice in my life. The first occasion took place on 1 September 1991 when the late Pajo Šimić, the first leader of Gospić defense, captured Mirko Stanković, who worked as a driver for Vjesnik, and said that he should be eliminated because his brother had joined the Chetniks, who massacred ‘our civilians in Široka Kula’, so we could exchange Stanković’s body for the bodies of our people. This was Šimić’s reaction of the moment. My own courage surprised me when I stood up against Pajo’s idea and said Stanković should be released immediately, or, if he is suspected of espionage, he should be sent to Zagreb for questioning, but he should not be harmed in any way or I will notify my editor Mladen Pleše who can reach Manolić, then the Head of all secret services and all crisis headquarters. Pajo was not worried by either Manolić or foreign reporters. He was taken aback by my pertinence and particularly by my response to his question about my nationality: It’s none of your business, I told him. All of a sudden Tihomir Orešković appeared standing next to me, introducing himself as the coordinator for MUP (Ministry of the Interior) and ZNG (Croatian National Guard), and his brother Ivica who said that he worked for the military, that he had been delegated directly from Zagreb and that everything would be alright. Pajo did not heed them either, but having calmed down, said it was OK and told them to lock Stanković up and let the locals watch him. Straight away a local man who used to be Stanković’s schoolmate was given that task. All of this went on in the basement of the Lika hotel, a place then visited by Pajo’s comrades, first defenders of Gospić including the late Milan Levar, whom I don’t recall in this episode, Zdenko Ropac whom I met in 2003 while he was still using political asylum in Germany, Fatima Skula, now also Tomičić, known as a fortune-teller on Nova TV and many other ‘unknown soldiers/volunteers’.
The second time I spoke to Ivica Orešković was when I was verifying some information published in Večernjak at the end of November that he was arrested pending charges for war crimes. He did not want to talk about it, but from his family, MUP and DORH (Croatian State Attorney’s Office) I learnt that he was taken in by the police because he ignored witness summons for pre-investigation procedures conducted by the District Attorney’s Office in Rijeka in relation to the war crime committed in Lika in 1991.
On 29 November I was dining with a colleague and a friend Norbert Mappes-Niedik in an uptown fish restaurant when at 21:30 my mobile rang. I did not recognize the caller’s number. When I answered the call I heard ‘Is that Peratović? I hear you have been looking for me everywhere. Call me back because my phone battery is running out!’
I returned the call and got an earful of indirect threats. I did not get an answer to the question whether and why he was arrested or taken in, but we arranged to meet soon, which he eventually cancelled promising to call when he had the time.
- Well, Peratović, we have known each other for 20 years and now you’re looking for me, upsetting my family, telling all sorts of things about me…, he started to rant as soon as I phoned him.
- Yes we have met in Lika hotel via Pajo Šimić and your brother. I have not been upsetting your family but have called your listed numbers and when your wife and mother would not give me your mobile number I asked them whether the news in Večernjak was true, I tried to explain.
- Why is it any of your business to be asking around? Why should you be interested in me? You have mentioned my name in your blog several times without having called me, and not all of your information was quite correct, he went on angrily.
- Well, I have been making enquiries as a reporter, checking information I want to write about. I could not find you so I sent a text message to some people who I suppose know you. And I only mentioned you in the context of the crime for which your brother was convicted, because you were at the time delegated to Gospić as a SIS (Security and Intelligence System) representative by Josip Perković. I don’t know what is incorrect about it, but we can discuss that some other time. Besides, you are now of interest to the public because of the possibility that Tihomir is set free after having served two thirds of his sentence, like Mirko Norac, I went on with my explanation.
- Who are you working for? Hey, freelance reporter. You work for the one who pays you more, haha. Why didn’t you ask for my number from our common acquaintances Mile Mrla or Dragutin Frančišković. As for Perković, how would you like to talk about him? You know what the hierarchy was like at the time: Tuđman, Šušak, Perković…, he laughed cynically, clearly alluding to the fact I wrote about many times and which was also published in the White paper of the Croatian Association of Investigative Reporters – that Perković threatened to kill me at the end of 1998.
photo by Željko Peratović
- I am not interested in Perković now. He is now a concern of the German judiciary and if we make it into the EU then he will be our concern as well. I have not contacted Mile Mrla because I heard that he was in a witness protection program due to Milan Levar murder case (I made a joke because it was obvious that Orešković knew Mrla’s name was brought up as somebody who was informing the organizers of the murder about Levar’s movements). Drago Frančišković, on the other hand, is rather old and forgetful and never mentioned you, so I believe he does not even remember you, let alone know your mobile number (I made another joke because Orešković used this name to provoke me, knowing that Frančišković was connected with the late Levar and me and that he repeatedly publicly criticized Josip Perković, who undoubtedly continues to be the benefactor of Orešković brothers). I have sent a text message to your friend Dane Šimić and I guess he was the one who informed you about my search, I said.
- You are one tough son of a bitch. You’re from Slavonia. You’ve got balls, right!? I see you fell out with Karamarko, haha. I am not going to answer your question over the phone. We can meet up tomorrow afternoon and talk.
- I can’t make it tomorrow, but the day after. Tomorrow I’m babysitting.
- Whose kid, haha, he hinted that I might not be the father of my child and that MUP and DORH had sued me for child molesting, a charge that was dropped after 2 years of harassment and slandering.
- Mine, of course, the same one for which your friends claimed I molested it. So, could we meet the day after tomorrow in the afternoon, I would not be deterred.
- OK. How about the motel Plitvička kuća, he again hinted at the death threats by Josip Perković which took place at the said motel.
- That is a bit far away for me and besides, I won’t have the time to hide a gun in the toilet, which is what Perković suspected when we met there, so before he let me go to the loo he sent Zdravko Pejić in there to check if I had any hidden lethal weapons there to kill him. So, shall we meet at Ban Jelačić square in the Dubrovnik café where everyone can see us?, I snapped back.
- Well, fine. So, are you coming with your people and I with mine, he again used a spy joke.
- I am not scared of you in public, and if you’re scared of me, bring along anyone you like just as long as they don’t sit at our table because I want to talk to you alone. Let’s finish this now because I am having dinner at the moment with a foreign colleague of mine and I cannot talk much longer.
- With the English, haha. Is he your colleague or your boss, he kept on brazenly.
- No, with a German. And he isn’t my boss, and neither is the English or the American. I think you and your brother were close with those people during the war. However, we are not discussing you and Tihomir but the forthcoming elections. When the time comes we’ll talk about you. You know that Germany made an effort to accept as asylum seekers the people who disagreed with what your brother and Norac did in Gospić, so I guess this topic is still of interest to the German public, I wanted to end this unpleasant conversation as soon as possible and get on with the dinner with my neglected colleague.
- OK, OK… I see that you’re difficult person. I’ll call you tomorrow to arrange the time and the place for the meeting, he concluded.
My colleague Norbert knew what we talked about and he only put a rhetorical question: how do such people talk to the press at all? You know the situation in Italy, hm.
The following morning I phoned Ivica Orešković and told him there had been a change of plan and that I would be able to meet him this afternoon after all, to which he angrily replied:
- I can’t meet you now. I am away. Maybe I’ll phone you, and he hung up.
He hasn’t phoned me since and I have learnt that he was also harsh with the investigators when they took him in as a witness to the war crime committed in 1991, which is being investigated by the Department for war crimes at the District Attorney’s Office in Rijeka. To the investigators he also replied with questions such as: why do you ask me this when you know everything and have prosecuted my brother and Norac.
As the unofficial sources indicate, the status of Ivica Orešković might change from a witness to an accused, which is why he has been so jumpy and indirectly threatening. He spends a lot of time in his family house in Perušić and tries to keep an eye on the situation involving the current investigation. He has influence over a large number of people who have so far been connected with the former ministers Darko Milinović, Tomislav Karamarko, but also Josip Perković, the father of the current national security advisor to President Ivo Josipović. On the other hand, there is an increasing number of people who are no longer afraid to testify about the crimes perpetrated ‘for the sake of Croatia’ by the members of the military police and SIS under the command of Josip Perković.
I am in touch with many of those people. Among other things, they have told me that Josip Perković assigned Ivica Orešković to pick out a group of HDP (Croatian Patriotic Movement) members including Miro Laco, Antonio Lekić, Tvrtko Pašalić and Nikola Krišto, take them away from the special police unit Lučko, bring them to SIS and the military police forces and take over the supervision of their ‘activities’.
If Ivica Orešković is charged with war crimes and prosecuted, that will be the first time that one so highly-positioned ‘protected’ official finds himself in that situation and it will reveal that according to the commanding hierarchy Ivica Orešković mentioned in our last conversation the line of responsibility leads to Josip Perković.
And then even President Ivo Josipović will not be able to appear uninformed, or say that he did not know in what kind of activities the father of his national security advisor had been involved. It is possible that he will be sorry for telling Saša Perković a year ago to arrange a meeting of Vesna Levar, the widow of the late Milan Levar, and the reporter Drago Pilsel at the State Attorney’s Office in order to speed up the investigation about the murder of the former Gospić hero, rather than a traitor.