Nebojsa Karic throws open the front door of his suburban Toronto mansion with the brashness that comes from being the young son of a billionaire. Dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, the burly 20-year-old has spent the past few hours watching European soccer on television in the family room at the end of a massive marble foyer. As he watches, the telephone rings steadily. Many of the calls are from Belgrade, where his father, Bogoljub Karic, is a minister without portfolio in Serbia’s war cabinet. Ironically, while NATO jets, including Canadian CF-18s, are bombing Yugoslavia, Karic is battling to become a Canadian citizen.
Last April, the Federal Court ruled that the 45-year-old tycoon should receive his passport, but justice department lawyers hope to introduce new evidence at an upcoming appeal that will keep him out of the country. And if it can be shown that he is part of a government that committed war crimes, his application would collapse.
As he sipped a Diet Coke while sitting at a granite-covered table in the kitchen, Nebojsa Karic insisted that despite the war, his father intends to return to Canada and take up residence in his 12,000-square-foot home this summer. “We love Canada,” said Nebojsa. “It’s a great country.” Maybe so, but the brick mansion, with massive white pillars guarding its entrance, is up for sale at $1.6 million and the Karies appear to be rearranging their Canadian business operations, which now involve mainly real estate hold-
ings. Bogoljub Karic and his three brothers, Dragomir, Zoran, Sreten, their wives, some 12 children and five other relatives received permanent resident status in 1993. Many of them will be able to become full citizens over the next few years, but justice department lawyers have compiled an extensive file on Bogoljub, which they will use during the appeal. If they are successful, said department lawyer Lori Hendriks, both Bogoljub and his wife, Milanka, will be denied citizenship. ‘We want him in the witness stand,” said Hendriks. We want to determine his real intentions.” The Karic brothers’ intentions have become entangled in the war in Kosovo, the majority-Albanian province from which their ethnic Serbian family comes. Headed by Bogoljub, the brothers operate a private financial, media and industrial conglomerate that generates more than $3 billion annually in revenues. Lately it has been the Karies’ Belgrade-based BK television network that has commanded most of their attention. Formerly independent, it has become a major propaganda vehicle for the war effort of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. The Karies have boosted its signal to cover all of Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo in an attempt to offer what Bogoljub called a true picture of Serbia.
Although in 1997 Bogoljub claimed to harbour intentions of challenging Milosevic politically, he soon returned to the fold. In October, 1998, he accepted his ministerial post in the Serbian government. Critics were not surprised. They have long claimed the Karic family is part of a “kleptocracy,” in which business and
THE BROTHERS KARIC
political leaders jointly run the economy to their mutual benefit. Certainly the family shares the wealth at a personal level: three months ago, at the birth of Milosevic’s first grandson, 12 members of the Karic family arrived bearing several kilos of gold as a gift. But Nebojsa maintains that his father would be a worthy Canadian. “He is not involved in the war,” insisted Nebojsa. “He’s doing other things.”
Bogoljub’s brother Dragomir, who owns a home valued at $1.3 million in Toronto’s north end where his son Simon lives, is also deeply involved with Milosevic. Dragomir financed the private visit to Belgrade last week of the Russian Orthodox patriarch, Alexy the Second. The patriarch’s meeting with Milosevic was an important propaganda boost for the Yugoslav regime, which is focused on gaining support from Russia and putting popular pressure on President Boris Yeltsin to intervene more actively on the side of Belgrade. Dragomir also has close ties with Viktor Chernomyrdin, Yeltsin’s special envoy who also flew to Belgrade to meet with Milosevic last week.
Before they began their international sojourn, most the Karies lived in the small
Kosovo city of Pec. At one point, their finances were so bad that the brothers raised money by playing in a band in restaurants in Germany. Their sudden rise as a corporate powerhouse began in earnest when they created the Karic Bank in 1989, less than two years after Milosevic took over as leader of Serbia. During the hyperinflation of the early 1990s, the bank made large sums of money by borrowing dinars and repaying later, after inflation reduced the value of the debts to almost nothing. The brothers also expanded to Moscow, and the business grew fat on trading in raw materials—buying cheap from the government and selling abroad.
The Karies’ quest for Canadian citizenship came to light two years ago when they became embroiled in the takeover of Bel Pagette, a Belgrade-based paging outfit. The company was founded by Canadian Zoran Markovic, who had returned to his native Serbia in 1990. With war threatening to tear the country apart,
Markovic’s Canadian backers wanted to be bought out, and they turned to the Karies. When Markovic refused the brothers’ offer, he says, armed members of the notorious Tigers militia seized the
Bel Pagette offices and he fled for his life. The militia is headed by Zeljko (Arkan) Raznatovic, who has been indicted for war crimes by Canadian jurist Louise Arbour, chief prosecutor at the international tribunal in The Hague. At the time of the Bel Pagette controversy, leading opposition politicians claimed many other firms in the country were being taken over by people close to Milosevic.
While evidence linking the Karies’ fortune directly to Milosevic has never been produced, some critics suggest that the strongman helped the brothers create the Karic Bank in 1989 to assist in financing the country’s war efforts in Croatia and Bosnia. Others, including a prominent Toronto immigration lawyer close to the Karies who spoke to Maclean’s, say the Karies made much of their fortune running the embargo that the United Nations maintained against Yugoslavia from 1992 to 1996 due to the war in Bosnia. That allegation is supported by findings in a report prepared by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. The CSIS report, seen by
Maclean’s, also claims the Karies “armed, trained and transported” Russian volunteers to fight with the ethnic Serbs in Bosnia. A U.S. intelligence official, meanwhile, told the Houston Chronicle that the Yugoslav ambassador to Moscow and Bogoljub Karic laundered several million dollars through banks in Russia, including the Karic Bank. “Karic is a key member of Serbia Inc.,” said the unnamed official. ‘We will get them.”
While pursuing his Canadian initiative, Karic also wanted to become a citizen of Ireland (he had failed in Britain). As part of his strategy, he created a number of companies under a business investor immigration category in Ireland, but was eventually denied citizenship. No reasons were made public.
Little of this information appeared to be available to Citizenship Judge Walter Borosa in Toronto in 1997 when he was asked to rule on Bogoljub and Milanka Karic’s citizenship. He concluded his hearing by shaking hands with Karic and telling him that he was just the type of immigrant Canada was looking for. As Karic left the courtroom, both he and his lawyer, Stephen Green, assumed he would soon be a Canadian.
Before putting his decision in writing, however, Borosa read an article on Karic and Bel Pagette that appeared in the March 10,
1997, issue of Maclean’s. In his written decision on April 29,1997, Borosa reversed his position on Karic, suggesting that the Yugoslav businessman had not met the residency requirements that lead to citizenship. Green immediately launched an appeal, which was heard early in 1998, arguing that the judge’s original statement, in which he welcomed Karic, was the binding ruling. On March 26,
1998, the Federal Court of Canada trial division agreed.
Ottawa’s appeal of that ruling will be heard later this year. In the end, though, Karic’s future may rest with Arbour. Recently, the Hague prosecutor said she was considering charging Milosevic with war crimes. If she issues an indictment before Karic’s appeal, it could sink his case. According to Section 19 of the Immigration Act, persons will not be granted citizenship if they “are senior members in the service of a government that is engaged in war crimes.”
Members of the Karic family who are already in Canada are
working primarily in property management through two separate companies: BK Family Holdings Inc. of Toronto and Stefan International Properties Inc., located in the Toronto suburb of Richmond Hill. Stefan International is housed in the same glass office building as Danjan International Inc. Two years ago, Danjan was the Karies’ main business vehicle in Canada. In addition to real estate, it was involved in book publishing and cosmetics sales.
Last week, members of the Karic family contacted by Maclean’s refused to discuss their business operations. Instead, Nebojsa wants to talk about the war in Kosovo. The Serbian people are not frightened, he said as he showed off the interior of the mansion. “Kosovo has always been Serbian,” he insisted, “and it always will be.” But the role Nebojsa’s father plays in keeping Kosovo Serbian could determine whether he becomes a Canadian citizen.
With ROSANNE PAVICIC and PATRICIA TREBLE in Toronto
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