Svetlana Raznatovic, one of Serbia’s most popular folk singers and widow of the Serbian warlord Arkan, is to face trial for allegedly stealing millions of euros from transfers of football players during her time as the head of the Belgrade club Obilic.
The indictment revealed by Serbian prosecutors yesterday accuses Raznatovic, who is better known as Ceca, of embezzling as much as €4.5 million ($8.4 million) from the sale of 10 players between August 2000 and May 2003. If found guilty she faces up to 12 years in prison.
Ceca inherited the club from her husband, Arkan, whose real name was Zeljko Raznatovic and who was gunned down in January 2000. Many suspect that opponents were so scared of the club’s owner they deliberately lost games against his team.
Ceca’s sister Lidija and former Obilic officials Dragisa Binic and Jovan Dimitrijevic have also been charged. Ceca is also accused of illegally possessing firearms, including 11 revolvers and pistols found at her home in Belgrade during a police raid in 2003.
At the time of Arkan’s death at the hands of an off-duty policeman, Ceca was 27, and was left to bring up their two small children. The tear-jerking tale of how she ran to the hotel where her husband had been shot, only to have him die in her arms, became the favourite of tabloid press for months after his death.
Ceca was a child star, singing nationalistic love songs for rural masses from the age of 14. But it was her marriage to Arkan in 1995 that launched her to unprecedented fame, helped no end by his reputation for merciless aggression and his forceful personality, which many believe helped to open doors in the television and music industries.
Their wedding was broadcast live on television; the event was a trashy mixture of old Serbian tradition and the newly popular fashion of gangsters turned wealthy businessmen in sanctions-hit Serbia. After their marriage, Ceca and Arkan became icons.
News of the indictment caused an avalanche of reactions in Serbia. Critics say that the eight-year-long investigation was stalled due to Ceca’s popularity, but the prosecution’s spokesman, Tomo Zoric, said that it was long due to documentation that came from France, Greece, Russia and Turkey.
Sources say the state has also collected material from Belgium, Italy, Latvia and Switzerland, where football players were sold, and where private accounts with millions were held in Ceca’s or her sister’s name.
Hundreds of blogs have came out in favour of Ceca, while others offered approval for the prosecution’s move. Some said such a “Serbian legend” should not be prosecuted; others said it was “justice knocking at a thief’s door”.
Snezana Malovic, Serbia’s Justice Minister, told national television that the prosecution was just doing its job in this case, with the aim to show “that no one can be officially pardoned, not even the so-called national icons”.
“In order to succeed against organised crime and corruption, it is necessary to change the awareness of citizens and establish the system of values that did not exist in the [war-torn] 1990s,” Malovic said.