Football fraud trial finally kicks Arkan's widow into disgrace

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The Independent Online

She has become the fallen idol of the Serbs after a turbulent life that propelled her to the giddy heights of fame by the age of 30.

Svetlana Raznatovic, also known as Ceca, the most popular folk singer in Serbia and the glamorous widow of the notorious warlord Zeljko Raznatovic Arkan, is now in jail facing serious criminal charges for the embezzlement of more than €11m (£7.8m) and $500,000 (£300,000). If found guilty, she faces up to 15 years in prison.

The millions were supposed to land in the bank account of Obilic football club, owned by Arkan until his death three years ago. The club was later headed by Ms Raznatovic.

Instead, the money ended up in her private accounts in Cyprus and Hungary.

The millions came from the transfers of 15 players to clubs in Belgium, the Netherlands, Turkey, Greece and China, according to investigators.

The Serbian icon, now facing the worst fate she could have ever imagined, went on hunger strike after she heard the charges laid against her, said her lawyer, Rajko Danilovic. "She views this as a brutal attack aimed at destroying her family," he added.

And some family it is. Ceca's sister Lidija Velickovic, 29, was arrested this week for helping the "turbo-folk" star. Miss Velickovic is accused of being a courier for Ceca. She allegedly opened the accounts abroad, handled money transfers and did other odd jobs such as carrying large amounts of cash in and out of country for Ceca.

Ms Raznatovic has been in custody since 17 March, when she was arrested in a police sweep after the assassination of the Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. She spent more than a month in solitary confinement, but now shares a cell with another young woman.

Police found a cache of arms in Ceca's luxury home two months ago. They said that Milorad Lukovic, one of the men accused of being behind the assassination of Mr Djindjic, was her friend. Mr Lukovic and Mr Raznatovic shared a notorious past in the paramilitary unit known as "Arkan Tigers", which committed war crimes in Croatia and Bosnia.

A secretly filmed video of Ms Raznatovic and Mr Lukovic, dining in a restaurant, was shown on national television on 17 March. That was the last time her fans saw Ceca on TV. Ms Raznatovic can no longer be heard on Serbian radio stations either. Her songs, which attracted an audience of 80,000 to a big comeback concert last June, can be listened to in homes, in cafes or at private parties, but nowhere else. However, her CDs are still being sold in large numbers, street vendors say.

"All her friends seem to have forgotten her," Ceca's father Slobodan complained to a Serbian tabloid.

The tabloids, which flourished on heartbreaking stories of Ceca's marriage to Arkan, also turned their backs on her.

The couple are now known by their proper names: Zeljko Raznatovic is described as a ruthless criminal, who spent much of his youth in jail before he become a national hero, courtesy of Slobodan Milosevic's regime.

The wealth he amassed over several years is only now being clearly attributed to looting and illegal smuggling operations under the patronage of the Milosevic government.

What was often described as Serb patriotism and the defence of Serbs outside Serbia by Arkan and his "Tiger" militia, can now be described as war crimes against non-Serbs.

Arkan's death in January 2000, in a hail of bullets in a Belgrade hotel, is described as a "liquidation", after he fell from Mr Milosevic's grace. The marriage has finally lost the aura of romance between the brave Serb patriot and the beautiful young singer, a stereotype exploited by Mr Milosevic's propaganda machine.

In 1995, when they married, the video footage from the wedding sold in 100,000 copies all over Serbia. Most young boys said at the time that they wanted to be just like Arkan, while teenage girls copied Ceca's hairstyle and make-up to look like her.

But things are different now. With Ceca in prison, her children, Veljko, eight, and Anastasija, six, live with her parents in their home village, hundreds of kilometres south of Belgrade.

It was Ceca's parents who pushed her into show business at the age of 13. She spent her youth singing in crowded, smoke-filled restaurants all over former Yugoslavia as she became the darling of the folk music world.

Instead of reading about herself as a model of success and beauty, Ceca in prison can now only read newspaper reports about how she outmanoeuvred the rest of Raznatovic family and grabbed Arkan's fortune for herself and her children. Seven vengeful children from Arkan's previous marriages have decided that the time has come for the skeletons to emerge from the Raznatovic family closet. The glory days seem to have come to an end for Ceca.