The Observer’s resident Serbian national sheds some light on the men Rep. Weldon’s daughter is doing business with
Column by MARIA STAJIC
WASHINGTON — Last week, The Washington Post reported that the FBI is investigating Congressman Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) for his connection to Serbian businessmen Bogoljub and Dragomir Karic. According to the Post, the Karic Foundation paid $20,000 every month in 2003 to Solutions North America, a lobbying firm run by the congressmanâ€™s daughter, Karen Weldon.
The Justice Department is investigating whether Weldon used his position to direct approximately $1 million in Eastern European business contracts toward his daughter’s lobbying firm, according to The New York Times.
The money was then used to help the Karic brothers with their visa problems with the United States, as well as the foundation’s public relations, according to the Post.
So, who are these Serbian brothers, and how can they afford such a sum when their home country has barely recovered from the economic depression of the Slobodan Milosevic era? The Karic family is well known in Serbia. Until recently, they ran a business empire that included an airport and airbase construction company, a bank, a private university, a cell phone company, a national television station, a political party and â€” as Serbs would often say â€” â€œGod knows what else.â€
All of these businesses were launched during Milosevic’s reign in the 1990’s, the decade of Yugoslav wars, U.N. economic sanctions, and mass anti-government protests. At that time, it was hard for most people just to make ends meet. Many Serbs suspect that the Karics were cozy with Milosevic – who died in prison last year while on trial for war crimes – and used their priviledged positions to build themselves an empire.
For example, the airport construction company Aeroinzenjering, which Karic bought from the Yugoslav military in the 1990s, is suspected of violating a U.N. arms embargo by building military tunnels in Iraq after the Gulf War. It is suspected that Milosevic and his supporters provided illegal military aid to Iraq in exchange for low-priced Iraqi oil or “oil money.”
In 2003, The Washington Post wrote:
â€œMany of Iraq’s military tunnels are believed to have been built by Aeroinzenjering, a Serbian engineering firm once run by the former Yugoslav military. Saddam Hussein maintained a close relationship with then Communist leader Josip Tito and with Slobodan Milosevic, whose underground tunnels and bunkers bedeviled U.S. and NATO commanders during the 1999 Kosovo air war.â€
The most well-known member of the Karic dynasty is Bogoljub, a 52-year-old businessman who was a minister â€œwithout portfolioâ€ in Milosevicâ€™s government, which meant he received a ministerâ€™s salary without having to perform much work. In 2004, Karic ran for Serbian president and came in third place.
In late 2005, Bogoljub Karic sold Mobtel, a cell phone company, without the consent of the Serbian government, which was a minority stakeholder. The move was illegal, and Karic fled the country in December.
Dragomir Karic is not nearly as high-profile as his brother. In 1987, Dragomir moved to Russia, a popular destination for Serbs wanted by the authorities. Milosevicâ€™s wife, Mirjana Markovic, his son Marko and Vlastimir Djordjevic, a former senior Serbian police officer who was indicted for war crimes, are believed to be in Moscow. Bogoljub faces trial in Serbia if he ever tries to reenter the country.
According to “Politika”, a Serbian daily, Rector of the Brother Karic University issued Weldon an honorary doctorate during his controversial visit in 2003. The press has focused on Weldonâ€™s alleged exploitation of his relationship with the controversial Karics for the financial benefit of his daughter. But the biggest question is: Why did the congressman cultivate any relationship at all with a businessman suspected of violating U.N. sanctions against Iraq and Yugoslavia – someone so disreputable that he has been banned from entering the United States, and faces immediate arrest if he returns to his native country?