BELGRADE (Reuters) - A Belgrade court approved a plea bargain Monday allowing Serbia’s biggest folk music star, the widow of the Serbian warlord known as Arkan, to avoid jail time over charges of embezzlement and illegal weapons.
Under a deal some saw as evidence that the rich and famous get preferential treatment in Serbia’s legal system, Svetlana Raznatovic, best known by her stage name Ceca, will serve a year under house arrest and wear an electronic surveillance bracelet.
She will also pay a 1.5 million euro ($2.16 million) fine.
“This plea bargain is an insult to common sense and justice,” said Marko Karadzic, a Belgrade-based human rights activist.
Ceca (pronounced TSE-tsa) gained fame in the 1990s Balkans with her patriotic folk tunes set to a techno beat. She married nationalist warlord and mafia boss Zeljko (Arkan) Raznatovic and the two became the country’s most prominent couple after then Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and his wife.
Serbian prosecutors indicted Svetlana Raznatovic, her sister and two associates in March on charges of embezzling four million German marks (two million euros) and $3.5 million from murky sales of 10 players from Belgrade’s Obilic soccer club, which she owned in the early part of the last decade. The prosecution alleged Raznatovic and her associates sold soccer players to foreign clubs and shared profits without paying taxes or declaring the deals through the Obilic club.
Ceca took over the club, previously owned by Arkan, after a rival gang gunned him down in 2000 in the lobby of a swanky Belgrade hotel.
Judge Sladjana Markovic said that the plea bargain was aimed at preventing a long trial after an eight-year investigation.
“Raznatovic is a single mom ... Her sister is a family woman, the Obilic club did not file charges and the two did not commit any crimes since 2002, a testimony to their good character,” Markovic said.
Dragan Krgovic, Raznatovic’s lawyer, highlighted the money element of the plea deal. “The state will cash in 1.5 million (euros) and ... this is a real bargain for the state and prosecutors,” he said.
Some ordinary citizens disagreed. “This is an outrage, it shows crime pays ... how can I tell my children to be honest and hard working?” said Dragisa Savic, 44, a security guard.
Reporting by Fedja Grulovic, writing by Aleksandar Vasovic, editing by Adam Tanner and Mark Heinrich
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