‘Spiritual researcher’ Karadzic hid in plain sight

Julian Borger and Ian Traynor

Belgrade/London: The old man on the 73 bus looked like a monk. His bushy white beard obscured half of his face, thick glasses covered the rest and his long white hair was tied in a top-knot at the back of his skull.

When the policemen got on the bus at a stop between Belgrade and the satellite town of Batanica, they showed him their badges and the man who called himself Dragan Dabic, practitioner of alternative medicine, went with them without a struggle. With that quiet exchange on a bus, Radovan Karadzic’s many years on the run came to an anticlimactic end.

“It all went smoothly. He didn’t resist,” said an officer involved in the capture. Vladimir Vukcevic, Serbia’s chief war crimes prosecutor, explained: “The security was really minimal and no incidents happened. We waited for him to go from place A to place B to see whether he actually has anyone around him because we did not want any victims or shootings or incidents.”

Mr. Vukcevic said the arrest took place on Monday. Karadzic’s lawyer Sveta Vujacic said it took place earlier and his client was held incommunicado for three days before the announcement was made.

Whenever it took place, it soon became apparent that the man charged with Europe’s worst crimes against humanity since the Holocaust had been hiding in plain sight, preaching about New Age medicine and selling lucky charms on the Internet. The florid, burly figure had shrunk with age. His eyes had receded behind his sprawling facial hair until all that was left of the old Karadzic was the hooked nose and the bushy eyebrows.

“I know the guy well. I interviewed him many times in the past, and I could have stumbled on him in the street and not noticed him,” said Alexander Vasovic, a Belgrade journalist who covered the Bosnian War. Rasim Ljajic, Serbian official responsible for liaison with The Hague War Crimes Tribunal, said: “He was very persuasive in hiding his identity and supposedly his job was alternative medicines. He worked for a private company, a private GP and he said that he was residing in New Belgrade.”

New Belgrade is a near perfect place for any fugitive to burrow away. Built in Communist times, it is a warren of enormous tower blocks built of concrete that is now discoloured and weeping, and separated by wide featureless boulevards, as anonymous as any place on earth.

Hunger for attention

At some point in the past few years, it is clear that life became too anonymous for Karadzic to bear. The former Bosnian-Serb leader had always been a showman, a dapper dresser with bouffant hair, an amateur poet who loved to read his work aloud at literary salons in pre-war Sarajevo.

In his new life as Dragan Dabic, he began to seek a new audience for his musings on alternative medicine. He built on his training as a psychiatrist and embellished it with oriental-inspired theories of the “the life force”, “vital energies” and “personal auras.” He told people his plaited top-knot drew in different energies from the environment.

As Dabic, he set up a website called Psy Help Energy, which advertised the David Wellbeing Programme that offered help from “experienced experts from pioneering areas of science where there are immense possibilities for interaction with natural forces in and around us.”

Among other services offered were acupuncture, homeopathy, “quantum medicine” and traditional cures. He also sold necklaces he called Velbing (well-being): lucky charms which he claimed offered health benefits and “personal protection” against “harmful radiation.” The website provided no address, and the two numbers it listed were prepaid mobile numbers, now no longer functioning.

In the persona of Dabic, he also began to pester Goran Kojic, editor of Healthy Living magazine, asking to write and lecture on his work. He craved a public. “Here was this strange looking man. He said he was freelancing for a number of private clinics and he wanted to publish,” recalled Mr. Kojic.

“He said: ‘I have a diploma but I don’t have it with me. My ex-wife has it in the United States’. I said I can’t publish you as a psychiatrist without a diploma, but I will take you on as a ‘spiritual researcher’.”

So Dabic the “spiritual researcher” published his thoughts on holistic care in Healthy Living and began to appear at panel discussions on alternative medicine. Videos of these occasions show a soft-spoken pensioner perched at a table with fellow spirits, sitting the way Karadzic the warlord used to sit with his feet pointing inwards and balancing on the outside edge of his soles.

In October, he gave a lecture comparing the silent contemplation of Orthodox monks to oriental forms of meditation. Then as recently as May 23, Healthy Living’s third annual festival in Belgrade advertised a presentation by David Dabic on “nurturing your inner energies.” The homespun nature of Karadzic’s disguise, relying on a big beard rather than plastic surgery, and the fact that he took such risks in pursuit of an audience, suggests he was not under the protection of a friendly intelligence service, as many had speculated. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2008

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