Pukanic, owner and editorial director of the Zagreb-based
political weekly Nacional, and
Niko Franjic, the marketing director, were killed when a bomb placed under the
journalist's car exploded outside the paper's offices, according to press
reports and CPJ sources. Local press reports said Pukanic and Franjic were
close to the car when the blast took place. Nacional often exposed corruption, organized crime, and human
rights abuses, local sources told CPJ.
Croatian authorities moved swiftly to pursue the killers. On
October 24, The Associated Press quoted Prime Minister Ivo Sanader as
saying that authorities "will fight organized crime or terrorism--whatever is
behind this murder--to its very end." On November 1, Croatian police announced
that they had charged five suspects in connection with the murder.
In addition, police spokesman Krunoslav Borovec said
investigators were working with Bosnian authorities to track down the suspect
they believe planted the bomb. Local press reports identified the suspect as
Zeljko Milovanovic, a Bosnian Serb and former member of a Serbian paramilitary
group called the Red Berets. He held both Croatian and Bosnian passports,
according to the independent Serbian broadcaster B92. According to Reuters,
Bosnian police raided Milovanovic's house in the northern Bosnian town of Doboj on October 31,
but he was not at home.
Pukanic had reported an earlier attack to police. In April,
he told police, an unidentified assailant approached him near his apartment building,
brandished a handgun and fired, narrowly missing him, the Croatian news Web
site Javno reported. The
assailant was not apprehended.
In 2009, Sreten Jocic, a member of an
organized crime group and the suspected mastermind, was charged with
involvement in Pukanic's murder. The next year, he was sentenced to 15 years in
prison for an unrelated murder.
In November 2010, the
Municipal Court in Zagreb convicted five conspirators in the bombing and
sentenced them to prison terms ranging from 15 to 33 years. Milovanovic was
convicted in absentia and sentenced to a 40-year term. He was arrested in
Serbia in 2009 and tried in Belgrade on similar charges. On April 2, 2014, the Belgrade
Special Court convicted Milovanovic of planting the bomb and sentenced him to
40 years in jail. His accomplice in the case, Milenko Kuzmanovic, was handed a
five-year prison term on charges of helping Milovanovic with a forged passport,
local and international press reported. According to Reuters, the court
declared that prosecutors did not have enough evidence to prove that Jocic
ordered the murder and dropped his charges. He continues to serve a jail term
in an unrelated case.
Authorities said organized crime figures had
targeted Pukanic to prevent his paper from publishing a series of articles
exposing tobacco smuggling in the Balkans.