“Who the hell is Miladin Kovacevic,” you might ask, “A war criminal?”
Not quite, he is a Serb college basketball player involved in the horrific beating of a fellow student in a New York State town who was then helped to escape the USA and return to Serbia by a Serbian diplomat.
The US government is justifiably outraged at this gross abuse of privilege and obstruction of justice.
Serbs everywhere should be outraged that that their own government have not just obstructed justice (bad enough) but tarnished the Serbian diplomatic corp as corrupt criminals who abuse diplomatic privileges to help known fugitives escape justice and they have helped reinforce the Serbs-as-violent-thugs stereotype by making sure this dreadful story of alleged Serb thuggery is front page news becuase of the Serbian state’s involvement, albeit just one corrupt individual.
The whole sorry affair revolves around a violent bar fight on the night of May 5th 2008 in the University town of Binghamton in upstate New York.
It was the wee hours of Sunday morning at the Rathskeller, a popular hangout for Binghamton college kids, and pretty Melissa Cartagena felt an unwelcome hand on her body.
It was just a grope – but it was late, the guys were drunk and soon things got out of hand.
The scene was a birthday party with a Studio 54 theme, the dance floor was full, graduation was two weeks off.
Among the many revellers was Bryan Steinhauer, a senior honors student with a slight build and a bright future.
Miladin Kovacevic was there, too. The sophomore basketball player, a burly 6-foot-9 and 260 pounds, towered above Steinhauer and the rest of the crowd. The jock and the aspiring accountant traveled in different campus circles – but they found themselves in an uncomfortably small space inside the bar on State St.
Ann Pesahovitz and Lauren Levy, standing just off the dance floor, noticed the mismatched duo. A baby blue shirt covered Steinhauer’s 135-pound physique. He stood a full foot shorter than Kovacevic, who was dressed in black.
It was about 1:20 a.m. on May 4. There was a commotion and “a lot of yelling,” Levy recalled, apparently after someone groped Cartagena – a pretty Binghamton University sophomore with Kovacevic’s group.
The dark-haired beauty wasn’t there with the ballplayer; she was with boyfriend, Sanel Softic, a 21-year-old wanna-be state trooper who claims he never laid a hand on the victim.
Kovacevic took it upon himself to defend her honor – though it was not clear who groped Cartagena. Seconds later, Steinhauer wasn’t standing; then he wasn’t getting up. The bespectacled senior was battered to the dance floor. Witnesses recalled the big man’s foot thudding into the smaller student’s torso. And then his head.
Over and over.
Steinhauer – his cheeks shattered, his skull fractured, his brain swelling – was defenseless, his body motionless.
Pesahovitz said the violence ended as abruptly as it began. “He just stopped kicking the victim,” she told police, “and left.”
Kovacevic was arrested a few hours later and spent several weeks behind bars. This is where the sad and brutal story of a violent bar fight becomes a cause celebre and yet another PR disaster for Serbs and Serbia.
Kovacevic was still behind bars when June arrived, although his parents – doctors in their homeland – were working with Serb diplomats to get his bail posted.
At a June 6 hearing, Serbian diplomat Igor Milosevic and the suspect’s mother arrived in Broome County Court with $20,000 cash and an $80,000 money order.
“Standard diplomatic practice,” Serbian Consulate General Slobodan Nenadovic said later.
Kovacevic surrendered his passport, and the local judge instructed him to stay in Broome County pending trial on a felony assault charge.
Just before 6 p.m., the hulking hoopster left the courthouse. Within 72 hours, Kovacevic had left the country – with a new, hastily-issued replacement passport. A high-ranking Serbian government official said Kovacevic’s mother, Branka, wept and begged until Milosevic provided the get-out-of-jail-free card – an emergency document.
Kovacevic flashed the paperwork to board a Lufthansa flight out of Newark. His mother was on the flight with him.
His deception was discovered only when county officials became concerned that he might jump bail. They notified customs officials at the Canadian border that Kovacevic could try to enter the country without a passport.
A check of his status showed Kovacevic was gone. So was Milosevic; officials at the Serbian consulate in Manhattan said he was on vacation as the beating exploded into an international cause celébrè.
Milosevic, his career in tatters, slipped back into Serbia Friday to receive a likely pink slip and possible criminal trial.
Kovacevic was hiding out in his homeland.
The Serbian government (wait, Serbia does not have a government yet!) now have an opportunity to show their maturity and International standing by swiftly correcting the “mistakes” by their Consulate in New York.
Despite what his parents say about the tabloid media bias against him (which does appear to be true), Miladin Kovacevic must return to the USA to face justice. The US courts will take full account of the media circus and careful jury selection by a competent lawyer will ensure a fair trial. Anything less than this and he becomes just another excuse to smear Serbs. And anyway, it is the right thing to do.
Igor Milosevic, the diplomat who “was swayed by a mother’s tears” needs to face the consequences of his stupidity. In a sense he is even more responsible that Kovacevic because he knowingly helped an accused man escape custody and violate the terms of his parole. This is a crime. Diplomats do have immunity in their territories they are stationed, but they are not above national law. At the very least Mr Milosevic should be fired (if it can be proved he was merely stupid). If there is any suggestion of bribe or mens rea, he should face criminal charges here in Serbia.
He completely violated diplomatic accords and brought shame and disrepute upon his country – the very opposite of a diplomat’s mission. An example to any other diplomats “swayed by a mother’s tears” might be well advised.
Serbian diplomat Igor Milosevic punished for aiding Miladin Kovacevic – NY Daily News