A shadowy Balkan businessman is a leader and partner in fugitive Darko Šarić’s international drug ring, according to court records and investigative files from agencies in five countries.
Rodoljub Radulović, 63, is among the leadership of Šarić’s criminal enterprise, controlling shipping routes in South America and Europe and running transactions through proxies and shell companies in the Cayman Islands, Serbia, and the Americas. Argentinian prosecution records and Greek police statements obtained by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project show that Radulović and Šarić are targeted by British investigators, the U.S. DEA and South American prosecutors. Additionally, an Italian prosecutor recently linked Šarić’s organization to at least three murders.
Citing a confidential report received from the British Serious Organized Crime Agency, Argentinian investigative files provide details of the drug operation and alsoreveal that they tracked a string of Serbians and other nationals of the former Yugoslavia who operated out of Argentina.
This organization is trafficking in illegal substances and it transports drugs from South America to Europe, and will transfer drugs from Argentina to Europe. The (SOCA) report said that “the bosses of these organized crime structures are called Darko Šarić and Rodoljub Radulović”, according to Argentina criminal investigative files reviewed and copied by OCCRP. “They would use two vessels to transport 500 kg of cocaine each.”
The Argentine documents span from April, 2009 until March of 2010 and include confidential correspondence between South American and Serbian police, passport information and surveillance. The reports show that Šarić, a fugitive suspected of operating a large international drug ring, travelled from Brazil to Argentina by airplane and automobile in 2007 and 2008. He apparently used a Slovenian and Slovakian passport.
The records also say Šarić and Radulović disguised their smuggled cocaine on ships carrying legal cargo such as sugar and cement. The ships are listed as the Verti and the Golden is registered in Liberia. In total, the reports show at least eight men from the Balkans participated in the smuggling, including one who Argentine investigators said was a missionary for the Serbian Orthodox Church.
Šarić has been on the run since Serbian prosecutors indicted him January, 2010 on drug and money laundering charges. Radulović, who records show owned a cement company in Abu Dhabi and has lived on at least three continents, could not be reached for comment. Greece police charged Radulović, Šarić and associates with drug trafficking and money laundering last year but have not located either man.
Radulović, who turned over much of his fortune to a proxy who wound up murdered in Montenegro, has portrayed himself as an honest businessman who has done nothing wrong. But an OCCRP investigation uncovered business and court records from Russia, the United States, the Cayman Islands, United Arab Emirates and elsewhere that show a twenty year pattern of fraud, deceptive contracts, defaults and what court records labeled “sham” companies designed to “funnel” money from international transactions to Radulovic and his companies.
When Radulović returned to Serbia in the early 2002 he bragged of his success as an entrepreneur who operated in several countries and made himself fabulously wealthy in the United States, according to interviews with friends and associates in Belgrade. The associates said that gave him instant credibility and helped pave the way for more business deals.
In reality, by the time Radulović left America he was more than $15 million in debt, houses-in-Florida small
Radulović’s property in Florida under investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and facing lawsuits and foreclosures from a slew of creditors, according to court records in three states. A Miami judge issued a $12.1 million fraud judgment against him and banks foreclosed on more than $1.8 million of his $3 million worth property, including a waterfront mansion near Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Radulović’s fortunes got so low that a private school won a $3,150 judgment because Radulović didn’t pay his child’s school bills, according to court records in South Florida.
OCCRP also uncovered records showing the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York City brought criminal securities fraud charges and issued an arrest warrant against Radoluvic on Oct. 1, 2001. The case remains open and U.S. District Court records show Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael S. Kim never actively pursued the case after filing the charges.
The records and interviews also underscore the close ties between alleged mobsters and mainstream businesses throughout the Balkans. Radulović owns a building outside Belgrade worth €1.2 million with Serbian retail giant Bogdan Rodić, and also has a business partnership with Šarić’s attorney, according to business and property records. That attorney, Andrija Krlović is behind bars and awaiting trial on charges he laundered money for Šarić.
Rodić also is partner with another accused Šarić money launderer, Zoran Ćopić. According to an OCCRP investigation Ćopić, Rodić and former Minister of Energetic Goran Novaković used offshore companies to set up businesses that privatized companies. Then they made multi-million dollar profits by dismantling them and selling their property.
Before Radulović returned to Serbia and became an international drug target, he operated companies around the world. And along the way, according to lawsuits, court rulings, sworn affidavits and judicial rulings, he found plenty of trouble.
The Russian beginnings
In the 1980s Radulović and his wife Jasna set up the company Yox in Austria which did business in Russia, to trade oil. One of the earliest deals involved the sale of oil to Bosnia and Herzegovina through an Italian affiliate just before the start of the 1990s war. The oil was supplied by Transpetrol, a Bermuda firm which alleged in a 1991 lawsuit that Yox never paid for the shipment, then set up a series of phony companies and false records to avoid paying nearly $137,000, according to lawsuits filed in London and a Palm Beach Circuit Court judge ruling in West Palm Beach, FL.
Radulović repeatedly lied about his assets and made false statements about the status of a Jugo banka line of credit, according to the lawsuit, which dragged on until 1995. The U.S. judge dismissed most of the charges, saying they should be tried in London, but refused to dismiss fraud charges against Radulović personally. An appeals court agreed, and Radulović defaulted without paying the debt.
The case was similar to a much bigger action taken around that time by Lukoil, the massive Russian oil company. According to court records, Yox, controlled by Radulović and his wife Jasna, bought more than 165,000 metric tons of oil at a set price of more than $21 million in 1991. Yox paid only a portion of the money, and a Moscow court issued a judgment against it for more than $12 million.
To avoid paying, Yox set up several new companies under the names Ramoil Holding, Ramoil Management and other similar titles in Boca Raton Florida, the Cayman Islands and elsewhere, according to court and public records. The companies were a ploy to hide assets and to funnel money to the Radulovićees for their personal use, according to a 1998 lawsuit filed by Lukoil in U.S. District Court in Miami. In fact, the Cayman Islands company didn’t exist at all but was merely a post office box.
“At all relevant times, Ramoil Holding was a sham corporation”, the federal lawsuit charged. “Its sole function was to act as a nominal contracting party for international commodity transactions (for Radulović) and as a funnel for the receipt and payment of funds … which were entirely controlled by the Radulovićes and diverted to themselves and/or other Ramoil companies”.
Radulović countered that he didn’t have to pay for the oil because of a U.N. Embargo that made it illegal for citizens of Yugoslavia to enter into international contracts. That argument lost in court.
And Radulović also admitted under oath that a second contract he signed in Boca Raton, Fla. that promised to repay the debt was a fraud, a federal judge ruled.
“Radulović testified, however, that he had no intention of paying the debt owed to the plaintiff”, U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore wrote in February, 2003, adding that Radulović signed the contract because he was merely “trying to get time” Moore found Radulović had committed fraud and issued a $12 million summary judgment, meaning that the evidence was so overwhelming that Radulović had no legal defense.
Ramoil and Radulović never paid the debt, according to records . Later in 2003, another judge tacked on more than $600,000 to his bill, to cover the cost of Lukoil’s attorneys.
Ramoil kept operating for several years after the judgment, even though its revenues fell to a low of about $1.1 million in 1997 from a claimed high of $6.1 million one years earlier, according to SEC filings. In 1998, Radulović loaned the company more than $2.2 million, taking shares in return. Another partner, Aleksandr Taflevich, also loaned the company $3 million in exchange for stock.
There is no indication in public securities records as to what the company did with the loaned money.
Taflevich, originally from Moscow but now living in Boca Raton, Fla., did not return several phone calls from OCCRP.
Despite the Florida court judgments and Ramoil’s lack of revenue, Radulović bought two properties in swanky Lighthouse Point, Florida, which today are valued at more than $3.54 million, according to property records and bank loans. Over the next several years, he took out loans and occasionally defaulted on them, records show, before paying large sums to bring the loans up to date.
Ramoil, which traded on a U.S. stock exchange designed for companies with small capitalization, kept touting its international businesses and contracts worth tens of millions of dollars. In public filings, it claimed to have contracts to build hotels and other buildings in UAE worth more than $38 million,, according to SEC filings.
In the late 1990s, the U.S. stock market was filled with stock manipulators and so-called “boiler rooms” in which brokers and accused criminals got together to inflate a stock’s value through false claims, then sell it to unsuspecting investors. Boca Raton was the capital of the scheme, known as “pump and dump”.
According to court records, in 1999 and early 2000, Radulović and a group of stock brokers began touting Ramoil’s vast potential. Radulović and Taflevich claimed that the Boca Raton-based company would record revenues of $1.6 billion and profits of $331 million within four years, although the men never explained how.
Radulović also sent shares soaring – from around $7 per share to a high of $20 – by claiming in a public statement that it was in acquisition talks to acquire a Swiss finance company. The company was never identified, even in Ramoil press releases, but that didn’t deter frenzied investors.
According to a Securities and Exchange Commission complaint filed on Oct. 11, 2001, the entire thing was an elaborate fraud. Documents claiming to be professional audits were falsified by a co-conspirator; Radulovićh and Taflevich “made false public statements through the press” promising that Ramoil would soon join the large NASDAQ market, even though the company didn’t meet even minimum requirements; and the so-called merger document which ignited trading was actually a “one paragraph letter by Radulović expressing the vague possibility” of joining a Swiss company.
In 2003, a U.S. federal judge overseeing the case in Manhattan issued a $1.9 million fraud judgment against Radulović. He had already returned to Belgrade, forming new businesses and gaining new partners.
One of those partners, Dragan Dudić, didn’t fare too well. According to records in Montenegro, Radulović turned over virtually all his Montenegro holdings, worth millions of dollars, to Dudić in 2006 without any explanation. Four years later, Dudić was gunned down in a Kotor café.
While Radulović clearly staked a claim in Belgrade and Montenegro (see accompanying stories), he apparently continued his globetrotting ways. According to company records, stock exchange filings and a Gulf Bank letter addressed to Radulović in 1999, Ramoil had an office in Dubai and some form of operation Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.
But the records are murky, and given the allegations contained in the U.S. lawsuit against Ramoil, it is difficult to sort fact from fiction. Radulović served as director and chairman of City Mix Concrete in UAE, but even Ramoil’s own filings say it’s doubtful the company could ever turn a profit.
Also, the SEC filings from 1997-1999 include claims that Ramoil had secured a contract with the Ritz-Carlton luxury hotel chain to build a 50-story tower in Abu Dhabi. The project never materialized.
The filings also claim to have won “concession rights” for land valued at $36 million, without ever naming the owner. It also claims to have won a contract to become an initial developer of the $3.3 billion Saadiyat Free Trade Zone. Ramoil never did those things.
In 1999, The Gulf Bank in the Emirates approved a $1 million loan to Radulović and his City Mix Concrete to purchase trucks and other equipment, according to a letter from the bank to Radulović obtained by OCCRP.
Four years later, in 2003, the bank sent another letter to City Mix. The letter noted that City Mix had fallen behind on its loan and offered to negotiate a settlement for “the outstanding liability in the account”.
After the 2001 SEC lawsuit and the various judgments, Ramoil removed all of its partners and directors and has no connection with its troubled past.
But Radulović didn’t give up. OCCRP found a copy of the August 6, 2007 Cayman Islands Gazette, the official register. It shows that Roduljub Radulović filed an affidavit to register a new company, Ramoil Holding Co. Ltd, with a founding capital of about $9,000.