AUSTRALIAN ARRESTED IN MONTENEGRO WHO WAS HEAD OF MAJOR INTERNATIONAL NARCO + WEAPONS TRAFFICKING OPERATION, money launderer
A TOP Australian underworld figure behind one of the world’s largest drug cartels, money laundering and arms trafficking operations has been spectacularly arrested after being pursued by Australian authorities for more than a decade.
Vaso Ulic, 58, considered the godfather of Balkan crime was arrested on Wednesday at his home in Montenegro in south eastern Europe by the local Police Department’s Directorate for Drugs and Smuggling and Special Prosecutor’s Office for Organised Crime.
Prosecutors in Montenegrin capital Podgorica have since 2014 had a detailed brief running into a dozen files from the Australian Federal Police sitting on their desk.
But they were reluctant to act on it since they do not extradite their citizens and Albanian-born Ulic is a dual Australian-Montenegrin national.
They were also concerned they could not directly prove any alleged multinational crimes, including trafficking tonnes of cocaine, heroin and MDMA around the world and specifically into Australia between July 2007 and May 2008, had been committed on their soil, as opposed to just controlled from Ulic’s hilltop high security home outside their capital protected around the clock by his heavily armed clan.
What changed that to lead to his arrest remains unclear.
He and four other dual Australian nationals known only by their initials FK, RL, DP and DM, are to appear before prosecutors in court on Thursday specifically charged with drug offences for that 2007-2008 period.
Montenegrin police confirmed their move proved they worked effectively with foreign police services and Ulic had been arrested for being the leader of a criminal organisation allegedly smuggling “large quantities” of drugs to Australia from other countries.
Those other places include South America and South Africa where he allegedly used container and cruise ships to move multi million-dollar drug hauls to Australia as well as along the “Balkan Route”, used for food and weapons during the Balkan wars, to traffic drugs from Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan to Europe and Russia.
Justice Minister Michael Keenan said today: “This arrest is a hammer blow to organised crime affecting Australia. I congratulate the Montenegro law enforcement authorities for their exceptional work on this matter.”
A spokesman for the AFP confirmed police had been after him for years.
“It will be alleged that the man lead a global criminal syndicate suspected of smuggling drugs into Australia and laundering money to facilitate this activity,” a spokesman said. “This man has long been a target of the AFP and other Australian law enforcement partners, including NSW Police.”
Ulic was interrogated today, after his dramatic arrest and public handcuffing in Delta City in Podgorica, and was placed on a 72-hour detention order pending further investigation. Police today also searched his home and an apartment.
His lawyer Danilo Micovic denied the allegations.
“He is charged with the criminal offense of the production and marketing of narcotic drugs, but in an organized manner, which is why he is under the jurisdiction of the Special Prosecutor. He has stated and denied the commission of a criminal offense. This is about an event where some other people were convicted In Australia in 2007 or 2008, and where he was not involved in the criminal proceedings there, “Mićović said in a statement.
He confirmed Ulic was a citizen and could not be extradited.
Ulic, who as late as 2015 publicly denied any involvement in criminality and threatened to sue News Corp Australia for exposing his crimes in a special investigation series, fled Australia in 2005 as the AFP and Australian Crime Commission moved to question him about nine unresolved contract killings and a $50 million haul of seized drugs.
But he has remained an influential figure in Australia’s Balkan community as well as the Bandido Outlaw Motor Cycle Group and among Italian Mafia figures from Melbourne.
In 2011 AFP intelligence files showed he had managed to strategically unite crime clans, mostly involving members of the former Yugoslav republic as well as establish alliances with Italian Mafia.
It is understood of the four other Australian arrested with Ulic, two were old school convicted Sydney career criminals who in the 1980s had helped him control Kings Cross’s infamous ‘Golden Mile’ of drugs and gambling dens.
Ulic migrated to Sydney in 1979 and almost immediately the NSW Police opened a file on him as he began to move with identities including Bill Bayeh, George Freeman and George Savvas.
But by 1992 he had cultivated a range of corrupt police officers including from the Major Crime Squad who would tip him off whenever he was about to be busted.
He was arrested and questioned over murders in the mid 1990s but the cases were dropped and by 2000 he had already established a drugs empire stretching across Europe.
Ulic’s hobby has been to produce quality wine on a property in Montenegro from a dozen Shiraz vines he had shipped in from South Australia.
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