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Midnight sun has a dark side

Mafia thugs have come from the Balkans, jolting Scandinavia with their viciousness.

December 10, 2006|Jeffrey Fleishman | Times Staff Writer

Police say both men are smooth and likable, and both have survived assassination attempts, including one this summer, when two gunmen shot Dzeljilji in both arms and through the liver while he was parking his car. Sevo's enemies have tried to kill him with bombs, nails and bullets. He has slipped into hiding.

Sevo's police file is a narrative of a man navigating two worlds. His family roots are reportedly near Bosanski Petrovac on the western edge of what is now Bosnia-Herzegovina. He was a toddler when he and his family arrived in Sweden. As a teenager in the suburbs of Stockholm, Sevo discovered taekwondo.

He ran with a group of other 15- and 16-year-olds who, according to police, veered into crime by their early 20s. They had a proclivity for robbing money transport trucks, fraud and extortion.

"They were a special group," said another police investigator, adding that 10 of the original 25 members of the organization have since been killed or died of drug use. "One of them even became an actor in his own movie. Sevo became a leader of this group. He was a tough guy. He has a lot of guts and a lot of confidence."

By the early 1990s, Sevo's criminal offenses included weapons, drugs, conspiracy and dealing in steroids. At the same time, Yugoslavia was cracking along ethnic lines. Nationalism and war rumbled; suddenly geopolitics had meaning on the tidy streets of Stockholm, where Balkan gun-runners, cigarette smugglers and dope dealers mingled with refugees.

There were also whispers of the latest exploits of Zeljko Raznatovic, known as Arkan, a bank robber and jewel thief wanted throughout Europe. He became a Serbian hero by commanding paramilitary brigades that killed Bosnian Muslims and Croats before his own assassination in a Belgrade hotel lobby.

Swedish police confiscated photographs showing Arkan and Sevo standing together in military fatigues. "Sevo liked that picture," the investigator said. "It was for him to show the people back in Sweden that he was in Arkan's place and was with Arkan's Tigers. Sevo has told people he fought in the Balkans, but we don't know if that's true or not."

Other connections

Sevo had other connections. He befriended Dragan Joksovic, a gambler and a leader in Sweden's cigarette black market who in 1998 was killed at a racetrack during a feud over territory and profits. Cigarettes smuggled out of Yugoslavia and illegally sold across Europe were the hallmarks of a Balkan region that skirted economic sanctions and exported criminals.

"Joksovic put Sevo under his wing," said another police official who has investigated Sevo. "It was a time when the Balkan guys were taking over some of the best restaurants in Stockholm.... Joksovic thought when he died Sevo would take over the empire."

A picture taken of Sevo in prison shows a weightlifter's arms and a taut stomach. Sevo worked as a bouncer in discos and bars owned by Ratko Djokic, arms merchant, cigarette smuggler and boxing club entrepreneur. Sevo married the boss' daughter, Aleksandra. He cut his long dark hair. He wore nicer suits. And the assassination attempts began, including a convoluted scheme by three Russian hit men that ended when two of the would-be killers turned on the third, cutting him up with a chain saw and burying him in wet concrete.

In 2001, a gunman ambushed Sevo outside his home. Only slightly wounded, Sevo fired back. "That same night," said one investigator, "Sevo appeared in restaurants saying, 'You see, they can't hurt me.' "

Gunfire rang across Stockholm immediately after the attempt. Within four months, police said, two of Sevo's enemies had been killed and a third wounded. Sevo was arrested on suspicion of murder, but never convicted. In 2003, assassins shot his father-in-law 30 times outside a club. Sevo rose to become a central figure in Stockholm's crime scene, police said.

Attempts to reach Sevo through his lawyer were unsuccessful. A 2004 interview with Sevo appeared in the Belgrade tabloid Kurir under the headline, "Underworld: Confession of Milan Sevo." He said, "It is true that I am influential in the Stockholm underworld, but not in the sense of organized crime. I know a lot of people from the underworld who respect me, and I have a lot of friends who are in that. But since getting married, I have been doing only legal business."

At the time the interview appeared, Sevo was supposed to be serving a two-year prison sentence on weapons-related charges. But he had been on the run for months after receiving a weekend prison pass to visit his family. He fled Sweden with his wife and children and was arrested in March 2005 in Greece. He was extradited to Sweden, where he finished his sentence -- he served no extra time for the escape -- and was released June 17, 2005.

"We don't know where he is now," the police official said. "But he's not in Sweden."

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