Petar Panic, also known as “Pana,” is a one-eyed Serbian mobster with a rich criminal history and friends in the right places.
Panic once served as a bodyguard for Vojislav Seselj, the leader of the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party, who was recently convicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for crimes against humanity.
A new investigation by KRIK, a partner of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) shows the extent of Panic’s ties to Serbia’s powerful and controversial Minister of Health, Zlatibor Loncar.
It also reveals Panic’s connections to the murderous Zemun Clan, one of the most powerful groups within the Serbian mafia.
According to police records, Panic was charged for 16 crimes during the 1990s and early 2000s, ranging from multiple assaults to illegal possession of a weapon to causing traffic accidents. Details are seldom available on older cases like these because records are regularly purged.
However, reporters were able to track down information about two court cases in which Panic was tried for assault. It is these cases that demonstrate his connections to Loncar.
They show that Panic obtained questionable medical reports from the health minister — then a doctor in a Belgrade hospital — which his lawyer used to justify his failure to appear in court.
These absences led to hearings being postponed. Subsequently, charges were dropped in one of the cases because the statute of limitations had expired. The method of delaying court cases until they must be dropped is a common tactic used by organized crime figures to avoid charges, criminologist Bogoljub Milosavljevic told KRIK. In the second assault case, Panic was convicted.
The credibility of the four medical reports authored by Loncar are questionable.
In one of the reports, Loncar wrote that Panic was in such poor health that he was unable to leave his house. However, during this time, Panic was traveling and even the police could not locate him. In a second report, Loncar claimed that Panic was still recovering from a surgery that had been performed over a year earlier.
Loncar’s connection to Panic lends further credence to earlier testimonies that pointed to the health minister’s involvement with the Zemun Clan.
In 2014, Loncar was appointed to the position of health minister by then-Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, despite testimony by Zemun Clan members that Loncar was in the gang’s employ and had, while working in a hospital, murdered a rival mobster who had survived an assassination attempt.
Meanwhile, Panic’s Facebook posts suggest that Loncar is far from the only Serbian politician he’s befriended.
According to a series of photos, his old friends include President Aleksandar Vucic, Minister of Police Nebojsa Stefanovic, and other prominent former members of Seselj’s Radical party. Today they are members of the Serbian Progressive Party, which has been the country’s ruling party since winning the 2012 elections.
Contacted by reporters, Panic refused to comment for this story.