Milosevic Ally Charged

A Belgrade prosecutor filed charges Friday against a close associate of Slobodan Milosevic, paving the way for the first trial against an official of the former president's regime.

Miodrag Zecevic, the former manager of the French-Yugoslav Bank in Paris, was charged with "abuse of official position," Biljana Radovanovic, a prosecutor in a Belgrade municipal court, told the state-run Tanjug news agency.

According to the charges, Zecevic withdrew more then $270,000 from a French-Yugoslav Bank account in December 1998, and used the money to bail himself out of jail in France, where he was under investigation for financial improprieties.

The move damaged the bank, while "Zecevic provided full freedom of movement for himself, enabling himself to leave France," the charges said, according to Tanjug.

Zecevic is one of Milosevic's key aides, and is believed to have played the leading role in the ex-president's financial dealings when Yugoslavia was under international sanctions in the 1990s for its role in Balkans wars and millions of dollars were thought to have been spirited out of the country.

In 1999, Swiss authorities froze an account belonging to Zecevic because of the French investigation.

A trial for Zecevic could implicate Milosevic in illegal dealings, widening the investigation against him.

Click here to learn more about Milosevic's rise and fall.

Since Milosevic was ousted from power Oct. 5, the new Yugoslav authorities have detained several of his associates as part of a campaign to expose the former president's alleged corruption.

Among those detained are the former chief of state security, Radomir Markovic, and the ex-manager of state television, Dragoljub Milanovic.

Zecevic is the first to be charged, but is not in custody. He is believed to be in Yugoslavia. The others still are under investigation. It was not immediately clear when Zecevic's trial will begin.

Milosevic himself was arrested on April 1 after a two-day standoff and jailed pending an investigation into corruption and abuse of power during his 13-year rule.

He could face additional charges for resisting arrest during the standoff.

Milosevic is also wanted by the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, for alleged atrocities committed by during his 1998-99 crackdown on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

Milosevic, who stepped down in October following riots over his refusal to accept an electoral defeat, has denied all accusations against him. The new Yugoslav leadership has refused to hand him over to the war crimes tribunal.

The 59-year-old former president was rushed to the hospital last week complaining of heart trouble, but returned to jail when doctors determined nothing is wrong.

He is known to suffer from high blood pressure, but aides deny he has diabetes or has suffered stroke.

His hospitalization came as allies charged the government with endangering Milosevic's health by imprisoning him in a specially refurbished cell at Belgrade Central Prison.

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