Most Wanted Gangster Found with Cocaine, Guns, and Top Judge’s Ex-Wife

Police found one of Europe’s most wanted drug smugglers, Mladen Samardzija, in a luxury pad with drugs, guns and the ex-wife of a top government aide in Bosnia. The arrest comes alongside a U.S. clampdown on corruption and gangsterism in the region.
Mladen Samardzija and Tijana Tegeltija. Photos: Europol; Instagram.

When Bosnian police raided a luxury villa tucked away in a former Olympic ski venue late Sunday night and arrested one of Europe’s most wanted fugitives, they expected to find guns, money and maybe drugs. 

And they did find them. Four pistols, more than 150,000 euros and a kilogram of cocaine were in the villa, according to a police report into the arrest of Mladen Samardzija, an alleged Bosnian-Slovenian drug trafficker with ties to some of the region’s most dangerous cartels. 


But they were not expecting to also find Tijana Tegeltija, the ex-wife of Milan Tegeltija, a top Bosnian judicial official and a key advisor to Milad Dodik, president of the Republika Srpska, the mostly ethnic Serbian section of Bosnia established after the collapse of Yugoslavia. 

“In coordination with Europol and the Slovenian authorities, police conducted an operation to arrest a known fugitive accused of major drug trafficking crimes,” said a Bosnian police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of political and safety concerns. “A Bosnian citizen, Tijana Tegeltija, was also detained. This was unexpected.” 

VICE News was able to confirm the couple has formally separated but it remains unclear if a divorce has been finalised. 

Under Bosnia’s complex government, the country is divided into semi-autonomous sections partially based on religion. Samardzija and Tegeltija were detained in the Republika Srpska, which is run by the autocratic-leaning Dodik, who has been sanctioned by the US Department of Treasury for corruption and attempts to destabilise Bosnia’s fragile government. 

Samardzija, 33, listed by Europol as one of the most wanted fugitives in Europe, has been accused of major cocaine and heroin trafficking throughout Europe for the Montegrian-based Škaljari cartel, which has been battling local rivals in the Kavac clan in a multi-year gang war that’s seen dozens murders across Europe for nearly a decade.


One time collaborators until about 200kg of cocaine went missing in 2015 and set off the gang war, the Škaljari and Kavac clans are both from the city of Kotor and have long been considered tied to regional intelligence services and governments. The ensuing war saw both clans decimated in a string of murders spanning Europe, South America and Turkey. 

Samardzija was believed to be very close to Jovan Vukotić, the leader of the Škaljari cartel, who was murdered in a drive by shooting in Istanbul last year. The murder of Vukotic and ensuing arrests of key Kavac cartel members by Turkish police has damaged both groups, according to an US law enforcement official based in the region.

“The Kotor clans have essentially wiped themselves out,” said the official. “The Kavac probably won but couldn’t stop hunting down every single Škaljari guy they could find, which got them arrested.”

The arrest of Samardzija in the Republika Srpska in the close company of someone with only a single degree of separation to the president, indicates that Bosnia suffers from the same cocaine gangsterism that has affected Serbia, Montenegro, Albania and other Balkan states. In the past decade, the region, in particular the states of former Yugoslavia, has seen the growth of some of the most dangerous and politically powerful organised crime groups in the world


“There’s been long standing concerns about organised crime and cocaine cartel activity in Bosnia as well as the rest of the Western Balkan region,” said the US official. “The arrest of a top Škaljari member in close contact with Dodik’s inner circle does little to assuage these concerns.”

The U.S. government also expressed increasing concern about the financial and judicial influence of cartels in Bosnia by designating three Bosnians – including the former head of Bosnia’s intelligence service and a former prosecutor – for a variety of corruption and cocaine dealing accusations by the Office of Financial Asset control. 

Osman Mehmedagic, the former head of Bosnia’s intelligence agency, was sanctioned for abuse of power to spy on rival politicians. Dragan Stankovic, the head of the Republika Srpska’s real estate regulator, stands accused of laundering criminal proceeds, while recently convicted Bosnian cartel boss, Edin Gacanin, commonly known as ‘Tito.’ 

Gacanin is a close associate of a loose alliance of cartels including the Moroccan mafia, the Italian Camorra and the Irish Kinahan Crime Group, all based in Dubai.

Last week, Gacanin ended years of legal battles to avoid prosecution for trafficking what law enforcement officials claim are billions of euros of cocaine from South America to Europe, by pleading guilty to a trafficking charge brought by the Netherlands. He agreed to a million euro fine and a seven year jail term with the agreement that he can serve the prison time in Bosnia or Dubai, where he currently resides. 

Gacanin’s ability to launder millions in drug proceeds through businesses in Bosnia has long concerned authorities, who hope that his prison term will allow for safer pursuit of conspirators. 

“Tito has agreed to jail but his millions remain throughout the Bosnian system,” said the Bosnian police official. “His loss of power might make it easier to reduce the influence of corruption, but the damage has been done to the system. Others will see he’s only serving seven years and will probably come out of prison a billionaire. He will be replaced, there’s too much money in cocaine.”