Mihalj Kertes

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Mihalj Kertes
Mihalj Kertes.jpg
Minister without portfolio
In office
14 July 1993 – 18 March 1994
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Vekoslav Šošević
Personal details
Born (1947-08-29) 29 August 1947 (age 71)
Bačka Palanka, SR Serbia, SFR Yugoslavia (present-day Serbia)
Nationality Yugoslav, Serbian
Political party

League of Communists of Yugoslavia (1974–1990)

Socialist Party of Serbia (1990– 2015), Serbian Progressive Party (2015–)
Spouse(s) Mira
Children two

Mihalj Kertes (Serbian Cyrillic: Михаљ Кертес, Hungarian: Kertész Mihály, born 29 August 1947), nicknamed "Braca" or "Bracika", was a Yugoslav Serbian politician, minister, close associate and man of trust of President of FR Yugoslavia Slobodan Milošević. An ethnic Hungarian, member of the Communist Party since 1974, he became a supporter of Milošević in the late 1980s. As long-time director of Federal Customs Bureau of Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Kertes provided logistic and financial support for various undercover government operations. During the 2000s, after the 5 October, Kertes was sentenced, tried or acted as a witness in several trials.


Kertes was born in Bačka Palanka[1] to father Mihalj, a tailor and mother Olga, a housewife. He completed the primary and middle school, as well as the Higher School of Management (major of social work) in his hometown. He started working as a clerk for social work in municipal administration, became a member of League of Communists of Yugoslavia in 1974, and his local career progressed to the level of secretary of municipal committee of the Communist League, in 1986.[2] [3][4] During the party's transformation into the Socialist Party of Serbia, Kertes became a supporter of Milošević's policy.


Kertes became a prominent figure when, during the anti-bureaucratic revolution in support of Milošević's politics, he initiated the protests in Bačka Palanka and led the protesters to Novi Sad, the capital of SAP Vojvodina. The event, known as the "Yogurt revolution", led to resign of the provincial leadership and installation of loyals to Milošević. His statement "How can you Serbs be afraid of Serbia when I, a Hungarian, am not afraid of Serbia?", made him particularly famous.[5] Due to that role, he progressed to Serbian presidency membership, and was in 1990 elected to the Assembly of Serbia as a MP for the Grocka—Belgrade suburb, considered controversial as he had not lived there.[3]

In 1991, he shortly withdrew from the public eye and, under the auspice of the State Security, in the eve of the War in Croatia he travelled across Serb-populated areas in Croatia and Herzegovina, distributing weapons to local Serbs. In July 1991, he made another historic statement in Nikšić: "Here we will build a great Serbian state, with the border on the left shore of Neretva and Dubrovnik as the capital"[6]

Subsequently, he was installed as head of State security department of the Federal Ministry of Interior, and (almost secretly) as assistant to Federal Minister of Interior Petar Gračanin (1992–93).[3] Prime Minister Milan Panić sacked him after an incident at the London Conference, when it was discovered that he induced Vladislav Jovanović to carry a secret listening device, and that he was listening on the other end.[6] He was linked with formation of Serbian paramilitary units in Croatia (especially in eastern Slavonia) and Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992 and 1993.[5]

Kertes's reached the ultimate and the most lucrative peak of the career when he was appointed the head of Yugoslav Customs Office in 1993, the post that he will hold up to 2000. That position allowed him to impose whatever tax was necessary on the goods, and the customs duties functioned as a state budget in shadow. They were a financial source for a vast range of operations, from funding the paramilitary units in wars of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, across money laundering in foreign off-shore banks, to natural filling of private pockets of people close to Milošević.[5] He had Milošević's trust throughout his tenure.[6] Corruption, nepotism, smuggling and money extortion took over in the service. UN sanctions meant that the entire lucrative turnover of goods, especially such as tobacco and oil, had to be effectively smuggled, the privilege that was given only to the selected ones. Milošević's son Marko had an effective monopoly of dealing Phillip Morris cigarettes in FR Yugoslavia.[5] From his position, Kertes distributed an enormous number of gifts, chiefly vehicles and luxury goods, and the benefitors ranged from underdeveloped villages, through various state and local officials, to various special police, military and paramilitary units.[5]

During the reign, he was a man of unlimited power in his hometown Bačka Palanka. Apart from his (self-confessed) love to fish using the net and dynamite, he is also remembered for driving an armored limousine to his mother's house through the town. He had the power to sack whoever he didn't like, and provide benefits to loyals. The town provided around 800 customs officials out of 2300 the country's total during his mandate.[5]


After the overthrow on Milošević on 5 October 2000, activists of Democratic Opposition of Serbia broke in the customs headquarters, finding Kertes and associates shredding the documentation. Other items found in the suite included US$ 1.3 million in various currencies, 18 pound of drugs, about 50 pieces of weapons, and 10 bulletproof luxury cars. After the brief detention, Kertes was permitted to leave the office, but subsequently faced various charges.[5]

After two retrials, in February 2007, Kertes was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison for providing the truck to executioners of opposition politicians, in the 1999 Ibarska magistrala assassination.[7]

In September 2007, he faced trial for abuse of office and embezzlement. Among other issues, the prosecution charged the group, consisting of Slobodan Milošević, Jovan Zebić and Nikola Šainović for transferring 120 million German marks to Cyprus banks, where the trace is lost. Only Kertes faces trial, as Milošević and Zebić died, and Šainović is currently standing a trial in International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in Hague.[8] In November 2012, the Appelate Court reached the final verdict of six years and six months in prison to Kertes for illegal transfer of money to Cyprus and embezzlement of state budget for 1.5 million dinars. The sentence was joined with the previous one of 1.5 years for his participation in the Ibarska magistrala assassination. He was absolved of charges of "joint criminal venture" with Milošević, Zebić and Šainović.[9] However, in March 2013, the Supreme Court of Cassation reversed the verdict and ordered a reconsideration by the Appelate Court.[10] In August 2014, he was released of all charges for embezzlement due to absolute obsolescence.[11]

Kertes also faces several trials for tobacco smuggling during 1990s and "abuse of official role" in relation with it. In December 2015, Appelate Court reached the final verdict of 2.5 years in prison in one such case.[12]

Personal life[edit]

Kertes is ethnic Hungarian of Vojvodina.[13][3] He is married to Mira, and has two daughters, Sanja and Dragana.


  1. ^ "The Milosevic charge sheet". BBC. 2001-04-02. Retrieved 2007-09-07. 
  2. ^ Lopušina, Marko (2003). Tajni ratnici ex-Jugoslavije (in Serbian). Evro. ISBN 978-86-505-0056-9. Retrieved 2007-09-07. 
  3. ^ a b c d Zorica Vulić (2000-05-20). "Ko je ovaj čovek? Mihalj Kertes" (in Serbian). Glas javnosti. Retrieved 2007-09-07. 
  4. ^ "Deda Mraz na optužnici" (in Serbian). Danas. 2007-03-19. Retrieved 2007-09-07. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Dobbs 2000.
  6. ^ a b c "Čudesni svet Bracike Kertesa" (in Serbian). Vreme. 2000-12-20. Retrieved 2007-09-07. 
  7. ^ "Milosevic commander convicted in '99 attack". International Herald Tribune. 2007-02-16. 
  8. ^ "Milosevic Ally's Trial Opens". Balkan Investigative Report Network. 
  9. ^ "Kertesu smanjena kazna" [Kertes's sentence reduced]. Tanjug. 29 October 2012. Retrieved 2015-12-25. 
  10. ^ "Ukinuta presuda Mihalju Kertesu" [Verdict for Mihalj Kertes reversed]. Tanjug. 3 March 2014. Retrieved 2015-12-25. 
  11. ^ "Kertes i definitivno slobodan" [Kertes definitely free]. Tanjug. 2 August 2014. Retrieved 2015-12-25. 
  12. ^ "Kertesu šest meseci manje za šverc cigareta" [Kertes gets six months less for cigarette smuggling]. Tanjug. 12 December 2015. Retrieved 2015-12-25. 
  13. ^ LeBor 2012.


Government offices
Preceded by
Minister without portfolio
14 July 1993–18 March 1994
Succeeded by
Vekoslav Šošević
Preceded by
Head of Yugoslav Customs Office
Succeeded by