Published in Nacional number 408, 2003-09-11

Autor: Marko Ćustić

EXCLUSIVE

Goran Milić trying to extort money from Bernie Ecclestone

The number one man in Formula 1 and one of the wealthiest men in the world speaks for Nacional on how HTV editor Goran Milić has been trying to extort money from him

“This man, Goran Milić, has called me several times over the past few months. He stated that he wanted to help me, because things could go badly for me in Croatia, bad for my image. He did not mention any concrete monetary amount, but it was obvious that he was talking about money and that this is absolutely about extortion,” stated Bernie Ecclestone in a telephone conversation for Nacional. Ecclestone is the number one man in Formula 1 and owner of one quarter of Formula One Administration which holds all TV rights to the sport.

Ecclestone was directly accusing editor of Croatian Television Goran Milić of attempted extortion, and he backed up his allegations with two letters he received from Milić in June and March of this year.

The financial compensation that Milić mentioned should have been intended for Srebrenka Herold-Mijatović, an HTV reporter who was injured three years ago on the former yacht of the Ecclestone family, ‘Petara’, when it was moored at Bol on Brač. According to witness and police reports, Srebrenka Herold-Mijatović, in an alcohol affected state slipped on some stairs on the yacht and hit her head, receiving serious injuries including a fractured skull and concussion.

The Ecclestones are one of the world’s wealthiest families, with assets assessed at about 3 billion British pounds. Bernie Ecclestone and Slavica Radić met at Monza at a Formula 1 race in 1982. The model from Rijeka was then working for Giorgio Armani and was presenting the new line of sportswear at Monza. Ecclestone approached her and offered her a Coca-cola. Today, twenty two years later, they have two daughters Tamara and Petra. Their family yacht was named after the girls, ‘Petara’, a vessel with 7 apartments worth $20 million. Before this yacht Petara, they had another boat of the same name, which was the scene of the incident which lead Milić to contact the Ecclestones.

Ecclestone’s wife, Slavica Radić-Ecclestone described the events of that day for Nacional by telephone. As she said, on that day, 20 July 2000, she had invited Srebrenka Herold-Mijatović on her yacht, as she knew her husband well from before. That is, Vlado Mijatović had organized fashion shows while Slavica Ecclestone was working in Croatia as a model.

“We spent the entire day on the yacht. Srebrenka Herold-Mijatović said that she was the happiest woman in the world, as she felt like a small child again on our boat. My brother and she drove the jet-skis all day long. She began drinking in the morning, and I must admit that I have no idea how much she drank,” said Slavica.

In the evening, they organized a dinner on ‘Petara’, for Slavica, her daughters, her brother and sister-in-law and Srebrenka Herold-Mijatović. Slavica said that it was a typical dinner and there was no special occasion. “After drinking aperitifs, schnapps and beer all day long, she drank champagne in the evening and became intoxicated. At one moment, she poured champagne over my brother and shouted, ‘I’m so happy! I am so happy to be here!’ At about ten o’clock, I went to bed. After about a half hour, my Philippine maid entered into my room, all covered in blood, and told me that my friend had fallen.”
When she came out of the cabin, Slavica Ecclestone was greeted by a horrible sight: Srebrenka Herold-Mijatović was lying unconscious in blood under the stairs that lead up to the captain’s bridge. It was obvious that she had been climbing the stairs and slipped, likely on the long black evening dress she had been wearing.

“The doctors came from Bol, from her breath it was obvious that she was very drunk, and so they didn’t want to do anything. My captain woke up one of the locals to get him to drive her by motor boat to the hospital. In the morning, the police came to take our statement and her husband, who was still drunk, couldn’t recall anything. I remember that the police officer asked him if he wanted to press any charges, and he said no, not at all, we were happy, we were drunk,” said Slavica Ecclestone.

Slavica paid for the motor boat that drove Srebrenka to the Firula Hospital in Split. She paid in cash and the amount was equal to several thousand German marks. “Immediately I gave Vlado Mijatović money out of my own pocket for her treatment, for his plane ticket to Zagreb and back and other expenses. Together with the motor boat, that amounted to about 15-20 thousand DEM. I was in shock for five days because I thought she was going to die. She was in a coma. I arrived before her husband. Bernie and I drove to the Split hospital in the 40 degree weather to see her. Mentally I suffered because of the incident, and now that drunk is trying to blackmail me. That is so pathetic. When I tell my husband that a Croat is coming onto the boat, he immediately feels ill.”

Nacional’s sources confirmed that Srebrenka Herold-Mijatović was admitted to hospital in an intoxicated state. Moreover, as soon as she regained consciousness, she asked that her alcohol induced stated not be included in her hospital records. She was very upset to learn that it was already written in, and that the alcohol test had been conducted at the request of the police while she was still unconscious.

Slavica Ecclestone says that the only contact she had with Srebrenka following her recovery was very uncomfortable. “She called me and asked for a million dollars for damages suffered. I told her that she was exaggerating and that was the end of our conversation. Since then, I have remained quiet, because I did not want to cause a scandal, but now she is trying to blackmail me and I can’t hold out anymore. It was all fine until I began receiving letters and threats. It all began when Milić got involved, he’s likely the one giving her advice.”

As he told Ecclestone himself, Goran Milić was Srebrenka’s boss on HTV. Milić was one of the best known TV reporters in the former Yugoslavia. He edited and anchored the evening news on TV Belgrade, he was a correspondent from New York, and the last Premier of SFRY, Ante Marković, appointed him as director and editor-in-chief of Yutela, the station created to defend the reformist pro-Yugoslav policies.
After Yutela failed, he worked in the tabloids ST and Panorama, and in the mid 1990s he appeared on the Mreza network with the show “TV Courthouse”. Since the early 1990s, he was a favorite of Franjo Tudjman, and at his initiative in 1997, he was invited to work on the state television station as an editor, where he still works today.

Bernie Ecclestone commented on how Milić first contacted him. “That man called me and said that he wanted to help me because otherwise, the situation could end up very badly for me. I said that if someone wanted to sue us, then no problem, they could go ahead. He insisted that the entire situation was very bad for me in Croatia, bad for my image, and that he did not want to see me destroyed. He said that this reporter could no longer work. I responded that I didn’t throw her down the stairs, and that that was the price of alcoholism. No one else has ever fallen down the stairs on my boat. Everyone that was on the boat that night agrees that she was drunk.”

Ecclestone said that over the past six months, he has received several calls from Milić and that the HTV editor has always been very polite, presenting himself as the mediator whose interest is to help and to prevent problems from occurring. Also, Ecclestone states that cautious Milić has never mentioned a concrete sum, even though he made it very clear that Srebrenka Herold-Mijatović should be compensated for now being incapable of working.

“However, it was absolutely about extortion. To be perfectly honest, I told him that I would be happy to pay the fees necessary to sue us. He basically said that he wanted to help me and that if I didn’t do something about it in a certain timeframe, that something else would happen. I immediately refused and said that they could sue me. First, if they wanted a trial in England, their time is up and the Statute of Limitations has set in. If they sue me in Croatia – the boat is owned by an English company, and I don’t know how that would fare before the Croatian courts, and based on that I can conclude that this is ridiculous.”

In fact, this is ridiculous no matter how you look at it. She came onto our boat, became totally intoxicated, fell down the stairs and then complained to us. In fact, I hope this does go to court. I must apologize because I don’t have a lot of faith in your courts, but I would love to see this case come before an English court,” said Ecclestone.

There have already been other attempts to extort the Ecclestones in Croatia. Six years ago, Momir Blagojević from Rijeka gave an interview to the tabloid Imperijal in which he claimed that Slavica Ecclestone was an Udba agent in the 1970s and used her charms to lure interesting subjects into bed and extract information from them. Ecclestone was infuriated and even though his wife wanted to let the entire case with Imperijal become forgotten, he sued Blagojević and the reporter who wrote the article. At that time, Blagojević did something that a biographer of Ecclestone assessed to be a stupid move. He called Ecclestone and sought a million dollars and in return he would retract his story about his wife. Ecclestone agreed to send Blagojević his lawyers, and instead, he sent reporters from the Sunday Mirror to the meeting in Rijeka. They recorded the bizarre conversation with Blagojević in which he admitted to having fabricated the information in order to get back at Slavica Ecclestone who had refused to give him financial help, and he continued to insist on the payment of one million dollars to retract the story. It all ended up on the front page of the Sunday Mirror and with official apologies from Blagojević and Imperijal.

The second case was not real extortion, but could be interpreted as a raw attempt to extract some money out of the Ecclestones. Three years ago, Ecclestone was negotiating with the Rijeka City Council over the purchase of a gravesite at Rijeka’s Kozala graveyard. In the end, the Chief of the Office of the City of Rijeka, Ksenija Linić, wife of government vice-president Slavko Linić, asked for 2 million Euro for the lease, and not purchase, of an abandoned gravesite. Ecclestone also refused this ridiculous offer.

Ecclestone commented on all these cases, saying, “Croats are not the best blackmailers. They should talk to someone about how it’s really done. It wouldn’t help them very much, but it might help them get the job done a little better.”

Milić’s letters to Ecclestone

Mr. Bernie and Mrs. Slavica Ecclestone,

Dear Slavica and Bernie,

Thank you very much for sending the address of the insurance company for Petara, which could help with Srebrenka’s request. Unfortunately, I have not been able to follow all the steps taken by Srebrenka’s lawyers, but I have heard they are planning to file suit in Croatia. Also, the public interest in the entire case could not be limited only to Croatia, but, as you stated “we don’t care”, I hope that such publicity will not damage your good reputation. In any case, knowing Srebrenka as I do (despite her medical successes and failures), I do not expect her to deliver any incorrect information to the press. However, what I would like to avoid at any cost, could occur in the form of a press story (in England) which could, though true, arouse some awkward feelings.

And that is that. I will be traveling through Europe over the next few weeks, but if there is anything that I could do to help to satisfy both sides, please do not hesitate to contact me on my cell (385) 98 321 354.

Best regards,
Goran Milić
In Zagreb, 25 June 2003

Mr. Bernie Ecclestone
Father and Mother of Formula 1
With the deepest respect

Dear Mr. Ecclestone,

I still have not decided whether this is a personal or business letter. But I do believe that we have common interests in the case of the injuries of Srebrenka Herold-Mijatović, which unfortunately occurred on your yacht ‘Petara’.

Almost three years have passed since Srebrenka nearly died on the night of 20 July 2000. From many sources, I have heard of your personal concern and initial financial help in her recovery. Also, your visit to see Srebrenka in the hospital in Split, with your wife and Srebrenka’s long time friend, was touching for all those who know of your relationship with the Mijatović family.

Few Croats have had the privilege of spending New Year’s Even or being hosted in the Ecclestone home.

I cannot say what followed later, after the accident, but I do know that all contact between Slavica and Srebrenka was cut off. Therefore, I have taken it upon myself to draw your attention to certain facts which have happened in the meantime.

Srebrenka sustained serious injuries and serious consequences. She is almost completely deaf in her right ear. She has constant headaches and frequently loses her balance. She had a complicated operation in Zagreb and is under constant medical control.

The situation has certainly impacted her working capacities and she does not dare to appear live on TV cameras, which was her greatest joy and proof of her professional accomplishments. I know that very well because I was the editor of the show in which Srebrenka broadcast live in 1997.

Today, Srebrenka produces perhaps one television report month, while prior to the accident she was producing twelve. I fear that she will soon stop working actively as a reporter and enter into retirement working a boring desk job. She has also been damaged financially, as over the past three years, salaries on Croatian Television have grown by about 50%, but Srebrenka could not be promoted for she was constantly under medical care or in the hospital.

As far as I know, she has tried to contract the insurance company covering Petara, but I am afraid that she has not been able to contact them.

Mr. Ecclestone… Is it too much for me to ask that you help Srebrenka in this case? Either by giving me the precise address of the insurance company to which she should submit her request, or to ask them to act correctly in the matter, or perhaps you have a better idea?

Srebrenka is a realistic, modest woman, she is not seeking millions, but as her boss, I can confirm that she has been seriously injured, both physically and emotionally. As medical care in Croatia is no longer free, and prices will only increase in the future, it would be a catastrophe for Srebrenka to not have any financial reserves. On the other hand, I can state that Srebrenka still has wonderful memories of your friendship, and I am amazed by her loyalty. Therefore, I am asking you, Mr. Ecclestone and Slavica, to contact me with your suggestions as soon as possible. The final date by which Srebrenka has to submit her request expires in a few months time, and her lawyers have all the crazy ideas that all lawyers have.

My e-mail address is [email protected], that is my confidential address. Or you can contract me by telephone at (385) 98 452 132 or (385) 98 321 354.

Also, I would ask that you send my the address to where I can send you a copy of my book “The best of Croatia” in which I describe 250 facts about my countries, and an entire page in color is dedicated to the Ecclestones and the yacht Petara. You will see, the context is completely positive.

I am counting on your discretion and on your response to my letter. I would be an honor to have the opportunity to contact you and your lovely wife.

Goran Milić
Senior Editor, Croatian Television
In Zagreb, 22 March 2003