- Associated Press - Monday, May 9, 2011

BELGRADE, SERBIA (AP) - Serbia’s flamboyant folk music queen Svetlana Raznatovic, better known as Ceca, will spend eight months under a house arrest and pay a euro1.5 million ($2.2 million) fine as part of a contentious plea bargain approved by a Belgrade court on Monday.

One of the Balkans’ most popular singers, known for her plunging necklines and marriage to one of the country’s most notorious warlords, has struck a plea bargain with state prosecutors by pleading guilty in a sale of soccer players from her late husband’s club.

In return, she will be sentenced to one year house arrest and pay a euro1.5 million fine, the largest ever imposed in Serbia, Belgrade’s High Court said Monday. The ruling becomes official once the judges issue it in writing.

In fact, Raznatovic will spend eight months in isolation because she was jailed for four months in 2003 in connection with the assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. Then, police found a huge cache of weapons in her home in the upscale Belgrade Dedinje district.

“Of course,” Raznatovic exclaimed in the court on Monday when a judge asked her if she feels guilty to the charges that she embezzled about euro4 million during player sales to foreign clubs when she managed her husband’s FK Obilic Belgrade in the early 2000s.

She could have faced up to 15 years in prison if convicted on the original charges.

Liberal groups have criticized the deal as scandalous, saying the ruling raised questions about the judiciary’s credibility and suggested the star was above the law.

Ceca has for years evaded legal prosecution thanks to the support of current and former Serbian political leaders who consider her untouchable because of her huge popularity.

The case has been closely watched in the former Yugoslavia and the Balkans because it involves one of the region’s biggest music stars, whose “turbo folk” is a mixture of traditional Balkan folk music and contemporary electronic beats.

Judge Sladjana Markovic said on Monday the court was lenient because Raznatovic is a single mother and has not committed any crime since 2002.

“When there is a deal, each side wins something and loses something,” her lawyer Dragan Krgovic said. The state will come out of this richer by euro1.5 million, he added.

The star was married to Zeljko Raznatovic, known as Arkan, whose troops allegedly killed non-Serbs and pillaged their homes during the Balkan wars of the 1990s. Arkan was gunned down in a Belgrade hotel in 2000, but Ceca continued to manage his football club while allegedly also maintaining connections with Serbian crime bosses and former paramilitary leaders.

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