THE HAGUE -- He was the president's man for all seasons, prosecutors said, ready to organize hit squads, permit the killing of prisoners, sign off on covert weapon shipments or mediate the release of peacekeepers. Jovica Stanisic, the onetime chief of the secret police, was widely thought to be the second most powerful man in Serbia during Slobodan Milosevic's presidency.
Known for his dark suits and sunglasses, and a cool manner that impressed underlings as well as diplomats and politicians, Mr. Stanisic was nicknamed "Ledeni," Serbian for "ice man."
He was often seen with his deputy, Franko Simatovic, the head of special operations, a more effusive man who liked camouflage uniforms and could be heard bragging about attacks on villages. He was known as "Frenki."
The two men have been portrayed by prosecutors as the masterminds behind the covert operations during the 1990s wars in Bosnia and Croatia that added a new term to the lexicon of warmongering: "ethnic cleansing."
The verdict after their three-year trial at the United Nations war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia is due on Thursday.
Prosecutors argued that the two ran a large, covert network of paramilitary squads, trained and paid for by Belgrade's Ministry of Interior. If the judges agree, the verdicts could provide the crucial link legally tying many war crimes in Bosnia and Croatia to the Serbian state.
The defendants deny the charges, and say the prosecution has failed to prove wrongdoing on their parts.
In the court of world opinion, Serbia has long been accused of instigating the wars that accompanied the breakup of Yugoslavia. Yet after almost two decades of trials at the tribunal in The Hague, involving close to 120 people, no officials of the Belgrade government are serving a sentence over atrocities in Bosnia or Croatia.
Mr. Milosevic, considered the wars' main architect, faced a battery of charges, but he died in a tribunal cell in 2006 shortly before the end of his trial.
His chief of staff, Gen. Momcilo Perisic, the most senior military officer during the second half of the war, was convicted and sentenced to 27 years for aiding and abetting war crimes in Bosnia and Croatia, but the verdict was overturned on appeal.
The appeals judges did not dispute Serbia's wartime role as laid out in the trial: its continuous supply of weapons, money, fuel, police officers and military personnel to its allies in Bosnia and Croatia. But the majority, led by Theodor Meron, the American presiding judge, said there was no evidence that General Perisic intended those supplies to be used for crimes, rather than for legitimate war efforts.
Since then, experts have sided widely with the Chinese judge, Liu Daqun, who wrote in a sharp dissent that there was no doubt General Perisic's actions facilitated the large-scale crimes in Bosnia and "given the magnitude, critical importance and continued nature" of the support, his acts were "a prime example" of aiding and abetting. Judge Liu said the majority had shifted the standard for aiding and abetting to the point of undermining its very purpose, namely to make sure that people who facilitated "the most grievous crimes" could not evade responsibility. The Bosnian war took 100,000 lives.
The tribunal has sentenced 68 people, and 26 cases are still going on. The majority of convictions are of ethnic Serbs from Bosnia or Croatia, not Serbia.
Prosecutors say that the current trial, whatever the outcome, has further bolstered the body of evidence linking the Belgrade government with atrocities in Bosnia and Croatia. Prosecutors have introduced newly obtained records from Serbian secret police archives, which were redacted in open court. The redacted portions include details about the paramilitary recruits and their per diem payments. Payments to a group called the Red Berets were signed by Mr. Simatovic.
The secret records were provided by Belgrade and prosecutors said that they showed that these groups, with names like Arkan's Tigers, the Scorpions, the Gray Wolves and the White Eagles, were not informal bands of criminals or spontaneous patriots but well-trained, well-equipped and well-paid men in uniforms, directed by the secret police led by Mr. Stanisic and Mr. Simatovic.
Electronic intercepts and witnesses showed that both men often participated in planning operations or were in the field in Bosnia and Croatia. They reported directly to Mr. Milosevic, the prosecution said. "They ran a huge covert operation, which has now been opened up," said a lawyer close to the case.
Prosecutors also played radio and telephone intercepts and brought insider witnesses to demonstrate how the paramilitaries were used during the bloodiest part of the wars in 1991 and 1992. The groups would be called up to supplement the military, or to do some of the dirtier work, the prosecution said, like attacking villagers, burning down homes and going after the elderly, women and children, which the military would be more reluctant to do.
Former members of the units have appeared during the trial behind closed doors as protected witnesses. Others used pseudonyms and electronically distorted voices. One witness described how in 1995, as Bosnian Serb soldiers were deserting in large numbers, about 100 Tigers were called up for special operations around the time when the military seized the town of Srebrenica and killed more than 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men. Even two months after the fall of Srebrenica, more than 300 Tigers were deployed for mop-up operations, killing 13 Bosnian captives on one day in Trnova, and 65 men the next day in Sanski Most, slitting their throats or using guns.
A witness who worked at Arkan's office said the number of active Tigers varied according to need and the group received close to $2 million for its special operations during 1995.
The fighters were paid on a per diem basis with freshly printed bills of Serbian money sent by the Serbian Interior Ministry, the witness said at an earlier trial.
One witness recalled paramilitary fighters talking about an operation they found particularly nasty because they had to kill the Muslim villagers while they were praying in a mosque.
The prosecution is seeking life sentences for both Mr. Stanisic and Mr. Simatovic.
Defense lawyers for the two accused said the prosecution had failed to provide adequate proof of their clients' wrongdoing and called the evidence "too unreliable and too scanty when it comes to key issues."
They said that the prosecutors had painted a picture of secret operations that was "straight out of Hollywood." Instead they commended Mr. Stanisic and Mr. Simatovic as men who intervened to control extremists.
Mr. Stanisic's lawyer has cited his client's help in bringing about the release of United Nations personnel held hostage in Bosnia. He said that his client traveled through the region as Mr. Milosevic's envoy and that he was a "calm diplomat" who kept his cool "in the madness of war."
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.