- John Kennedy helped distribute bogus claims of Bosnian war crimes
- Farage running mate lobbied on behalf of Radovan Karadzic, later jailed for war crimes
- “Naive” Kennedy severed Karadzic ties before indictment
A Brexit Party running mate of Nigel Farage in the European election helped spread fake news for a Bosnian Serb warlord later jailed for crimes against humanity.
John Kennedy, a former Tory now standing in the South East region on a list headed by Farage, was for a time monitored by the security services for his close work with Radovan Karadzic, who in March was sentenced for life on charges including genocide, murder and extermination.
A former equerry to Prince Michael of Kent and one-time owner of the Almanach de Gotha, a directory of Europe’s aristocracy, Kennedy in July 1992 organised a Westminster press conference with Karadzic at which they handed out a pamphlet listing bogus Bosnian atrocities against Serbs.
“Kennedy was a pernicious influence within parts of the British establishment at the time and drew several MPs from across the political spectrum into his circle,” said Carole Hodge, author of Britain and the Balkans.
Kennedy said yesterday that his involvement with Karadzic ceased “long before any persons were charged with any crime”.
“I met with Karadzic together with UK MPs and Privy Councillors from all parties, including Paddy Ashdown and others. These meetings were not secret or criticised or commented upon by the media at the time, only some years later when I became a Conservative parliamentary candidate.”
While acknowledging that he may have been “naive”, Kennedy did not comment on whether he knew at the time that the 1992 pamphlet contained falsehoods.
In 1996 the High Court ordered the Labour party to pay him unspecified damages after it wrongly alleged he had retained links with Karadzic. The party’s lawyer said it accepted Mr Kennedy had “acted at all times with the best of intentions and motives consistent with the wishes of the international community in making a peaceful solution to the conflict”.
But even after his ties to Karadzic ceased, Kennedy continued to spread controversial rumours about Bosnian atrocities. In a 1997 letter to The Guardian, he repeated allegations that five years earlier the Bosnians had bombed their own civilians as they queued for bread in a bid to engineer international sympathy.
“The claim that the bread queue massacre was a false flag operation was very quickly widely denounced by many people at the time as propaganda on behalf of the Serb extremists” said Marko Hoare, a Balkan historian.
Appearing on Sunday night with Farage at a rally in Frimley, Surrey, Kennedy accused Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn of working on a “Fisher Price guide book to treaty making” in their failed negotiations on securing Brexit.
Revelations about Kennedy’s past raise new questions for Farage, who according to a party insider personally oversees the selection of candidates.
“It’s Nigel’s own private political party,” said the insider, who asked not to be identified.
“These are all events that took place 27 years ago, when I was 27 years of age,” Kennedy said. “This was an appalling and tragic conflict, all of my endeavours were entirely based on the belief that something could be done to shorten that conflict.”
Born Jovan Gvozdenovic, Kennedy was once engaged to a Yugoslavian princess and has twice stood as a Tory candidate in general elections. Following the outbreak of war in the Balkans he emerged as a young and suave advocate for the Serbs on television news, meanwhile deploying high-level connections to win MPs to the Serbian cause.
During the brutal early stages of the conflict, as Serbian forces opened a campaign of ethnic cleansing, he helped organise trips to Belgrade for British politicians to meet Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian president later indicted for war crimes.
“His objective was to create confusion in order to prevent international action,” said Brad Blitz, a professor of international politics at Middlesex University who founded Students Against Genocide during the war.
The dossier distributed by Kennedy and Karadzic at the London press conference denied ethnic cleansing by the Serbs, later proven at a tribunal in the Hague, levelling that exact charge at Bosnian forces. It contained lurid descriptions of alleged Bosnian crimes, including claims that Bosnians executed Serbs by the “extraction of the brains of living humans” in the town of Kupres.
It was “propaganda that contains unsubstantiated, fantastical claims and grotesque falsehoods,” said Hoare, the historian. “Its aim was to muddy the waters and distract international attention from the very real mass violence that was being perpetrated at the time by rebel-Serb forces against the Bosnian civilian population.”
Paddy Ashdown, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats who in the early 2000s became de facto governor of Bosnia, recalled Kennedy as a Karadzic confidant who was close enough to the warlord to rouse him to the telephone “at 2:30am in the morning!”.
“Kennedy in good form, having just come back from Geneva,” Ashdown wrote in the 31 July 1993 entry of a diary published in 2000. “Full of the old bullshit, however,” including a warning that Serbs would shoot down planes and even had “tactical nuclear weapons near Sarajevo”.
“He clearly thinks they have won and has seventy-three different reasons why we should not support the Muslims. A remarkable man. Extraordinary self-confidence but lacking in plain common sense. Somehow, he is good company, even if—or perhaps because—he is so provocative.”
Kennedy is not the only Brexit Party hopeful with a controversial record over the war in the Balkans. Four candidates—Claire Fox, Alka Sehgal Cuthbert, James Mountfield, and Stuart Waiton—were previously involved in the Revolutionary Communist Party or its offshoots such as Living Marxism, Spiked and the Academy of Ideas.
The RCP, an unabashed backer of the IRA, took a strongly pro-Serb line in the conflict, culminating in its LM magazine being bankrupted after losing a libel case brought by ITN and two journalists it had accused of broadcasting misleading footage of Bosnian Serb war crimes.
Kennedy said he has no connection with the RCP or LM and did not know Fox “until a couple of weeks ago”.
Kennedy began his public relations career working for Ian Greer, a lobbyist whose reputation was destroyed in the cash-for-questions scandal. After the imposition of sanctions against the Serbs, he struck out on his own, playing a role in facilitating a donation to the Tories by a Serbian-born business partner of Serbia’s finance minister. The affair prompted an internal Conservative inquiry.
His influence extended beyond the Tories. David Clark, a Labour minister, and his assistant John Reid—himself later a minister—apologised for not declaring that Kennedy paid for their 1993 trip to Geneva to meet Karadzic.
Kennedy also appears to mix politics with business. In 1993 he founded two companies with Harold Elletson, a pro-Serb Tory MP. Sir Henry Bellingham, who hosted the Karadzic press conference and for a time employed Kennedy as a researcher, was also a director in a company established by Kennedy.
Bellingham chaired the Conservative Council on Eastern Europe, for whom Greer threw a lavish reception in February 1992 at the National Portrait Gallery, where Milosevic supporters mixed with the politicians and businessmen, according to The Guardian.
In the late 1990s The Sunday Times, The Observer and The Guardian reported that Kennedy had come into the sights of MI6, who allegedly warned Downing Street that he may have been a conduit of Serbian money to the Tory party and obtained warrants to tap his telephones.
An intelligence source, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed to SourceMaterial that Kennedy was of interest to the security services at that time.
“I have not arranged any donation of this kind or from any foreign company or individual,” Kennedy wrote in his 1997 letter to The Guardian.
Image courtesy of the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, licensed under Creative Commons.