Divac cleared of dodging army service

Updated: November 18, 2005, 11:52 AM ET
Associated Press

BELGRADE, Serbia-Montenegro -- Former NBA star Vlade Divac was cleared Friday of draft dodging in his native country.

Prosecutors dropped the charges a day after Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica came to the player's defense. Kostunica said Divac had "proven his patriotism innumerable times during his long career" in basketball.

"What hurt me the most was the negative way my country was presented [in the U.S.] through this case," Divac said at a meeting with Serbia-Montenegro's Defense Minister Zoran Sankovic.

Earlier this week, the Serbia-Montenegro army filed the charges, claiming that the 37-year-old Divac was obliged by law to join the army for the compulsory six-month military service by the age of 35. Draft dodging carries a one-year prison sentence in Serbia.

The case drew much attention in Serbia, where Divac is revered as a national hero for helping the former Yugoslavia to silver medals at the 1988 and 1996 Olympics, and leading the country now known as Serbia-Montenegro to a gold medal at the 2002 world championships.

Divac, who voiced surprise over the charges, said in a statement he had filed all of the necessary documents for postponing army duties on a regular basis with the Serbia-Montenegro embassy in the United States.

Milovan Bozovic, a Belgrade district prosecutor, said the charges were unfounded because all holders of dual nationality are not obliged to serve in the military in Serbia-Montenegro.

Divac has had dual Serbian-American citizenship since living in the United States for the past 16 years.

Divac ended his 16-year NBA career last month, taking a job with the Los Angeles Lakers as a liaison and scout in Europe.

He was one of the first Europeans to have a major impact in the NBA, being drafted by the Lakers in 1989 and later playing for the Charlotte Hornets and Sacramento Kings.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press