Reports on President Vučić's alleged ties to criminal groups raise questions in the United States

2023-06-09 20:35:36, Kosova & Bota CNA
Reports on President Vu?i?'s alleged ties to criminal groups raise
Aleksandar Vucic, President of Serbia

In early May, the New York Times weekly magazine published a lengthy article on Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic detailing his suspected ties to a criminal group whose members are being prosecuted on charges of committing of a variety of crimes, including drug trafficking and murder.

The article attracted international attention and not only in the Balkans, where investigative journalism networks have previously reported on similar suspicions, which Mr. Vucic has denied.

The State Department declined to comment on the credibility of the claims made in the New York Times article, but at least one senior State Department official shared the news on his social media.

The doubts raised in the article were also raised during a hearing in the United States Congress on the Western Balkans last month.

However, independent analysts express their opinions openly.

"It was a shocking and horrifying article, that the highest government officials are so connected to criminal groups. I think we have seen this and in many other countries, this interplay between authoritarian governments and criminal networks is a growing concern," Gary Kalman, executive director of Transparency International, told VOA's Serbian service. United States.

"It's terrible. It's really bad ," says Susan Rose-Ackerman, professor of law and political science at Yale University and co-author of the book "Corruption and Governance".

She told VOA that connections between people in power and organized crime create an extreme form of political corruption.

According to the New York Times article, police links to the criminal group led by football hooligan Veljko Belivuku were documented.

Among other things, the article states that, " there is little doubt that Belivuku and his group are in prison after EUROPOL managed to decrypt the 'Sky - ECC' phone messaging application, which they used to communicate".

The author of the article, journalist Robert F. Worth, wrote that Belivuku had testified in a court hearing "that his gang was organized for the needs and by order of Aleksandër Vucic."

Among other things, he noted that the group had intimidated political opponents of Mr. Vucic and prevented fans at football matches from chanting against Mr. Vucic.

The journalist says that he was skeptical that President Vu?i? was not aware of what this group had done, given that Mr. Vu?i? "now exercises almost complete control over every aspect of public life" in Serbia.

The international context

Mr. Vucic has been part of politics since the 90s. He served as information minister in Slobodan Milosevic's government, where he led harsh attacks on the press and publicly supported Serbian war criminals.

His political force, the Serbian Progressive Party, has been in power for more than 10 years, during which he has also held the office of prime minister.

Mr. Vucic's media advisers declined a request for comment sent by the Worth reporter, but during an interview with the pro-government Happy TV in Serbia, Mr. Vucic said that the "absurd New York Times article was commissioned" and that he he understood that it was a message precisely at the time when the dialogue for the normalization of relations between Sebia and Kosovo is being held.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but the latter has never recognized its independence.

"I know how they work, the CIA is getting ready, the CIA sees you and if you are not good and listenable, this is just the beginning", said Mr. Vucic in the interview for 'Happy TV'.

For years, it has become common practice for the Serbian authorities to present any criticism as treason, conspiracy against the country, or plotting to overthrow the government.

Both the journalist Worth and the editors of the New York Times rejected these accusations.

Analysts who spoke to VOA noted that the most significant aspect of the article was the fact that it was published in English, in a media outlet with integrity and a high readership.

"The article provided a picture of Aleksandar Vucic and his government, putting it in an international context, as it was published in the New York Times," Tanya Domi, a professor at Columbia University's School of Public and International Affairs, told VOA. . "Everyone can read the article" .

Is Serbia a reliable partner for the United States?

"Is this article credible," Senator Bob Menendez asked US State Department Counsel Derek Chollet during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on US engagement in the Western Balkans, referring to the New York Times.

"We believe so. I can't talk about specific details of the article, but absolutely there is a lot of corruption" , answered Mr. Chollet, while the deputy assistant secretary of the American Department of State, Gabriel Escobar, stood by his side.

"Then what are the real expectations, for Serbia, with such a background, to be a reliable partner?" asked Mr. Menendez.

"We are doing this knowing all the problems and holding Mr. Vucic and his colleagues accountable for corruption, for their behavior and activity," said Mr. Chollet, noting that corruption is a serious problem throughout the region.

But in an interview with VOA's Bosnian service, Kurt Bassuener of the Council on Democratization Policy noted that the United States has not imposed corruption sanctions on any official in Mr. Vucic's administration, as it has in neighboring countries. .

"Basically they avoided the case ," said Mr. Bassuener, referring to State Department officials. "They did not deal with the essence of those who rise in it. And I think that this is an indicator that at the center of their policy is the reduction of tensions in the region".

Mrs. Domi believes that the United States and the West are following the idea that Serbia is "a stability factor in the region". But if the aim of this policy towards the Western Balkans is to bring Serbia closer to the West and away from Russia, she says there is no evidence that such a strategy can work.

Serbia is one of the few countries in Europe that has not imposed sanctions on Russia and there are strong pro-Russian sentiments in the country.

Mr. Kalman from the organization Transparency International says that Washington's strategy towards Serbia may change in the future.

"I think there is a possibility that the US, given Serbia's role, can put pressure to improve things there," he says.

"To what extent they are willing to exert pressure and are concerned or not by the alliances that the Serbian government may create with countries that pose a concern for the national security of the United States, and therefore Washington withdraws, I do not know let me tell you", said Mr. Kalman./ VOA

Lajmet e fundit nga