Over the past decade, Serbia has seen a mutating expansion in the construction sector, a branch which, due to poor regulation and almost no control, is perfect for laundering illegally acquired capital.
It is impossible to talk about organized crime in Serbia without mentioning the state itself, which, in essence, is a kind of boss and monopoly on this type of crime. Corruption scandals, unscrupulous practices in public procurement, organized criminal groups of “fans” responsible for intimidation and provocation of violence, etc. “are directly linked to the establishment. In mid-September last year, the State Department issued an official warning not to travel in Serbia because of “Covid and organized crime”.
Businessmen and financiers of the SNS in Serbia, while they are blacklisted because of organized crime in the United States
The recent spectacular arrest of Veljko Belivuk and his clan revealed direct links between the criminals and senior Serbian police officials at the time, with whom the leader of the criminal group had been in close contact for years. Relying on criminals in state affairs in Serbia has been an established practice for years, not only on the streets and during election campaigns, but also in public procurement.
Controversial northern Kosovo businessman Zvonko Veselinovic and Milan Radoicic, vice-president of the Serbian List, the main Serbian party in Kosovo, who are also linked to the assassination of politician Oliver Ivanovic, were blacklisted by the US Treasury Department for ties to transnational organized crime, which will prevent them from entering and working in the United States.
The findings of the US Treasury Department point to suspicions of corrupt practices between the Veselinovic brothers and politicians in Serbia and Kosovo. At the same time, Veselinovic and Radoicic own many companies in Serbia which receive the largest public projects through tenders, such as the construction of international highways.
At the local level, contracts advertised by local governments are also awarded exclusively to companies close to the government, most of which are newly established by people with direct links to the government. In this system that we have already worked out, the amount of money that the “investor” receives via this contract from the budget is “returned”, i.e. it is shared with the politician whose influence was used to set up the job.
Fans: debt collectors and fearmongers among the competition
To ensure that a politically eligible company wins a contract, so-called “fans” are rehired, who, by intimidating possible competition, ensure that only acceptable contractors who are willing to cooperate will participate in the call. of offers. Of course, their services are not free, so it often happens in Serbia that former thugs from the stadium stands, with questionable backgrounds and criminal records, become businessmen and business owners. Thus, the construction company “Ultra Kop”, supported by one of the leaders of the Red Star fans, Marko Vuckovic, alias Komandant, was awarded a contract worth more than 840,000 euros by the ‘Electric Power Industry of Serbia (EPS).
Vuckovic is the leader of the Delija – “Ultra Boys” sub-group, against which the police filed criminal charges which were not processed or whose proceedings took years until the entry into force of the deadline for prescription. According to to Insider, “Ultra Kop” got the job thanks to the consortium with “Elektroizgradnja”, a company owned by the city of Belgrade. The construction company “Ultra Kop” was founded in mid-2015, with a registered address at Red Star Stadium and the commercial building in Ljutica Bogdan Stadium.
Illegal income “embedded” in real estate development
Construction and property development have for many years been a means of absorbing illegal income. Over the past ten years, Serbia has seen a mutating expansion in the construction industry, a branch which, due to poor regulation and almost no controls, is perfect for laundering illegally acquired capital. According to rough estimates, more than 50,000 construction sites are active in Serbia every day and real estate prices are artificially inflated, which is also a way to launder money.
Currently, prices per square meter in Serbia, depending on the location, reach incredible amounts of 2,000 to 10,000 euros, on average at least 30% higher than realistic prices. Investors in Serbia are not required to prove the capital they plan to invest, and most new buildings in the country are said to be built with the money of fictitious “resold buyers”.
In addition to local “businessmen” in Serbia, Republika Srpska money is laundered through the underground construction economy, and some construction companies are rightly suspected of being held virtually secretly by a member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the leader of the main party in Republika Srpska. Dodik himself recently found himself on an expanded sanctions list for corruption by the US Treasury Department. And corruption is also one of the most organized branches of crime in Serbia.
Corruption in the public sector as a business model
According to research by NGO Partners of Serbia, regarding the handling of corruption cases, most court proceedings in Serbia are conducted for the criminal offense of abuse of official position, while the least number of proceedings relate to corruption. Of the total number of defendants, two-thirds are people employed in the public sector. Among them are police officers, municipal and traffic police officers, doctors, business managers, traffic engineers and local authority lawyers.…crime in Serbia is practically the most present among those whose obligation and duty is to fight crime.
Sporadic clashes between the state and crime within its “own ranks”, such as the arrest of the former deputy chief of the Organized Crime Service criminality (SBPOK) Goran Papic or former Interior Secretary Diana Hrkalovic are essentially more indicative of clashes within the ruling party and of individuals “out of control”. Hrkalovic, who remains in custody, was arrested in late October 2021, allegedly suspected to get rid of evidence after the murder of Vlastimir Milosevic in January 2017. His work at the Ministry of the Interior has been accompanied by many controversies, mainly due to his atypical career, and especially his links with fan groups, mainly the notorious Veljko Belivuk.
Enemies crushed and planning for Vučić’s assassination
According to Police Minister Aleksandar Vulin, Serbia “prevented the formation of a new Zemun clan” by arresting Belivuk and his criminal group early last year. However, Belivuk, as the leader of FC Partizan supporters, ruled the Belgrade Metro for years. Members of his fan group “Principles” worked for years as “security” in all clubs in Belgrade, and were also in charge of drug trafficking, as well as businessmen and cafe owners. Dozens of criminal charges have been filed against the “principals” for serious crimes, but most of them have not been processed to date or are in the investigation phase.
It was widely believed that they had protection at the top of the government, and some joint photos of these fans with Serbian politicians and ministers, kissing in nightclubs, further confirmed these suspicions. Currently, the criminal group of “Velja Nevolja” is accused of several brutal murders and mutilation of victims, including “crushing body parts with a meat grinder”. Belivuk has been described in the media as an alleged member of the Montenegrin criminal clan “Kavac”.
According to research by the KRIK portal and Radio Free Europe (RFE), the conflict between the “Kavac” and “Skaljari” clans has so far resulted in 171 deaths. This number includes murders committed from 2012 onwards in the territory of Serbia and Montenegro that contain characteristics and elements of mafia beatings. A few days ago, the head of Kavac, Radoje Zvicer, was characterized by Serbian tabloids as a man who planned the alleged assassination of the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić.
Corruption has become an integral part of the political fabric in Serbia, with no end in sight.
Ana Lalic is a journalist uncompromising in defending the public’s right to full and timely information. Consistent in disclosing data and facts that power centers attempt to conceal. She was the only journalist in Europe in 2020 to have been arrested for informing the public about the real situation of the Serbian health system amid the government-imposed censorship of news about the coronavirus outbreak as part of the emergency state . Ana Lalić is the winner of the DW Prize for Freedom of Expression, the Independent Association of Journalists of Vojvodina (NDNV) annual prize for the best journalist and the “Katarina Preradović” prize for professional integrity. Ana Lalić works for the Nova.rs portal, and also collaborates with the NDNV – VOICE and Autonomija portals. She graduated in Literature and Serbian Language at the Faculty of Philosophy in Novi Sad.