Kosovo Serbs close to Serbian leadership join US blacklist

Authorities in Kosovo have welcomed the decision of the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, OFAC, to impose sanctions on controversial Serbian businessman from Kosovo, Zvonko Veselinovic, Milan Radoicic and 12 others.

According to OFAC, Veselinovic heads an organized criminal group “engaged in a large-scale corruption program with security officials from Kosovo and Serbia who facilitate the illicit trafficking of goods, money, drugs and weapons between Kosovo and Serbia ”.

Its press release states that the sanctioned group “also conspired with various politicians in several counterpart deals, including the early 2019 bribery of Kosovar security officials to allow their smuggling operations between Serbia and Kosovo and end corruption. 2017 of Kosovar border security officials to allow the safe passage of smugglers ”.

Collectively, the blacklisted individuals and businesses are referred to as Specially Designated Nationals or SDNs. Their assets are frozen, and Americans are generally prohibited from doing business with them.

Radoicic, leader of Srpska Lista, the Kosovo Serb party remotely controlled by the ruling Progressive Party in Serbia, and Veselinovic, a well-known businessman, are often seen as obscure rulers in northern Kosovo ruled by the Serbs. Serbs.

Both are considered suspects by Kosovo authorities for the 2018 murder of Kosovo Serb opposition politician Oliver Ivanovic, a case also mentioned by OFAC. In his last interview with BIRN, Ivanovic described Radoicic as a “key figure in an intimidating power system in northern Kosovo”.

For years, the couple have been involved in state-supported projects and enjoyed the support of the Serbian Progressive Party, led by Aleksandar Vucic, also President of Serbia.

In 2019, BIRN released photographs of Radoicic and Veselinovic with the Serbian President’s witness Nikola Petrovic and of Veselinovic with Vucic’s brother Andrej at the Progressive Party headquarters. Vucic defended Radoicic after Ivanovic’s murder and provided him with a safe haven in Serbia.

But the ties of these men extended far beyond the Serbian Progressive Party.

In 2015, BIRN uncovered evidence that Veselinovic was transporting equipment for a company owned by prominent Kosovo Albanians linked to the Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK.

The goods were sold to US construction giant Bechtel and its Turkish partner Enka, the main contractor hired to build Kosovo’s largest infrastructure project, the Pristina-Tirana highway.

BIRN also discovered that Veselinovic was transporting rocks from the Arena Invest quarry in northern Kosovo, until the roads were blocked by the barricades he helped create.

Arena Invest is owned by three prominent Kosovar Albanians: the former Kosovar Ambassador to Washington, the owner of the former Prime Minister and President of Kosovo, Hashim Thaci, and a former commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, as well as a Serbian politician from Kosovo.

In 2017, while prime minister, Haradinaj met Radoicic. Two years later, he said Radoicic was also received by former President Thaci in his office.

Despite this, Haradinaj praised the sanctions imposed by the United States on the two men, calling them “excellent news”. He said: “The decision will help our mission to fight transnational crime in Kosovo and the Western Balkans. “

Prime Minister Albin Kurti also welcomed the sanctions, calling them proof that crime in northern Kosovo is a daily reality that violates the law and the rights and freedoms of citizens.

Also reacting to the imposed US sanctions, Serbian President Vucic downplayed the progressives’ relationship with the men, saying they had not received any money from his party and expressing doubts about what authorities would find out about their companies.

Vucic said they had nothing to do with the people on the sanctions list and “they didn’t give us [Progressives] one dinar ”.

“They [the US] accused them mainly of illegal trade… I won’t go into detail until I see what [the report] really said, and if there are serious charges, our state authorities will investigate them, ”Vucic said on Wednesday.

From “bridge watchman” to company manager

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