Veljko Belivuk. Illustration: Igor Vujcic/BIRN
Veljko Belivuk, known as “Velja Nevolja” (“Trouble Velja”), a leader of the Janjicari (Janissaries), a notorious so-called group of football fans known for their ties to the ruling Serbian Progressive Party, offered to be a witness in several high-profile criminal cases on Tuesday, N1 TV reported unofficially.
The three cases he would be willing to speak on are, firstly, the 2018 murder of Kosovo Serbian moderate opposition politician Oliver Ivanovic, the suspicious death of lawyer Vladimir Cvijan, a former associate of President Aleksandar Vucic – and the controversial nighttime demolitions in the capital’s Savamala district in 2016, which paved the way for the joint UAE-Serbia real estate project, the Belgrade Waterfront.
“If you agree to leave everyone here, and to leave me and Marko Miljkovic (his best associate) in custody, I offer to be a cooperating witness in the cases of ‘Savamala’, Oliver Ivanović and Vladimir Cvijan,” Belivuk said in the build-up on Tuesday. hearing, in a case where he and his criminal group are among those charged with five murders, kidnappings, rapes, drug trafficking and illegal possession of weapons.
At the end of February, according to the Nova.rs portal, Belivuk said he would reveal everything his group had done for the Serbian state in recent years, starting with the demolitions of Hercegovacka Street in the Savamala district of Belgrade.
He reportedly said he was directly involved in the street demolition in 2016, alongside Zvonko Veselinovic, a Kosovo Serb businessman known for his ties to the ruling SNS, who is also among those charged with the murder of ‘Oliver Ivanovic.
In February this year, the United States imposed sanctions on Veselinovic as an “organized crime group leader” who sold illicit goods, money, drugs and weapons – and 13 others.
“I will start with Savamala and then I will start with much more serious crimes. Zvonko Veselinovic ‘Dirty’ and I sent some guys to tear down Savamala,” Belivuk reportedly said.
President Aleksandar Vucic dismissed Belivuk’s allegations on Tuesday, saying the defendants were understandably trying to defend themselves with lies. “They have a right to defend themselves with lies,” Vucic said Tuesday night.
The Savamala demolition case has started unfolding in recent days. A former police officer, Goran Stamenkovic, told both investigative portal KRIK and BIRN on Monday, and in an official statement to the prosecutor, that police and state officials had promised him compensation if he admitted his guilt; police did not respond to public complaints on the night of the demolition, when masked men armed with baseball bats and using diggers demolished buildings on Hercegovacka Street.
Stamenkovic is the only person convicted in the case so far, which was noted in a European Commission report on Serbia, but received only a five-month suspended prison sentence. If he had been sentenced to six months, he could no longer work in the police, according to the law.
Vucic also dismissed his statement on Tuesday, saying the retired police officer lied. “When someone lies once, he has to lie twice more,” Vucic said, praising the Belgrade waterfront project and adding that he himself would have sat in a bulldozer and knocked down the buildings .
In 2016, Vucic claimed Belgrade city authorities were responsible for the demolitions. The ex-wife of Serbian Finance Minister Sinisa Mali, then mayor of Belgrade, told investigative portal KRIK that Mali confessed to her that he was responsible for the demolition.
Deaths of politicians far from resolved
Regarding the murder of Ivanovic, a trial is currently underway in Pristina, Kosovo, pursued by the Kosovo authorities. Among those the Prosecution has named behind the group of killers is Kosovo Serb businessman Zvonko Veselinovic.
Burim Cerkini, the prosecutor, told BIRN he was ready to question Belivuk but doubted it would be feasible. “If this [his willingness to testify] is official information, yes we are here,” Cerkini told BIRN.
The bizarre death of top lawyer Vladimir Cvijan, whose apparent drowning in 2018 went unreported until 2021, is another case in which Belivuk said he was willing to testify.
The silence over the death has sparked controversy in Serbia, particularly after it was established that he was struck off the Belgrade bar register in August 2018, without public notification.
From 2004, Cvijan worked as a consultant on legal matters for the cabinet of then Serbian President Boris Tadic. From 2008 he was Secretary General to the President of Serbia.
In 2010 he left, citing disagreements with the judicial reform underway at the time, and joined Vucic’s Serbian Progressive Party, SNS, which took power in 2012.
Then the head of the SNS, now president, Vucic, welcomed his decision at the time. “We are honored and proud to have in our ranks one of the best lawyers in Serbia,” he said.
After the SNS came to power in 2012, he became a deputy. However, following disagreements with the SNS, he left the party soon after, in 2013. During a press conference in December of that year, he fiercely criticized Vucic, then Deputy Prime Minister.
He was not publicly active thereafter. Meanwhile, in March this year, the magazine Tabloid first revealed that Cvijan had died about three years prior, on January 5, 2018.
Vucic in March denied claims that Cvijan had been killed. In his known way, he even said he was ready to take a polygraph about it.
Meanwhile, the Belivuk gang’s links to state officials, including a former senior police official and the current secretary general of the progressive-led government, are well documented.
Members of the group served as hired guards during Vucic’s inauguration as president of Serbia in 2017, some of them were filmed abusing journalists.
Vucic’s son, Danilo, 23, was photographed several times with various members of the Janjicari, including one who was among those arrested during a police operation on February 4, 2021, when Belivuk was also arrested.