Serbia's Defence Minister Aleksandar Vulin has commented on an article in the Belgrade Nedeljnik weekly that has never been published by the newspaper, or anyone else, the weekly reported on Sunday night.
Later, the Defence Ministry, apologised, blaming its PR, which said the article was published by Nedeljnik instead of the Kurir tabloid. Nevertheless, it added, "all the Minister said was true."
Nedeljnik says the state Tanjug news agency has published on Sunday afternoon Vulin's statement in which he has said that "the former Defence Minister and ex-head of the Democratic Party (DS) Dragan Sutanovac always uses any opportunity to attack Serbia when the Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu come for a visit."
Vulin said later on Monday he would “personally demand an investigation into the weekly’s claim he illegally obtained an e-mail correspondence between Sutanovac and Lalic."
"Whenever I meet with the Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu someone pushes a button and Sutanovac attacks Serbia. While the DS was in power and headed the Defence Ministry, some 600 combat vehicles and artillery pieces were destroyed along with over 9,000 Arrows 2M. At the same time, not a single tank, aircraft or helicopter was bought," Vulin said.
The agency added Vulin said that "answering to an article by Dragan Sutanovac, published by Nedeljnik in which he criticised the cooperation between Serbia and Russia."
"Almost all media in Serbia carried the statement, and it was read on the pro-government Pink TV in its prime time National News," Nedeljnik said.
It added that such a statement would not be any different from the usual ones in Serbia's political life if it were not for a single fact – the article has never been published by Nedeljnik.
And that, the weekly says, raises more serious question than it is a comment on an unpublished article – where from Vulin obtained the piece and where has he read it from?
"The Nedeljnik's editorial staff can hardly imagine that someone who is dealing with the media daily, such as the Defence Ministry's PR service, can mix up the Kurir daily and Nedeljnik weekly. It's even harder to imagine that the Ministry's PR can mix up an interview to the daily with an (unpublished) opinion piece in Nedeljnik. Finally, how to believe that that happens at the same time when Sutanovac sends his article that hasn't been printed but which Aleksandar Vulin commented on," the weekly said in a statement on Monday.
Sutanovac reacted on his Twitter account describing Vulin's statement as senseless, because "I know that there is no my article in Nedeljnik."
"After that," as the weekly said, "Sutanovac talked to the Nedeljnik editor-in-chief, realising that someone intercepted their communication."
"Someone is tapping Sutanovac's or Nedeljnik's editor-in-chief's phone. Or both," the weekly warned in the statement.
It added that Sutanovac, as some times before, asked the editor-in-chief Veljko Lalic if Nedeljnik would publish his column in a part of the weekly where public figures express their views.
"Sutanovac sent the column on Monday, and Lalic told him on Tuesday afternoon that the weekly wouldn't publish it. It hasn't been either published in the print issue nor has it been posted on the website. It remained in Sutanovac's and Lalic's e-mails and in the correspondence with the other editor Marko Prelevic whom Lalic sent the article. After that, Sutanovac said he would offer the article to other media. And that will be all as far as we are concerned," Nedeljnik said in the statement.
It added that the weekly officially asked how Minister Vulin knew what was in the article which besides Sutanovac only the editor-in-chief and other editor saw in their e-mails.
In a statement to Nedeljnik on Sunday night, Sutanovac said that "if anyone doubted Vulin's use of secret services' resources to intercept communications, in this case, the electronic mail, today's statement in which Vulin responded to the unpublished article, absolutely proved that."
"The debate with the unpublished article undoubtedly confirms that Vulin has illegally obtained the e-mails exchange between the Nedeljnik's editor and me. Is Serbia becoming the country of 'Big Brother' in which the state resources are used to intercept the communication between the former Defence Minister and media editor, is now doubtless," Sutanovac said.
The weekly informed the journalists' associations and officially demanded an investigation into ways in which Minister Vulin found out what was the content of the article which only Sutanovac and Nedeljnik knew about.
The weekly recalled that a few months ago a tabloid published that the Lalic was 'under surveillance'. Nedeljnik then asked the secret service for some reaction but hadn't received any.
"It's symptomatic that last month Nedeljnik was a target of a hacker attack which destroyed almost our complete archive. We contacted the Prosecutor's Office for High-Tech Crime. They told us we would be invited to give an official statement. However, they never called us back. That's why we demand urgent answers from Minister Vulin and Defence Ministry's PR, as well as from the investigative institutions," the weekly's statement said.