Serbia’s Def Min denies saying FBI helped in bringing down crime clan

NEWS 03.08.2021 18:09
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Source: N1

In an additional explanation of his statement, Serbia's Defence Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic denied on Tuesday he credited the FBI with helping Belgrade security services bring down a criminal organisation led by Veljko Belivuk.

Stefanovic’s denial came after President Aleksandar Vucic and Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin said the FBI did not have any role in the investigation against the group led by Veljko Belivuk, indicted with the most heinous crimes, including first-degree murders, drug and arms trafficking, kidnapping, rape and grinding people.

Vucic said Stefanovic probably made a mistake, as some media did as well. He vehemently rebuffed any foreign, including the FBI, involvement in the case in which the two accused linked him and Vulin to their crime clan.

Vulin also denied any foreign aid.

Later on Tuesday, he said he officially addressed the US embassy to Serbia, seeking an answer whether the FBI „has had any operation in the investigation into the Belivuk group.

„I officially addressed the Embassy of the United States of America to ask them to forward it to the FBI to answer if they have any operational activity or knowledge, unknown to our Interior Ministry, in the investigation of the group,“ Vulin told the pro-government B92 TV.

Earlier, a high-ranking official of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) filed charges against Vucic and Internal  Vulin over media reports of their alleged connections to the Belivuk crime clan.

Both media and analysts have speculated for quite some time about a rift between Vucic and Stefanovic. They deny it.

It started with the suspected wrongdoing in the arms trade involving now late Stefanovic’s father. Soon after that, the Jovanjica marijuana plant affair broke out, allegedly linking the owner Predrag Koluvija to Vucic’s brother Andrej.

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Both affairs happened while Nebojsa Stefanovic was the Interior Minister.

On Tuesday, he said some media close to the Government and other close to the opposition „rewrote and interpreted the statement as it suited them, not as it was sad.“

He added he filed suits against all media, which linked him to Belivuk „using the most brutal lies, endangering me, my family and children, and imposing a huge damage on the country.“

Stefanovic mentioned the talks he had with FBI Director Christopher Wray back in 2019 about the importance of cutting off the encrypted communication of criminal organisations and preventing the abuse of technology in committing a crime. Stefanovic, who then was the Interior Minister, said the discussion focused on using the Sky phones.

The pro-government tabloids accused him of using such a phone, thus being linked to Belivuk’s group.

Stefanovic said he mentioned the FBI only in the context of deciphering the encrypted communication via the Sky application. That helped in gathering evidence against Belivuk and his group. „Both our and the foreign services which helped us know who has used Sky phones, what proves I haven’t used it.“

He added he had never said the FBI took part in the investigation against Belivuk and his group.

„Some media close to the Government constructed my statement to fit their agenda of several months of a negative campaign against me, and the opposition and the media close to it distorted the same statement in a way that fits into their futile fight against President Vucic and our party,“ Stefanovic said in a written statement.

Then he listed what he said was the truth.

– I have never seen or heard from Belivuk and members of his criminal group, nor in any way had contacts with these criminals;

– I have never used a phone with the Sky app;

– I did not protect anyone in the Interior Ministry, and the investigation against Belivuk and his group began at the time when I was the Minister.“

„The only country that is important to me is my country, Serbia, and international police cooperation is an important segment of the fight against all types of organised crime. It does not represent behind-the-scenes talks but takes place according to clearly defined protocols and rules for that cooperation,“ Stefanovic added.

He said that „Vucic has my resignation at all times.“

„I would never endanger President Vucic nor the policy of this country, which we have been building together for years. I have said many times and I will always repeat, that I hold this responsible post because President Vucic trusts me now, as many times before and that there is no incriminating evidence against the President because he is a man who often fights for Serbia. As for my dismissal, neither the opposition nor some passionate pro-government media should worry about it. That is exclusively a matter for President Vucic, and he has my resignation at all times if he thinks it is important that I leave this position. Whether I am a minister or not, I will fight in the same way and with the same zeal to continue the policy that President Vucic and the (Serbian Progressive Party) SNS have been pursuing for ten years. At the same time, I will never keep silent about lies and brutal attacks on me,“ said the Defence Minister said,