A scandal just broke in the Central African Republic (CAR), where the local media have uncovered a payment of 350,000 Euro from Serbian government to the CAR’s minister, in return of obtaining a letter of “derecognition” of Kosovo.
According to the Corbeau News investigative team, a certain mysterious “Monsieur Vladimir alias Vlad” has negotiated in Paris payments of over 300,000 Euro with the country’s foreign minister in return of CAR sending a letter “withdrawing recognition of Kosovo”.
“Vlad” is actually not so mysterious. He’s not a Russian either, despite the name and despite — according to Radio Free Europe — Russia playing an active role in helping Serbia obtain letters of derecognition.
Most certainly, the Serbian “facilitator” in pushing African and Caribbean countries send letters of “derecognition” to Belgrade is Vladimir Cizelj.
His name has been mentioned before in the context of Belgrade’s campaign. Koha Ditore newspaper has published a piece quoting an unnamed source, claiming that allegedly “Cizelj was directly involved in lobbying efforts with Suriname, the Comoros, Lesotho and Burundi to revoke recognition of Kosovo’s independence.”
“He corrupted senior officials in these countries in order to have them issue fake note verbale and closed deals with dictatorships to sell Serb arms and technology produced by Vlatacom” — said a source to Koha, in a piece further carried by Kosovo Spectator.
Vladimir Cizelj is known in Africa for some of the most nefarious corruption scandals in the last decade or so. Back in 2015, Botswana media reported that intelligence operatives of the country have overpaid around 50 million Euro to Cizelj for contracts that were never implemented.
According to the investigative newspaper Mmegi: “Documents show[ed] that senior government officials may have been in cahoots with a controversial Israeli-Serbian national identified as Vladimir Cizelj, to siphon millions of taxpayers’ money. Investigations by Mmegi suggest that Cizelj’s company, Vlatacom, was awarded a closed contract of over P500 million [€40 million] in 2010 to supply the Botswana government with Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) systems. The contract was awarded without following tendering processes because it was considered a ‘national security’ matter.”
Vladimir Cizelj has also visited Suriname before a letter was presented in Belgrade “confirming” this country has “withdrawn recognition of Kosovo”.
Cizelj was not hiding his relationship to Serbian government during his visits. He was presented as a “special advisor” of Serbian government in Palau, where he promised “sports development program cooperation” for the tiny nation in Pacific.
Far more sinister is the visit of Vladimir Cizelj to Venezuela and his relationship with the Maduro regime. There — according to an official statement from Venezuelan government — Serbia’s special advisor gave a presentation on the “technologies they develop and how can it strengthen security in Venezuela.”
The Maduro government was looking forward to “establish technological alliance with Serbia to guarantee the protection of Venezuelan people.”
It’s important to note here the nature of the products sold by Cizelj’s company. Serbian government envoy has previously sold technology in Africa that was (according to local press) — “jamming private radio stations. There were fears that the equipment could be used against the media during elections.”
The author of this article was told personally by a Western diplomat last year, that “Western capitals are aware of Serbian shenanigans and have told Belgrade in clear terms that this behaviour must stop.”
This same diplomat alleged that Serbian government was paying hundreds of thousands of euros to family members of a certain President, as a donation to “rebuild a city stadium”, but it was widely known that money is syphoned as quid-pro-quo for sending a letter of “derecognition”.
Despite being active across Africa for the last 20 years, Vladimir Cizelj is not an unknown quantity in Serbia itself. His friendship with the present Serbian foreign minister goes way back, when both of them were actors in one of the biggest post-war corruption scandals, the so-called “Suitcase affair” (koferće).
What are the effects of Serbia’s corruptive campaign against Kosovo?
Despite Belgrade insisting that these countries have “withdrawn recognition of Kosovo”, there is some definite evidence that at least some of statements coming from the Serbian foreign minister belong to the realm of fake news.
A typical example is the case of Liberian “derecognition”. Liberian Foreign Minister Gbehzohngar Milton Findley and a number of government officials flew to Belgrade last year for a special ceremony to declare that Liberia was reversing its decade-old decision to recognize Kosovo and shifting recognition to Serbia.
Days after the Liberian foreign minister in Belgrade stated that “Liberia doesn’t recognise Kosovo anymore”, Liberian President rebuked his minister and Liberian MFA later confirmed through official statement that “Liberia reaffirms recognition of Kosovo”. President Weah’s administration even reinforced its statement, confirming it’s one of the first countries to recognize Kosovo’s sovereignty on May 30, 2008, shortly after Kosovo declared independence.
Similarly, Serbian Foreign minister stated in 2017, that “The prime minister of Guinea-Bissau informed me today that it has officially withdrawn recognition of Kosovo”. Less than a year later, Guinea-Bissau agreed to exchange Ambassadors with Kosovo, and accredited as Ambassador Plenipotentiary Kosovo’s Ambassador to Senegal.
Some letters of “derecognition” seem more suspicious. The letter sent by Burundi is identical with the letter sent by Togo, including spelling mistakes, which made the famous Serbian journalist only half-jokingly observe they may be photoshopped.
The “derecognition” campaign has increased the tensions between Belgrade and Prishtina. It has provoked the Kosovo government into replying to the campaign with tariffs on Serbian merchandise. This tit-for-tat series of moves has all but stopped the dialogue on normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia.
QUINT countries (US, UK, France, Italy, Germany) who back independence of Kosovo, have urged both parties to remove obstacles for a dialogue aimed at mutual recognition. In their recent statement, they request both from Serbia to “suspend the de-recognition campaign against Kosovo” and for Kosovo government to “suspend the tariffs imposed on Serbia”.
While overall effects of Serbian campaign are dubious in terms of diplomatic effects, the history of the principal actors involved almost guarantees that, at the time when Serbia is pitching for EU membership, Serbian taxpayers’ money is not being used to advance the rule of law. Instead, it’s being used to spread tentacles of corruption far and wide.
This post was originally published on Mr Petrit Selimi’s blog on Medium.