Pro-government media in Serbia has been accused of launching a slander campaign against the Crime and Corruption Reporting Network (KRIK) after they published transcripts from the prosecution testimony of a suspected leader of a criminal group, who claimed President Aleksandar Vucic was constantly asking him for favors.
Veljko Belivuk was arrested in February and charged with leading a criminal gang that authorities say was responsible for several murders.
On Thursday, KRIK published part of Belivuk’s testimony in which he explains how President Vucic and his allies had asked him to stop fans from leading a chant against in the stadium, to intimidate anti-government protesters, to ensure that an LGBTIQ parade was held without incident, and to prevent taxi drivers in Belgrade from protesting against the mandatory installation of a mobile application.
Vucic immediately denied that he had ever met Belivuk, stating that he was willing to go to jail if Belivuk’s allegations turned out to be true.
The next day, headlines in pro-government tabloids accused KRIK reporters of working with Belivuk’s gang to overthrow the president.
Informer wrote that KRIK had endangered Vucic’s life by “cooperating” with the Serbian gang.
According to Objektiv, another pro-government media outlet, KRIK is a “mafia” group.
The attacks on KRIK are a reaction to Thursday’s revelations about Belivuk’s links to government people, CRIC editor-in-chief Stevan Dojchinov told OCCRP.
Dojcinovic recalled that KRIK was in fact the first media outlet in Serbia to write about Belivuk’s gang, long before he was arrested and when no one else dared to write about him.
The Serbian Coalition for Media Freedom condemned the pro-government media attack on the CRIC, describing it as an orchestrated, derogatory criminalization against CRC journalists and editors who have become targets in a lynching environment.
“Such campaigns have become a daily occurrence for journalists and independent media in Serbia. Politicians, MPs, and senior state officials take part in them, sparing no word when it comes to attacks on independent media,” the Coalition said in a statement.
Veljko Belivuk is known as the leader of “Principi” – a fan club of the Partizan Belgrade football club – but also a member of one of Montenegro’s two notorious criminal clans – Kavac.
In a large-scale anti-mafia operation, Serbian police arrested Belivuk and 16 other people suspected of being members of an organized group that committed serious crimes, including kidnappings and killings.
Following the arrests, KRIK was attacked in a similar smear campaign in which its reporters were accused of working for Belivuk, simply because they published an investigation alleging that members of the Kavac clan had links to the government and President Vucic’s Serbian Progressive Party.