Shadows of men walking on the sidewalk (© Oleg Elkov/Shutterstock)

(© Oleg Elkov/Shutterstock)

On the eve of the elections, yet another scandal invests Serbia's leadership. A photograph portrays the son of President Vučić at a bar in the company of some other people, including a member of a mafia clan

18/06/2020 -  Antonela Riha Belgrade

A photograph taken on June 10th shows the son of Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, Danilo Vučić, in the company of some men, including Aleksandar Vidojević. The group was photographed watching a soccer match between Red Star and Partizan in a bar in central Belgrade. Vidojević is known as a member of a Partizan supporter group, "Janjičari", and is currently on trial on charges of participating in the demolition of the "Komitet" nightclub in Belgrade along with other hooligans belonging to the same group.

As reported by the investigative journalism portal KRIK, in the Serbian police database Vidojević is also cited as a member of the Montenegrin Kavač clan – one of the most powerful criminal groups involved in drug trafficking in the Balkans.

A thriller in the centre of Belgrade

The numerous documents published on KRIK, which deals with organised crime and corruption, include some controversial photographs of President Vučić's son.

An investigation published by the portal in early May revealed the details of the war currently underway between two Montenegrin clans, exposing their ties to the police and political leaders from various countries in the region.

Bojana Pavlović, a KRIK journalist who has been covering organised crime for years, had received the information that Danilo Vučić was watching a football game in a bar in the centre of Belgrade in the company of Aleksandar Vidojević. Once she arrived in front of the bar, the journalist recognised another member of the Janjičari group among the men who sat with Danilo Vučić. She photographed them from the street and immediately sent the photos to the KRIK editorial staff, then she left.

A few streets away Pavlović was approached by three men who introduced themselves as public officials, asked her to delete the photos, and called the police.

According to the reporter's account , in addition to the police officers there were also two men who said they were not public officials and took possession of the journalist's cellphone, while the police officers did not react in any way. They did not intervene even when Aleksandar Vidojević himself approached the reporter, returning her phone and letting her go.

The photograph taken by Bojana Pavlović is the fourth photograph published in the media that portrays Danilo Vučić together with Aleksandar Vidojević . Other members of the Janjičari group and some people convicted of serious crimes, including drug trafficking, also appear in these photographs.

Questions left unanswered

According to the law, the Serbian police and army are charged with protecting the family of the President of the Republic. The task of ensuring the physical safety of the President's family rests with a special unit of the military police, while the so-called external protection is entrusted to the secret services, i.e. the Military Security Agency (VBA) and the Information and Security Agency (BIA).

To date, it is not yet clear who those "public officials" who stopped the journalist were, but this is the only aspect of the story that could prove legitimate. Everything else is problematic and dangerous. The fact that – as the journalist said – Vidojević "put an end" to the whole thing, giving her back the phone and letting her go, while the "public officials" and the police stood by, raises the question: who is in charge? Does a hooligan really have the last word?

These questions stem others: are the services in charge of protecting the President's family doing their job? Do they know which companies the President's son hangs out with?

The police believe that Aleksandar Vidojević is close to the Kavač clan, involved in a feud with another Montenegrin clan, Škaljari. According to KRIK, over 40 people have been killed in clashes between the two criminal groups since 2015. Some of these murders occurred in Belgrade .

Is Danilo Vučić putting his own safety at risk by meeting publicly with a man who was on trial on charges of committing violent acts and investigated for crimes involving the production, detention, port, and illegal trafficking of weapons and explosive devices? Are the secret services and President Vučić concerned about the fact that Danilo Vučić socialises with some members of the ultras group "Alkatraz" tied, among other things, with the murder of Brice Taton , a French citizen [killed in Belgrade in 2009]?

Let's admit that these are naive, rhetorical questions. However, the question of whether secret services, in addition to President Vučić's son, also protect criminals, or even heed their will, implies the existence of a dangerous bond.

Seeing hooligans and criminals linked to a drug trafficking clan openly socialise and take pictures with the president's son raises another question: what message are they sending and to whom?

Is the relationship between the son of the Serbian president and a man suspected by the police of being a member of a Montenegrin clan limited to watching football matches together? Is there a link between state leaders and criminal groups active in the region? And if there is, what kind of bond is it?

The leadership's response

It has been a long time since an episode has sparked such an almost panic-stricken reaction by the Serbian leadership.

Ana Brnabić accused KRIK journalists of spying on the President's son. "You are mistreating a 22-year-old young man, just because he is the son of the president, when he goes out to town to watch a game and sit in a bar", said the apparently upset premier.

President Vučić, in a surprise television interview, said that his son's friend is not accused of "anything else but [participating in] a fight", rejecting the police's hypothesis of Vidojević's links to the Kavač clan.

Yet, it was not a fight, as the president claims, but a raid by a group of hooligans , including Vidojević, in the nightclub "Komitet" in Belgrade, which took place in October 2018. The indictment states that the hooligans broke into the place disguised with balaclavas and hoods, armed with clubs and bars, demolished the furnishings and beat the guests of the place, some of whom ended up in hospital with serious injuries.

By mentioning that "brawl" in such a laconic way, President Vučić not only dismissed violence against citizens, but also sent a message to the judges in charge of the case, letting them know that his son's friend is protected. Striving to defend his son from accusations of socialising with criminals, Vučić said his son works "in a simple shop for a salary of 550 Euros per month" and accused the opposition of running a campaign against his family.

A few days before the political elections in Serbia, the government-controlled media published several articles with headlines such as: "Attack Danilo to kill Vučić" and have made various accusations against one of the opposition leaders, Dragan Đilas, saying for example that "Đilas is drawing a target on the forehead of Vučić's son, Danilo". The whole affair has been presented to the public for days as a joint attack by the independent media and the opposition against Vučić, without ever mentioning the controversial details of the biography of the friend of the president's son. Thus, voters who do not follow the few independent media see only the image of the Vučić family threatened by opponents of the president, in order to jeopardise his result in the upcoming elections.

According to public opinion polls, the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) led by President Vučić will win the political elections scheduled for next June 21st. What is less certain is the extent to which the activities of the criminal clans and their links with the leadership pose a threat to the Serbian state and citizens. To this question, President Vučić has yet to provide any answer.

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