Serbian police arrest 46 people in new corruption sweep

Serbian police arrest 46 people in new corruption sweep
By Ivana Jovanovic in Belgrade March 18, 2016

Serbian police arrested 46 people suspected of money laundering, bribery and abuse of office in an operation called the “Scanner”, minister of interior affairs Nebojsa Stefanovic announced on March 18.

The fight against corruption has been one of the key principles of Serbia’s prime minister Aleksandar Vucic since his Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) first entered the government in 2012. The Scanner operation took place just a month before Serbia holds early parliamentary elections on April 24, indicating an attempt by Vucic to play the anti-corruption card again to further strengthen support among citizens.

Speaking at an extraordinary press conference, Stefanovic, a close friend of the prime minister and one of his most loyal allies, said that those arrested have been charged with causing damages of €7mn to the budgets of the Republic of Serbia, the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina and several municipalities in Serbia, a March 18 government statement said.

Among the 46 arrested are 15 traffic police officers suspected of bribery offences that caused RSD3mn (€24,590) of damage to the state budget. Five other people are suspected of using pubs and apartments in the Zlatibor mountain resort to launder money believed to have originated from the sale of narcotics.

Stefanovic said that a judge from Guca, a municipality close to Zlatibor, had been arrested for bribery, and an officer from the Pension and Disability Fund was detained after falsifying records. Stefanovic said that the police will do everything to demonstrate that all those who commit crimes will be punished.

One of main obstacles to Serbia’s development is the presence of corruption in almost all segments of society. Much of the problem dates back to the 1990s when the ruling communist party was replaced by the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS).

Vucic, whose SNS is in government alongside the SPS, first tried to prove his commitment to the fight against corruption when he arrested Miroslav Miskovic, the owner of Serbia’s largest private group Delta Holding and one of the country's richest men, shortly after he became Serbia’s first deputy prime minister and defence minister in 2012. After this arrest, Vucic won the title of the “anti-corruption knight of Serbia”, which helped his party achieve its best ever result in the 2014 election.

The latest round of arrests could improve the position of the SNS not only among local voters but also within the international community since high level of corruption has been the main reason why numerous investors gave up on Serbia and for Serbia’s slow progress towards EU accession.

On December 26, Serbian police arrested 80 officials and businesspeople, including a former minister and two deputy ministers, on suspicion of corruption and financial crimes. This action came shortly after Serbia opened its first EU negotiation chapters on December 14, giving rise to speculation within the country that the arrests were intended to demonstrate Belgrade’s commitment to fighting corruption to Brussels.