BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbia’s defense minister accused the police on Friday of phone-tapping him and other senior officials, including President Tomislav Nikolic, and said a group within the interior ministry were responsible.
The Socialist-nationalist government that came to power in July has pledged to root out high-level corruption, nepotism and organized crime, a precondition for Serbia’s entry into the European Union.
Defense Minister Aleksandar Vucic said he received information about the surveillance a few days ago.
“A group under orders from (within) the Interior Ministry has been eavesdropping on top state officials including me and President Nikolic,” Vucic told Reuters.
“There will be an investigation and soon we will see what this is all about.” Vucic is also the first deputy prime minister and tasked with fighting organized crime, corruption and overseeing the work of intelligence agencies.
A government official who asked not to be named said “perhaps someone wanted to know what Vucic and others are planning about major corruption investigations”. He declined to elaborate further.
In comments broadcast by state-run RTS TV, Nikolic said his phone had been tapped.
“We have entered a snake pit, (consisting of) the people who are using positions in many (state) services ... who dared to eavesdrop on me and Aleksandar Vucic,” Nikolic said.
Vucic said his relations with Socialist Prime Minister Ivica Dacic, who is also the interior minister, were good and dismissed the idea that the eavesdropping could trigger a rift within the ruling coalition.
Dacic, a former ally of late strongman Slobodan Milosevic, said the “(police) department for criminal investigations has asked for phone listings not knowing that a phone number belongs to Vucic.”
“This has nothing to do with me as the interior minister but it has to do with police who have no clear system of oversight and control of actions,” he said in a broadcast on Belgrade-based Prva TV in which he announced an overhaul of the police force.
This year Serb prosecutors launched an investigation into the collapse of the Agrobanka bank and also charged Oliver Dulic, a member of the opposition Democratic Party and a former minister, with corruption.
Despite reforms, Serbian law enforcement agencies are riven by alliances, not necessarily loyal to the state, the government official said. “This has been going on for decades and must end.”
During the 1990s, Serbia’s security agencies and police fostered ties with organized crime and took part in atrocities in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo during the wars there as well as in crackdowns on Milosevic’s political opponents.
Vucic’s allegations coincided with a row with Miroslav Miskovic, Serbia’s richest man and the owner of Delta Holding, an agribusiness, retail and real estate company.
On Monday, Vucic said Miskovic and his associates wanted to topple him and his nationalist Serbian Progressive Party because of their efforts to fight corruption.
In a statement on Monday, Delta Holding said it fully supported the government which “must work in a stable political environment”.
Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Robert Woodward