Serbia: Journalists’ Cameras Seized as Belgrade Mayor Ducks Questions

The mayor of Belgrade has refused to comment on reports that he is the director of two offshore companies that own 19 apartments in Bulgaria worth an estimated total of US$ 6.1 million.

sava-malaChief of Municipal Police Nikola Ristic, middle, with reporter from KRIK, rightWhen reporters from investigative website KRIK approached Mayor Sinisa Mali at a construction site on Wednesday, their mobile phones and camera were confiscated by the plain-clothed officers guarding him.

The officers, who refused to identify themselves, deleted footage from the reporters’ iPhones and cameras. The reporters were later able to recover some of the material.

Among the men who confiscated equipment belonging to KRIK reporters was Chief of Municipal Police Nikola Ristic, seen in their footage from the scene.

During a conference later in the day, Mali apologized to the journalists and promised to launch an investigation into the confiscation of their phones.

According to a recent investigation by reporters from OCCRP along with partners KRIK and the Bulgarian investigative reporting website Bivol, Mali owns properties at a resort on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast through his directorship of two firms based in the British Virgin Islands tax haven.

He also directly owns an apartment in the same resort. It is unclear why the 19 other apartments were purchased. They have not been included in his official assets declarations.

The revelations made headlines across the major Serbian media this week, prompting outcry from anti-corruption groups.

Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic has called the findings “nonsense” and a “blatant lie,” adding that Mali has worked closely with an anti-corruption initiative in Serbia.

Vucic said the signatures on the apartment purchase documents were not Mali’s, despite the fact KRIK compared photos of the signatures with a recent known signature of Mali’s on its website.  They look strikingly similar. 

The mayor enjoys close ties with Vucic. Together they opened the Belgrade Investment Days forum earlier this month.

Serbia’s Anti-Corruption Agency has announced a probe into the allegations against Mali, who has been Belgrade’s mayor since April 2014.