Dačić Struggles as Ties Are Questioned

Mujtaba Ali 

Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dačić has found himself in an uncomfortable situation for the past month, as investigations of past and current connections multiply. 

Dačić admitted to meeting with Roduljub Radulović on multiple occasions in 2008, before Dačić became prime minister. Radulović has been accused of being a key member of a drug trafficking syndicate run by one of Serbia’s most wanted men, Darko Šarić, and has been charged by Serbian prosecutors in connection with a plan to smuggle nearly two tons of cocaine. Dačić told reporters he didn’t know of Radulović’s connection to Šarić at the time of their meetings, going so far as to blame the Serbian police for failing to keep him informed. Reporters at the press conference were barred from questioning the PM.

Another troubling Dačić’ connection is with his close advisor, Ivica Tončev, a previously largely unknown businessman in Austria who joined the political ranks in Serbia and rapidly rose to become a close advisor on national security to the prime minister.  Tončev also serves on the board managing the finances for the SPS, Dačić’s political party.

In 2006, Tončev sold a company he owned to Branislav Šaranović, a Montenegrin crime figure. Tončev continued to manage the company, even after Šaranović was gunned down outside his Belgrade home in 2009. OCCRP and CINS were unable to determine what, if any, business operations were actually carried out by the company.

Politicians are not immune to being hoodwinked, and can unwittingly involve themselves with shady characters. Dačić, however, seems to show an extraordinary knack for affiliating with people whohave distinct ties to the underbelly of Balkan society. That a prime minister can become associated with multiple individuals who have operated in a questionable, and in the case of Radulović -- a criminal manner, is worrying for the state of the Serbian political system.

Dačić’s claims that the Serbian police failed to inform him of Radulović’s connections to drug running represent an extreme level of negligence on the part of a high-ranking official. Vetting of individuals is a normal process when a high-level official is involved. If the vetting did not occur, then that calls into question the ethical and legal standing of the Serbian political system. If vetting did occur, then the relationship between Radulović and the prime minister could take on a far darker tone.

Responsible individuals judge the character of those they meet and form relationships with those whose character they find acceptable. Mistakes are inevitable, but repeated “mistakes” are often trends that have yet to be identified. That Prime Minister Dačić links himself to the likes of Tončev and Radulović brings his character into doubt.