US Sanctions Serbia's Intelligence Chief

Published: 12 July 2023

Aleksandar VulinThe U.S. administration has blacklisted Serbia's intelligence chief, Aleksandar Vulin. (Photo: Ministarstvo odbrane Republike Srbije, License)

By Zdravko Ljubas

The United States sanctioned the pro-Russian head of Serbia's State Security and Information Agency (BIA) on Tuesday, accusing him of corruption and actions that "facilitate Russian malign activities in Serbia and the region."

The U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) stated that Aleksandar Vulin has been "implicated in transnational organized crime, illegal narcotics operations, and the misuse of public office."

Vulin maintains close ties with Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and before running the country’s intelligence agency, he served as defense minister and minister of internal affairs.

According to OFAC, his actions have fostered corruption within Serbia's political institutions, including exploiting his position for personal benefit, even through involvement in a drug trafficking network.

President Vučić dismissed Washington’s move on Wednesday, saying the same sanctions were imposed on him in 1998 and “frankly, I didn’t care.”

"Serbian politics will not be pursued either by the United States or Russia, or anybody else," he added.

Referring to U.S. accusations against Vulin concerning narcotics, Vučić said that he “did not notice that cocaine was found in Vulin’s office, but in the White House.”

The sanctions “were not imposed over criminal activities but over his attitude toward the Russian Federation,” he added.

A few years ago, OCCRP's Serbian partner KRIK reported that Vulin was unable to explain the origins of the money with which he purchased his apartment in Belgrade.

The country's anti-corruption agency suspected that the 200,000 euro (US$220,508) he claimed to have received from his wife's aunt in Canada were actually proceeds of corruption. They handed the case over to the prosecution, but prosecutors said they could not gather enough evidence.

U.S. authorities have also alleged that Vulin used his official positions to assist Russia in undermining the security of the Western Balkans and enabling Moscow to expand its influence in the region.

In January of this year, Serbian activists filed criminal complaints against Vulin and several others, including the Russian ambassador to Serbia, for assisting Russia's Wagner paramilitary group in recruiting Serbs to fight in Ukraine.

OFAC stated that Vulin has maintained a mutually advantageous connection with the U.S.-designated Serbian arms dealer Slobodan Tešić, enabling Tešić's illicit weapons shipments to easily pass through Serbia's borders.

"Treasury will not hesitate to target actors who abuse their positions for personal gain while undermining effective and democratic governance in the Western Balkans," said Brian E. Nelson, Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.

Vulin was designated pursuant to Executive Order 14033, under which U.S. authorities will block "all property and interests in property of the designated person... that are in the U.S."

Any entities owned, directly or indirectly, by Vulin must be blacklisted, and those continuing to conduct business with him may also face sanctions.

The article has been updated to include President Vučić's reaction to the U.S. sanctions against Aleksandar Vulin.