Serbia: Photo of Health Minister in Company of Organized Crime Figure Sparks Controversy
Angry over not being named director of a public company, a coalition partner of Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic showed media this week a photo that fueled existing allegations that one of Vucic’s ministers was previously cooperating with organized crime figures.
photo presented by New Serbia party leader Velimir Ilic on Sunday shows Serbian Health Minister Zlatibor Loncar hugging Dusan Spasojevic, a former leader of one of the region's most notorious criminal groups, the Zemun Clan.The
Ilic showed the picture to reporters as he was announcing he will discontinue cooperation with Vucic's Serbian Progressive Party because Vucic never appointed him as Director of Koridori Srbije. Ilic claimed Vucic repeatedly promised him the post.
By presenting the photo, Ilic reminded the public of previous media reports about minister Loncar’s ties to the Zemun Clan.
In February last year, OCCRP partner in Serbia, the Crime and Corruption Reporting Network (KRIK), published a report revealing that in 2002, Loncar received an apartment belonging to the wife of a hit-man for the Zemun Clan, and later resold it for a profit.
The revelation followed accusations made more than a decade ago by former gangsters that while he was a doctor in 2002, Loncar had received an apartment as payment for killing mobster Veselin Bozovic - a rival of the Zemun Clan who had survived an earlier shooting attack and was recovering in the hospital Loncar worked at.
Loncar allegedly gave Bozovic a lethal injection in his hospital bed.
Instead of clarifying how he obtained and the sold the apartment, Loncar labeled KRIK’s reporting as an anti-government campaign.
Back then Vucic defended the minister, telling KRIK in an interview that he has not found any evidence against Loncar. He reappointed him as health minister in August 2016.
Vucic defended Loncar again on Tuesday saying he spoke to him about the photo and was assured it was taken in a completely different context.
“He told me he had performed a surgery on the father of one of these people, that they invited him to a nearby coffee shop to thank him. That is where the picture is from,” said Vucic, adding that “if he wanted to hide something, he surely wouldn't pose for a picture.”
The Prime Minister reiterated his stance on his health minister, saying Loncar is not accused of any cooperation with the Zemun Clan. He added, however, that should such a cooperation be proven, Loncar would be dismissed immediately and prosecuted subsequently.