By Igor Jovanovic
Serbia’s parliament on Monday (October 8th) annulled the immunity of former cabinet minister Oliver Dulic amid a corruption investigation that he and his Democratic Party colleagues call “political persecution.”
Dulic, who lost his cabinet post when the Socialist Party came to power in this year’s elections, is under investigation for allegedly sidestepping a tender and favoring Slovenian company Nuba Invest in a venture to place optical cables along state roads.
The Nuba case, dating back to 2009, was brought to attention by the government’s Anti-Corruption Council, which pointed out that the Slovenian firm had been selected outside of procedure, regardless of having just one employee at the time and of the fact that road company Putevi Srbije had turned down the bidder, having deemed it underqualified as the firm had not worked in the telecommunications sector before.
Police tried to arrest Dulic on Saturday, but he cited MP immunity. His former assistant Nebojsa Janic and Zoran Drobnjak, general manager of Putevi Srbije during Dulic’s term in office, were taken in for questioning. Dulic later said he had only used immunity to buy himself time to address the media. Afterwards he went to the police, where he was told he would not be questioned until the Serbian parliament annulled his immunity, which it did on Monday.
Miljko Radisavljevic, the special prosecutor for organised crime, told reporters that the case had been processed since March, on the grounds of a criminal report filed by the Anti-Corruption Council. He said that there was suspicion that the operation had also damaged certain companies in local self-government, which serve as channels for filling up municipal budgets. Serbian state TV RTS reported the sums in question were millions.
However, Dulic waved off allegations that he had broken the law and told SETimes that the case against him was “political persecution, rather than the fight against corruption.”
He said the case had already been investigated by the public prosecutor’s office in 2010, which found no violations of the law and notified the government. Dulic added that the case against him was being launched by influential businessmen who have a problem with the laws and decisions he made as minister.
But the public prosecutor’s office announced it processed the case based on the documents existing at the time and did not have insight into all documents in Dulic’s case in 2010.
Aleksandar Vucic, first deputy prime minister, also dismissed the accusations by Dulic and his party that this is a political showdown.
“I anticipated and said that my colleagues and I would be targets of the most vicious attacks and nonsense about political persecution. I want to inform the citizens of Serbia that this is only the beginning. This fight cannot be stopped, changes cannot be stopped,” Vucic told reporters.
Prime Minister Ivica Dacic denied claims of political persecution, saying that the case was launched when the prosecution unearthed new data. He said that the investigation kicked off in March, during the term of the previous cabinet, in which he also led the police.
Nemanja Nenadic of Transparency Serbia said the case appeared suspicious and that prosecutors launch certain cases only after getting the go-ahead from politicians.
“This case has been known for two years and the prosecution is reacting just now,” Nenadic told SETimes.