Government of Serbia demands access to bank records of journalists and CSOs

Government of Serbia building; Photo: WIkimedia Commons

BELGRADE – The Administration for the Prevention of Money Laundering of Serbian Ministry of Finance has drawn up a list of media employees and civil society organisations, including media associations, whose bank records it wants to thoroughly check, Newsmax Adria reported on Monday.

According to the report, the Administration is demanding access to the bank records over the past year to determine whether the CSOs and individuals are connected to money laundering or operations to finance terrorism.

It is noticeable that this list includes the names of many individuals and organizations that openly criticise the government. The CSOs on the list have almost exclusively been advocating Serbia’s accession to the EU and implementation of relevant reforms.

Among the organisations are the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia (NUNS), Journalists’ Association of Serbia (UNS), Center for Investigative Journalism (CINS), Belgrade Centre for Security Policy (BCBP), Civic Initiatives (GI), European Movement in Serbia, Lawyers Committee of Human Rights (YUCOM), Humanitarian Law Center, Youth Initiative for Human Rights (YIHR) and others.

The Director of the Center for Investigative Journalism (CINS) Branko Čečen, who is on the list, said that the demand for bank records is an abuse of institutions to deal with critics of the authorities.

“The Money Laundering Administration is checking if I am laundering money… In a country where crime is flourishing, a country in which (drug trafficker under court process for money laundering) Darko Šarić has invested at least a billion Euros in this country and the Administration never said a word. The Finance Minister (Siniša Mali) has 24 apartments in Bulgaria. What are 24 apartments in Bulgaria but money laundering?,” Čečen said.

Newsmax Adria Director Slobodan Georgiev said that the published list criminalizes journalists and NGOs.

“The state institution, which was established to deal with organized crime and the prevention of money laundering and terrorism, deals with people and organizations that are very well known to the public. It investigates the financial transactions of organizations that are flawless”, Georgiev said.

He added that if there were any doubts about these organizations, they would never receive donations from the European Union.

Georgiev said that Serbia is assessed in the international community as a country with a high level of money laundering, and notes that this is not because of journalists, but because of a lot of crimes that are not prosecuted.

The CSO Civic Initiatives (GI) today accused the government of abusing the mechanism for preventing money laundering and terrorism financing, in order to intimidate organizations, media and individuals who act as controllers of the government, asking the Serbian government to stop it immediately.

The settling with organizations and critical media in this way is an abuse of the legal mechanism and state resources, the Civic Initiatives claim.