European Western Balkans

US Sanctions towards Western Balkan entities: “Red flags” without much effect on the ground

White House; Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Several days ago, certain Marko Mihajlović was arrested on a suspicion of being involved in the murder of a former Serbian politician from North Kosovo, Oliver Ivanović.  However, after the arrest, some media outlets discovered that Mihajlović, quite unknown to the broader public, is on the USA’s sanctions blacklist.

He is not the only one currently affected by American sanctions, and who is related to the murder of Oliver Ivanović. Leaders of the organized crime group, which is suspected to have been formed for the murder of a Serbian politician, and to which Mihajlović belonged, are also on the same blacklist.

One of them, Zvonko Veselinović, is a controversial businessman with political connections stretching back to the top of the Serbian government, while the other one, Milan Radojičić, is the vice president of the Serb List, an ethnic Serb political party in Kosovo. They have been put under sanctions by the US Treasury Department due to their corruptive and criminal activities, while the decision also applies to all companies directly or indirectly connected to them.

Besides them, the same blacklist includes also Veselinović’s brother Žarko, Marko Rošić, former head of the Kosovo Police for the North Željko Bojić, an entrepreneur from Kosovo Radule Stević, Srđan Vulović, Miljan Radisavljević, Milojko Radisavljević, Radovan Radić, and  Siniša Nedeljković.

What does it mean to be blacklisted?

 These types of sanctions, which are adopted by the US Treasury Department, are not directed toward states but directly strike particular non-US individuals, groups, and entities related to them. The main reasons for being placed under sanctions are corruption, criminal activities, arms trafficking, terrorism, violation of human rights, and threatening the stabilization efforts in the Western Balkans.

Collectively, such individuals and companies are called “Specially Designated Nationals” or “SDNs”. The office in charge of imposing sanctions is the one for Foreign Assets Control.

The sanctions mean that all their property and interests in property in the United States or in the possession or control of US citizens are frozen and must be reported to the Office of Foreign Assets Control. The entry of blacklisted people to the US is suspended, and US citizens and companies are prohibited from dealing with them.

On the other hand, imposing sanctions on concrete individuals is also a way of exposing someone. The states should interpret this as a red flag. However, in many cases, such as with Milan Radojičić, sanctions haven’t changed official Belgrade’s attitude towards him.

In the Western Balkans, sanctioned people and entities are mostly from Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Fifteen individuals and around the same number of entities from Kosovo are blacklisted. On the same list, Serbia is represented by 13 individuals, with 14 entities.

Alongside citizens of North Macedonia, Montenegrins are the fewest on the list, with only one individual and two entities. On the other hand, 13 people from Bosnia and Herzegovina, alongside 14 entities are included.

Who are the people on the list?

The first Western Balkan politician to be blacklisted in this American sanction “program” is former Albanian prime minister and president Sali Berisha, back in May 2021. He and his wife and children are banned from entering the US due to his involvement in corrupt acts, such as “misappropriation of public funds and interfering with public processes, including using his power for his own benefit and to enrich his political allies and his family members” during his tenure as prime minister.

Besides Berisha, two more individuals, including a former MP from Albania, Aqif Rakipi, and a couple of legal entities are also under sanctions.

The next significant name to be sanctioned was Svetozar Marović, a former politician and last head of state of Serbia and Montenegro. After being arrested for corruption, and then released from custody in Montenegro, Marović, who also possesses Serbian citizenship, fled to Belgrade where he currently lives.

Alongside Marović, former North Macedonian prime minister Nikola Gruevski is also under sanctions. Besides many corruptive affairs connected to him during his tenure, the US Treasury Department accused him of being a threat to regional stability as well. One more individual from North Macedonia is blacklisted.

Probably the most infamous name on the US sanctions blacklist is the outgoing Serb member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina Milorad Dodik, who has been put there due to his “corruptive businesses and activities aimed at destabilization of Bosnia and Herzegovina”.

The last tightening of sanctions towards him was in January 2022 when he described it as an attack on Republika Srpska and threatened to proclaim independence from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Besides him, the Treasury Department also recently imposed sanctions on the prime minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s other entity, Fadil Novalić, for misusing pensioners’ personal data and allegedly “undermining democratic institutions and processes” for political gain. Businessman Slobodan Stanković and his company Integral Inženjering A.D. Laktaši were also put on the blacklist.

As part of the promotion of the fight against corruption in the Western Balkans, the same US Department imposed sanctions against Bosnian Prosecutors Diana Kajmaković and Gordana Tadić, as well as the delegate of the House of Peoples of the Parliamentary Assembly of BiH, Asim Sarajlić.

The largest arms dealer from Serbia and the Western Balkans, Slobodan Tešić, has been on the list since 2017. The Treasury Department managed to tie him with a lot of entities directly or indirectly controlled by him, which are also sanctioned, alongside nine of his close associates.

However, the impact of these sanctions on the states’ investigations and the fight against corruption in practice are questionable. Despite being characterized as threats to the rule of law, or stability, many of those blacklisted remain in power. The competent institutions are not paying attention to the warnings, nor undertaking anything against these individuals and entities in most cases.

This article was published as part of the project “Civil society for good governance and anti-corruption in southeast Europe: Capacity building for monitoring, advocacy and awareness-raising (SELDI)” funded by the European Union.

Related posts

Telekom Srbija again in amendments on the EP report on Serbia: Concern about the impact on the media market

Sofija Popović

State Department: WB’s insufficient progress in the fight against corruption

Anđela Šemić

European Parliament increasingly focused on Serbia – how many MEPs are critical of the government?

Aleksandar Ivković