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Cloaks and daggers II: Why Serbia is protecting a Romanian fugitive running in the EU elections

For some fugitive shady businessmen in the Balkans, Serbia is becoming a safe haven. After the Bulgarian former banker Tsvetan Vasilev, who, indicted in his countryfor the embezzlement of billions of Corpbank, fled to Serbia, now the Romanian Sebastian Ghiță has asked for asylum there, while running in his own country for the European Parliament.

Romania’s relations with Serbia have always been rather friendly. During the Balkan wars, traffic with oil was flourishing across the Danube, in spate of the international sanctions affecting the Milosevic regime. Now Romania has promised Serbia that it would advance its cause as a future member of the EU. And, to top it, the former Romanian prime minister Victor Ponta is an adviser to the Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić, who has even granted him Serbian citizenship.

But Victor Ponta and the fugitive Sebastian Ghiță are old pals. Ghiță, owner of the Romania TV television and of some IT companies, has made a fortune from deals with the state, being a protégé of Victor Ponta and of the Romanian socialist boss Liviu Dragnea. A fugitive in Belgrade, where he asked for asylum, claiming he is persecuted at home by the deep state and the former chief of the anti-corruption department (DNA) Codruta Kovesi, Sebastian Ghiță is at the origin of the complaint on the basis of which Kovesi is now investigated by her own government, who tries to stop her from becoming European Prosecutor.

Victor Ponta and Sebastian Ghiță (in the picture, Ponta – left, Ghiță – right) know each other very well. Ghiță put his TV station at Ponta’s disposal in the campaign for the ill-fated 2014 Romanian presidential elections, and when Ponta lost to the present president Klaus Iohannis, Ghiță took him to Dubai on a holiday trip as consolation.

Victor Ponta is not only very close to the Serbian president Vučić, who might grant Ghiță political asylum, but Ghiţă’s firm Teamnet International, together with the Serbian firm Prointer IT Solutions and Services, was meant, before his indictment in Romania, to control Serbia’s entire IT system by providing services to the government (and possibly also to the Russian FSB).

The head of the Serbian firm initially meant to work with Ghiţă is Slobodan Kvrgić, a friend of president Vučić and of most people who are important in Serbia (like the president of the soccer club association, Slaviša Kokez etc.).

The same head of the Serbian firm who was meant to sign the government IT contract along with Sebastian Ghita, Slobodan Kvrgić, was the one who “sold” President Vučić’s wife, Tamara Đukanović, an apartment in Belgrade, a deal about which the Serbian media has written extensively.

The Serbian national IT network has been launched in the meantime, even though Ghiţă and Teamnet International have not officially participated in it.

Now, both Victor Ponta and Sebastian Ghiță (the last one as a fugitive in Belgrade) are heading the lists of two different Romanian parties in the European Elections. After leaving the governing Socialist (PSD) party, Ponta has created his own pocket formation called Pro Romania, into which he managed to lure another PSD renegade, the Romanian EU Commissioner for regional development Corina Creţu. Ponta and Corina Crețu are heading the list of Pro Romania as future MEPs, in spite of the fact that Corina Crețu is using in the campaign her position as EU Commissioner, in an obvious conflict of interests.

Ponta’s friend Ghiţă is, from Belgrade, heading the list of the ultranationalist PRU (United Romania Party). Both enjoy protection. Ghiță receives delegates from Romania in his hotel in Belgrade, devising media strategies, while Ponta got, of all things, the Serbian citizenship, being also an adviser to Aleksander Vučić, the authoritarian Serbian president.

But who is Aleksandar Vučić?

But who is Aleksandar Vučić, to whom the Romanian government promised to use its EU presidency in order to advance Serbia’s case and who gave Ponta the Serbian nationality?

From the height of his two metres, the Serbian prime minister Vučić is looking at Europe saying calmly: — “I changed.”

Quite a change indeed, to become from one of Milosevic’s henchmen Europe’s favourite interlocutor in Serbia. After all, the young (49) prime minister was for a while banned from entering the EU.

Vučić worked at the beginning of the Yugoslav war as a journalist in Pale, Bosnia, in the mountains above the besieged Sarajevo. There, he interviewed the ultranationalist politician Radovan Karadžić and once played chess with general Ratko Mladić. Then suddenly he entered politics himself, in Serbia, giving up journalism, in 1993, as a member of the extreme right Serbian Radical Party (SRS) of Vojislav Šešelj (recently, to everybody’s surprise, acquitted of all charges of committing atrocities by the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia). Vučić rapidly became one of the far right party’s big shots. So tough was he, that Milosevic took this former journalist as information minister. In 1998, Vučić inflicted severe penalties on the opposition media and imposed a strict censorship during the Kosovo war and NATO’s bombing campaign. 

Vučić was thrown out of the government after Milosevic lost power in 2000. He entered parliament in 2003 under the colours of the same SRS, for which he unsuccessfully tried twice to become mayor of Belgrade. 

He always defended the Bosnian Serb leaders, even after atrocities such as the Srebrenica massacre of 1995 became known. — “For every killed Serb we will kill 100 Muslims”, he famously said in July 1995, a couple of days only after 8,000 Muslims were slaughtered by the Serbian army from Bosnia led by the general Ratko Mladić (presently on trial in The Hague) and by Radovan Karadžić.

In 2007, he announced that his own house “would be a sanctuary for Ratko Mladić”, that very Mladić responsible for Srebrenica and for the shelling of Sarajevo. Vučić also permanently expressed his support for Radovan Karadžić (found guilty of genocide in Srebrenica, war crimes and crimes against humanity and sentenced this month to 40 years’ imprisonment).

But then he said: — “I changed.” In 2008, he left the Radical SRS party, together with the current president of Serbia Tomislav Nikolić, and founded the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), becoming suddenly very pro-European.

In 2010, he finally acknowledged that a “horrible crime” was committed in Srebrenica and told everybody that he was “ashamed” of those Serbs who did it. It was the perfect moment to say that: the new party, the SNS, won the 2012 elections. After being deputy prime minister of Ivica Dacici, Vučić finally became head of government in 2014. 

He cut pensions and salaries, started discussing with Kosovo, is well received in Brussels. His Serbian Progressive Party maintains cooperation with the Freedom Party of Austria and United Russia party. In 2013, the SNS’ representatives in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe joined the Group of the European People’s Party (EPP).  And, of course, he promises a “modern, European, Serbia” by 2020. We have to believe him, as we believe him when he gently says: — “I changed.”

And, yes, he enjoys the friendship of some very influent Romanians, who can advance Serbia’s cause in the EU.

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