by OCCRP

A Serbian tabloid has alleged that a respected journalism non-profit is attempting to overthrow the Serbian government, citing information that appears to have come from secret services, intelligence or surveillance.

A number of journalism organizations have condemned the tabloid Informer for what is being viewed as a political attack on a respected online newspaper.

The tabloid is an active supporter of the Serbian Prime Minister, Aleksandar Vucic.  Its editor and owner, Dragan Vucicevic, has previously confirmed his friendly relations with the Prime Minister, as well as his friendship with Vucic’s brother, Andrej.

The paper’s recent attacks against the Serbian Network for Investigating Organized Crime (KRIK) include information which appears to have come from police, intelligence files or from constant surveillance of KRIK journalists by government actors.

In a Television Pink interview this Wednesday, the tabloid’s editor revealed in advance a story KRIK reporters were working on — that the Prime Minister has large real estate assets in Belgrade hidden under names of family members.

The paper has also published the names of multiple people KRIK has talked to, including potential sources. If true, the revelations could endanger the lives of sources and reporters.

KRIK has written extensively about corruption in Vucic’s inner circle. It exposed Belgrade mayor Sinisa Mali’s alleged involvement in corrupt privatizations, an alleged past murder by Serbia’s Health Minister when he worked as a doctor for the Zemun Clan and footage of Serbia’s Foreign Minister meeting with an associate of convicted cocaine smuggler Darko Saric.

But to date, KRIK had not yet written about corruption by Vucic himself. The tabloid alleged KRIK’s planned story about real estate was false and a plan to discredit the Prime Minister.

Attacks by the Informer on KRIK are not new.  KRIK journalists have repeatedly found themselves accused of cooperating with foreign secret services, launching false scandals, and being a spy organization that aims to weaken the government.

But the latest attacks, spearheaded by Informer’s chief editor Vucicevic, have been far more sinister and personal.  They appear to rely on material that could only have been gathered by surveillance, including phone taps, tracking, and other secret service types of intelligence gathering.

In his Wednesday interview, Vucicevic repeated the usual claims of his newspaper.  He said the head of KRIK, chief editor Stevan Dojcinovic,  ”falsely portrays himself as a journalist“ while cooperating with OCCRP Editor Andrew Sullivan in Sarajevo who, Vucicevic said, “works for Western intelligence agencies“.

KRIK had earlier announced they would be revealing details on the property of Serbian politicians. But KRIK was, in fact, also working on a story revealing the property of Vucic’s family exactly – and this begs the question: how did Vucicevic know?

Following the interview, the Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia (NUNS), called on authorities to investigate if Vucicevic received this information from any government agency, and if KRIK journalists are being wiretapped or monitored in any way. NUNS also called for a boycott of Informer.

Andreas Poltermann, head of Belgrade’s Heinrich Boll Foundation office, expressed support for KRIK.  He said Informer’s campaign “confirms“ Serbia is “captured by one political party, specifically the Prime Minister“, which is “openly supported“ by some media in Serbia.

On Friday, Informer’s front page ran an image of Dojcinovic titled „Sado-Masochist FrenchSpy“. The paper portrayed him as a fetishist and sado-maso enthusiast, but also went on to suggest he cooperates with the French secret service.

KRIK is an internationally respected non-profit investigative reporting center. It has won many international awards, including the prestigious Global Shining Light award.  Journalists around the region have pledged support for KRIK and demanded an end to the harassment. They have also expressed concern about the government’s possible role in the attacks.