Veljko Belivuk, known as “Velja Nevolja” (“Velja the Trouble”), leader of the Janjicari, (Janissaries) a notorious so-called football fan group, told the Belgrade Higher Court that the group he led had “served the needs of the state”.

“With Aleksandar Stankovic [killed in 2016], I led a group that served the needs of the state until his murder, after which I continued to do so,” Belivuk told the court on the first day of trial against him and 29 others, news portal Nova.rs reported.

They are accused of multiple criminal acts, including aggravated murder, kidnapping, illicit possession of weapons and explosives and drug trafficking.

Belivuk has denied all charges.

He said his group received tasks from high state officials via another notorious football fan, Aleksandar Vidojevic, but also that he once met in person Serbia’s President, Aleksandar Vucic, who suggested that further communication should continue via Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin.

BIRN asked the Interior Ministry for a comment from minister Vulin but it did not respond by time of publication.

This was a repeat of a statement Belivuk and his associate Marko Miljkovic already gave in 2021, during their investigation. After media in Serbia published them, Vucic announced that he and Vulin would “find one of our colleagues to do that [bring a criminal case] in order to present everything that those people said”.

Some days later, the mayor of the northern city of Novi Sad, Milos Vucevic, a senior official in Vucic’s ruling Serbian Progressive Party, SNS, filed a criminal charge against Vucic – with a view to clearing the President’s name and exposing the “mafia octopus” that the mayor said had Vucic in its sights.

Vulin later told Pink television that Belivuk was “on the verge of life imprisonment, and is lying because he has nothing to lose”, adding that he was “trying to blackmail the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic, and all those who are involved in the fight against the mafia”.

Belivuk was arrested in February 2021 along with other gang members.

The Janjicari, (Janissaries), later renamed “Principi”, was formed in 2013. It developed connections to private security contractors but also to state officials including a senior police adviser and the secretary-general of the Serbian government.

A BIRN 2019 investigation proved tight links between the football fan group and state.

Belivuk also said his group participated in the controversial nighttime demolitions in the capital’s Savamala neighbourhood in 2016, which paved the way for UAE-Serbia joint real-estate project, the Belgrade Waterfront.

On the night between April 24 and 25 in 2016, masked men with baseball bats and equipped with diggers demolished buildings in Belgrade’s Hercegovacka Street, when public attention was occupied by the counting of votes from the previous day’s parliamentary elections.

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