Ministers dig in over 'Serb Watergate' wiretap of president

Tomislav Nikolic.(AFP Photo / Alexa Stankovic)
A scandal in Serbia that revealed the president and defense minister being phone-tapped left officials trying to shift the blame. The interior minister, who is also the county’s PM, denied responsibility and said no ministers will resign.

­The scandal broke out after Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic revealed on state-run RTS TV that his phone has been wiretapped, as well as the phone of the Serbian Defense Minister Aleksandar Vucic and other senior officials.

"We have fallen into a snake pit, among people who use their high positions in many services to run lives, among people who dared to listen in on myself and on [Defense Minister] Aleksandar Vučić. We will get to the bottom of this. Serbia cannot live like this," President Tomislav Nikolić said. He promised an investigation will start on Monday.

Serbia’s main intelligence body Security Information Agency (BIA) has confirmed that the country’s police began eavesdropping on Vučić's phone several days ago, while the wiretapping of the president’s phone started much more earlier, reports Itar-Tass news agency.

The BIA agents believe certain figures from the upper Serbian political establishment and country’s richest businessmen are behind the phone tapping.

Vucic, who is also the first deputy prime minister, is responsible for fighting corruption and organized crime in the country, supervises national intelligence and is tasked with facilitating Serbia’s entry into the European Union.

Socialist Prime Minister of Serbia Ivica Dacic, who also occupies the seat of the minister of interior, denied any complicity with the case and laid full blame on the director of the national criminal police, Rodoljub Milovic. Dacic promised that an investigation will most probably result in mass dismissal at the top of the ministry.

Ivica Dacic told a Serbian TV channel that “The fraud will not undermine the positions of the government because no minister is involved in it.”

In his turn, Milovic washed hands saying that in his agency “some things happen without the knowledge of the authority.”

It is possible that the phone-tapping of top officials has been done in the best interests of the suspects in the unprecedented anti-corruption investigation campaign that is unraveling in the country. Rooting out high-level corruption and organized crime is necessary for Serbia's entry into the European Union, and the ruling Socialist-Nationalist coalition that came to power in July has launched a massive campaign to do just that.

It has already brought into spotlight Serbia's richest man Miroslav Miskovic, the owner of country’s third-largest company Delta Holding, with interests in agricultural sector, retail trade and real estate.

Defense Minister Aleksandar Vucic, who also heads Serbia’s nationalist Progressive Party, an integral part of the ruling coalition, confirmed that the phone-tapping scandal will not spoil his relations with Prime Minister Dacic and harm the Socialist-Nationalist coalition.

On Monday this week Vucic claimed that oligarch Miroslav Miskovic plans to oust him and his party from power because of their efforts to root out corruption.

However, in a press release issued the same day, Delta Holding insisted it fully supports the government which needs the “stable political environment" for work.