President Aleksandar Vucic denied claims that he threatened to have a prisoner killed during the Croatian war in 1991, calling the allegations by a war crimes trial witness “brutal and heinous lies”.

Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic on Friday rejected claims that he participated in a war crime in Croatia in 1991, after a Croatian newspaper reported that a trial witness testified that Vucic threatened him with death.

Vucic told media in Belgrade that he was in Croatia several times in the 1970s and 1980s as a child and a teenager, but not in 1991.

He said he did not go to Croatia during the war “all the way until the end of 1994 or 1995, when I went as an SRS [Serbian Radical Party] official, for two days, when we went on a [election] campaign in [Serb rebel-held] Serbian Krajina”.

He also said that he had “never been to Petrinja [where the prisoner was captured] in the whole of my life, never”.

Croatian newspaper Vecernji List reported on Thursday that a witness that it named as Kosta D. told a war crimes trial in Zagreb that Vucic was present when he was captured in September 1991 and threatened to kill him.

The witness said that “I remember when the current president of Serbia, Vucic, as if I were watching him now, came up to us and said that he would kill and slaughter”, Vecernji List reported.

“Vucic told me that, as a Serb, I had betrayed the Serbian people and that he would slaughter me last,” he added.

The witness was testifying at the trial of Serb ex-fighters Dusan Jovic, Milo Paspalj, Vlado Cupovic and Marko Vrcelj, for war crimes against civilians and prisoners of war in 1991 in the Glina area, where Petrinja is located. They are being tried in their absence.

Vucic said that during this period, he was a student and that his political career only started in 1993 when he joined the Serbian Radical Party.

He argued that in Croatia, “some people are tried on the basis of the testimonies of such witnesses – think how these people will end up, on the basis of such brutal and heinous lies”.

His accuser’s testimony was reported by another newspaper, Jutarnji List, which also published a statement by another witness who said he saw one of the defendants, as well as witness Kosta D., while he was in captivity, but did not see Vucic there.

During first half of 1990s, the Serbian Radical Party was active in spreading nationalistic rhetoric, but some of its members were also involved in the conflict o the ground, in Croatia and later in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Serbian Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj was convicted in 2018 of inciting crimes with nationalist speeches that he made in the Vojvodina region of Serbia during the war in 1992.

Vucic, along with party vice-president Tomislav Nikolic, left the Serbian Radical Party in 2008 and formed the Serbian Progressive Party, which has been in power since 2012.