The chief of police in Serbia’s second-largest city, Novi Sad, has been arrested on charges of abuse of office and trading in influence to shield a businessman from investigation, said organised crime prosecutors.

Police Chief in Serbia’s Second City Arrested on Graft Charges

Former Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic (R) handed the decision on promotion to the rank of police general to Slobodan Malesic. 2019. Photo: MUP Serbia

Slobodan Malesic, chief of police in the northern city of Novi Sad, was arrested for trading in influence on Tuesday on the order of the Prosecutor’s Office for Organised Crime, the office confirmed to BIRN.

As well as Malesic, police arrested Ljubomir Stanisic, an officer at the Police Department in the town of Prijepolje, Dragan Kovacevic, a police officer at the Department for Fighting Corruption, and Dzenan Kujovic, an entrepreneur and owner of several companies from Prijepolje.

Al four are charged with associating for the purpose of committing criminal offences, trading in influence and abuse of their official positions.

The Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement that Malesic is charged with being the organiser of this  criminal group and used his position to prevent police investigating Kujovic’s activities.

It said that Malesic received a “promised and requested benefit from the suspect Kujovic in order to verbally issue orders to the other suspected police officers, as members of an organised criminal group who acted on his orders, not to perform official duties within their official police powers to carry out criminal proceedings against the suspect Kujovic”.

The police officers’ aim in doing this was to get “financial benefits for themselves and the members of this organised criminal group”, it added.

Malesic was appointed head of the Police Department in Kragujevac, a city in central Serbia, in March 2016. After that he was deputy to Serbia’s national police chief, Vladimir Rebic.

In 2020, Malesic was appointed as the head of the Novi Sad Police Department.

He was accused in July 2020 of being responsible for the beating of protesters by police at anti-government protests sparked by the official handling of the coronavirus crisis.

Malesic denied claims that police violently over-reacted, saying that the protesters were attacking the police. He described the protesters as hooligans and insisted that police reacted only when necessary.

Tuesday’s arrest has no connection to the clashes in July 2020, however.

BIRN mapped numerous incidents of police brutality during the protests in July 2020, including attacks on journalists and women.

According to Belgrade’s Centre for Security Policy, at least 150 police officers in uniform, but also undercover officers in plain clothes, exceeded their authority during the 2020 protests. It said that the number of victims of police violence was at least 50.

The Belgrade Centre for Human Rights said that 35 criminal charges were filed to prosecutor’s offices in Belgrade and Novi Sad accusing 70 unknown police officers of beating protesters.

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