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“The repeated claim that Branko Stefanovic represents GIM is malicious and completely false,” reads a letter sent to journalist Diljana Gajtandzieva.

Journalist: Jelena Veljkovic

GIM’s legal representative asked Bulgarian journalist Diljana Gaitandzhiyev to download a text from the ArmsWatch site in which the father of the police minister was portrayed as a representative of the company, which bought armaments from Krusik at a preferential price, BIRN has learned.

In a lengthy six-and-a-half letter sent by Bulgarian lawyer Emilia Nedeva to Belgrade lawyer Ljiljana Conic, in addition to a request to remove a text from the site, it is requested that Gajtandziev should deny it.

The reasoning behind the claims is that the objectionable text was intended to harm GIM by “releasing false / arbitrary allegations and information with a tendency to incite a media campaign, in this particular case against GIM.”

Further, it is alleged that false claims were made in the text on September 15, 2019 that Branko Stefanovic, father of Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic, was a representative of GIM.

“GIM has its founder and director. The repeated claim that Branko Stefanovic represents GIM is malicious and completely false, “the denial states, adding that Nebojsa Stefanovic’s father” never represented GIM “.

The lawyer also denies that GIM has seen profit growth due to its cooperation with Stefanovic, and calls GIM’s association with the offshore company through which the weapons reached Saudi Arabia a sensationalist one.

However, the repeated claims that the elder Stefanovic had nothing to do with GIM, the author of this memo did not argue, nor explained why Branko Stefanovic, together with GIM Director Goran Todorovic and Saudi Arabian business partners, April 2017. visited Krusik to inspect the weapon that was the subject of the purchase, as can be seen in Krusik ‘s official document.

BIRN published the document a year ago in the first in a series of articles on the role of the Minister of Police’s father in the arms trade. The same document was published by Diljana Gajtandžie on September 15 this year, along with other documentation.

Who’s lying – GIM or Vucic

Gaitandzhie told BIRN that in response, the lawyer rejected any attempt to interfere with her work.

“Your request to delete my article is extremely shocking and violates the principle of free speech. I will not accept any attempt to interfere with my journalistic work. I am behind every word of this research and I will not give up telling the truth, “Gaitandzieva wrote in response to a request from GIM’s lawyers.

She added that the lawyer’s claim that the statement was incorrect in the text that GIM represented Branko Stefanovic and that he had never been engaged in that company, contrary to a recent statement by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, who was a guest on RTS last week, said that Branko Stefanovic is “just an ordinary GIM employee.”

“There are two sources that confirm that Branko Stefanovic worked for GIM – a letter from GIM to Krusik and a statement by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. Your denial contradicts these two sources. So I would like to interview Mr. Branko Stefanovic to find out who is lying. I would be very grateful if you would send him my interview request. My job as a journalist is to find out who is lying – the president of Serbia or the GIM, “Gaitandzhi said in a letter to the lawyers.

In a brief phone interview with BIRN, lawyer Ljiljana Conic confirmed that she represented GIM “in certain jobs”, but did not want to answer other questions, but asked us to send them an email, which we did. However, we did not receive any answers until this text was published.

We asked, among other things, whether she advised the client to ask the Bulgarian journalist to remove the aforementioned text from the portal or whether it was the client’s wish, and whether she indicated to the client that such a request was a pressure on the media.

We were also interested in the exact purpose of this request, since the ArmsWatch portal is not the only medium that has published information that is denied by Gaitandji’s letter.

We also questioned what kind of argumentation he offers for the repeated assertions that Branko Stefanovic has nothing to do with GIM, since the official document of Krusik, as well as the statement of President Vucic, testify to this.

Avoiding and negating 

BIRN wrote about the mediation of the Minister of Police’s father in the arms trade between GIM and Krusik on November 22, 2018 .

The story was updated by the specialized international portal ArmsWatch, which wrote on September 15, 2019 that GIM was buying weapons at preferential prices over the state SDPR.

The Krusik leadership denied the allegations on Tuesday 16 September. On first reading that denial, one could really get the impression that GIM was not privileged. The problem, however, is that Krusik consciously kept silent on key data from other contracts they had contracted with GIM and SDPR that showed a completely different picture.

On September 19, BIRN published a text  showing data from an additional three contracts revealing that Krusik manipulated price comparisons of different mines to support the claim that GIM was not in a privileged position at the time of purchase, while the company was actually linked to the minister’s father the police were acquiring mines at lower prices than the competition.

Previously, BIRN sent questions to the management of the Valjevo company on Tuesday, September 17, regarding these hidden contracts.

A day later, on September 18, Krusik employee Aleksandar Obradovic was arrested for providing documentation to the media proving that Krusik and GIM were illegally operating.

Obradovic was detained for more than 20 days without the public knowing anything about it.

After the NIN weekly reported on October 10, 2019, the first unusual information that Obradovic had been in custody for three weeks and BIRN had released details of the incident, and violent reactions from the public, a few days later, were also addressed by the competent institutions. In just one day, two court decisions were taken that sent Aleksandar Obradovic back into house arrest, from which he was transferred to the Belgrade Central Prison on September 30. Obradovic is still under house arrest, from where he first interviewed for BIRN .