US disappointed with nomination of sanctioned individuals as ministers

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We are disappointed to see two sanctioned individuals nominated for positions in the new Serbian government, a US State Department spokesperson said in a written statement to Voice of America (VOA).

According to Serbian Prime Minister designate Milos Vucevic’s announcements, the new Serbian government will include two members who are under US sanctions – Aleksandar Vulin, proposed for deputy prime minister, and Nenad Popovic, nominated as minister without portfolio.

The State Department spokesperson said America’s position on Vulin is well known, that he remains under US sanctions, and stressed that the US plays no role in the personnel decisions of the Serbian government, VOA reported.

PM designate and leader of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) Milos Vucevic on Tuesday announced the names of the ministers he will propose for the new composition of the Government.

Reading out the names of the future cabinet members, Vucevic also mentioned Aleksandar Vulin as the future deputy prime minister. Vulin is considered one of the most controversial figures on the Serbian political scene, believed to have strong ties to Russia. Since July 11, 2023, Vulin has been on the list of sanctions by the United States Department of the Treasury for his “corrupt and destabilizing acts” aimed at furthering his own political agendas and personal interests at the expense of peace and stability in the Western Balkans.

“The designation of Aleksandar Vulin underscores the United States’ determination to hold accountable those engaged in corrupt dealings that further their own political agendas and personal interests at the expense of peace and stability in the Western Balkans. These corrupt dealings facilitate Russian malign activities in Serbia and the region,” said a press release of the US Treasury Department Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) in July 2023, when the sanctions against Vulin were introduced.

Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson said at the time that the US authorities will not hesitate to target actors that abuse their positions for personal gain while undermining effective and democratic governance in the Western Balkans.

The press release said that Vulin, a highly positioned official in several Serbian government makeups (he served as defense minister and minister of the interior), has been implicated in transnational organized crime, illegal narcotics operations, and misuse of public office.

“Vulin has maintained a mutually beneficial relationship with US-designated Serbian arms dealer Slobodan Tesic, helping ensure that Tesic’s illegal arms shipments can move freely across Serbia’s borders. Vulin’s acts have advanced corruption within Serbia’s governing institutions. These acts include leveraging his authority for personal gain, including involvement in a drug trafficking ring. He has used his public positions to support Russia, facilitating Russia’s malign activities that degrade the security and stability of the Western Balkans and providing Russia a platform to further its influence in the region,” said the press release.

It added that the institutions he headed in the past are not the targets of the sanctions.

In November 2023 the US State Department also introduced sanctions against former Serbian minister without portfolio Nenad Popovic and his associated companies.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said Wednesday it is not good news for Serbia that the US State Department has voiced disappointment with the nomination of Aleksandar Vulin and Nenad Popovic as ministers in the new Government, adding he hopes Serbia will maintain good relations with its American partners, Beta reported.

“I am not happy about their reaction, but the Serbian Government is chosen by the citizens of Serbia. I respect the will of the people,” said Vucic.

Popovic maintains close ties with the Kremlin and uses his network for corrupt schemes to build personal wealth, said US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller.

Popovic is a former Serbian Parliament deputy speaker and head of the Serbia-Russia parliamentary friendship group, and former deputy leader of the Democratic Party of Serbia.