In February 2021, Serbian police arrested Veljko Belivuk, the notorious ringleader of a group of soccer hooligans that was long rumored to be protected by the Serbian security services. Belivuk’s ties may go all the way to Serbian president Aleskandar Vucic, who has used members of Belivuk’s crew to control crowds and beat up protesters.
Belivuk and his gang are far more than hooligans: They are among the gangs that has helped make Serbia an increasingly important player in the traffic of cocaine from Latin America to Europe. They have also carried out many murders in a brutal war between criminal clans.
Belivuk and his gang appear to have considered themselves untouchable—until a European investigation based in the Netherlands cracked the code on the encrypted phones the gang was using. That technical breakthrough has illuminated a shocking nexus of state-sponsored criminality in a European country that aspires to join the EU. It also raises questions about the potential for violence in a region that is still struggling to recover from the civil wars of the 1990s.