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Serbian soccer association president Slavisa Kokeza resigns

March 22, 2021 GMT
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FILE - In this Friday, March 31, 2017 file photo, President of Serbia's Football Association Slavisa Kokeza speaks during a news conference in Stara Pazova, near Belgrade, Serbia. Police have taken in the president of the Serbian Football Association for questioning in connection to recent arrests of several members of soccer fan groups accused of murder, kidnapping and drug trafficking. Serbian media said Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021, Slavisa Kokeza will be quizzed over his links to Partizan Belgrade supporter group leaders who were detained earlier this month in what officials say is a major crackdown against organized crime.(AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic, File)
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FILE - In this Friday, March 31, 2017 file photo, President of Serbia's Football Association Slavisa Kokeza speaks during a news conference in Stara Pazova, near Belgrade, Serbia. Police have taken in the president of the Serbian Football Association for questioning in connection to recent arrests of several members of soccer fan groups accused of murder, kidnapping and drug trafficking. Serbian media said Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021, Slavisa Kokeza will be quizzed over his links to Partizan Belgrade supporter group leaders who were detained earlier this month in what officials say is a major crackdown against organized crime.(AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic, File)

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — The president of the Serbian soccer association resigned Monday after being linked to a fan group accused of murder, kidnapping and drug trafficking.

Slavisa Kokeza said he is stepping down to focus on restoring his image after being linked to organized crime.

Kokeza also said in his resignation letter that he wants to allow the national team “necessary peace and stability” at the start of World Cup qualifying. Serbia plays Ireland at home on Wednesday.

Police last month quizzed Kokeza about his alleged links to the leaders of a Partizan Belgrade supporters’ group who were arrested in January in what officials said was a major crackdown against soccer’s links with mafia.

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Details from the police investigation leaked to the media include alleged killings by the group members of their rivals, including decapitations and torture in a special “bunker” at the club’s stadium in the Serbian capital.

The group reportedly also had plans to kill populist Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. Kokeza, who was Vucic’s close party ally, said in his resignation letter that linking him to such “brutal” crimes represent “dangerous lies.”

Serbian authorities have a history of tolerating hooliganism that often resulted in violence and outbursts of nationalism at stadiums.

The far-right soccer supporters were often seen at pro-government rallies promoting a nationalist political agenda. In exchange, analysts say, the hooligans have been allowed to pursue their illegal business activities.

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