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Series of articles on corruption and organized crime
Fight against Corruption: Spectacle on Camera, Silence in Courtrooms
Whilst highlighted as a priority by every government in recent years, fight against corruption boils down in practice to media announcements, arrests on camera and a large number of criminal charges brought, but without convictions in courts. Indictments are in short supply, verdicts are few and far between, and suspended sentences are the order of the day, shows the 6-month-long investigation carried out by CIJS.
02 June 2016
By Ivana Jeremić and Milica Stojanović
Early in the morning on the 24th of September, 2013, police officers interrupted Borislav Novaković’s physical therapy and took him to a police station. A whole month and a half earlier the media reported that Novaković, the Democratic Party caucus leader in Vojvodina’s parliament and former director of the Novi Sad Construction Bureau, would be arrested as‘a robber baron’ over mismanagement of construction land.
Another seven individuals were arrested on the same day, including Novi Sad businessmen Petar Matijević, the owner of meat processing company Matijević, and Vojislav Gajić, the general manager of Aleksandar gradnja construction company, respectively. This information soon became the news of the day, so much so that even Ivica Dačić, the then interior minister, bragged about it at one his press conferences.
Eight individuals in total were suspected of inflicting damage to Novi Sad and the Republic of Serbia. Novaković and his female associates from the City Construction Office were suspected of alleged abuse of public office and failure to prevent misappropriation of land, whereas the others were charged with abuse of authority in economy and tax evasion.
In the end, the case has never found its way to a courtroom. A little more than two years later, the investigation against all the suspected individuals was dropped as the Higher Public Prosecutor’s Office in Novi Sad abandoned further prosecution. In its reply to the Center for Investigative Journalism of Serbia (CIJS), the Prosecutor’s Office stated that there were no reasonable grounds for their prosecution as the suspicions were not substantiated.
The CIJS investigation shows that fight against corruption, although highlighted as a priority by every government in recent ten or so years, boils down in practice to media announcements and arrests on camera. These are followed through with a flurry of criminal charges, but indictments are then in short supply and guilty verdicts are few and far between. Even when a verdict is handed down, suspended sentences seem to be the order of the day. Petty corruption is more often prosecuted.
Over a six-month period, CIJS journalists were collecting data from judicial institutions in Serbia on the prosecution of ten corruption-related criminal offences from 2013 through to the end of 2015. A total of 6,179 individuals were reported to the police over these crimes. According to the data from prosecutors’ offices which provided information, almost three thousand individuals were charged.
Information collected from basic and higher courts showed that 1,861 sentences were handed down, though one should bear in mind that some individuals received two sentences, e.g. a suspended sentence and a fine, so that the total number of convicted persons was about 1,500. Of the total tally, the majority were suspended sentences – 1,268.
The lion’s share of cases were dealt with by basic courts and prosecutors’ offices, authorised to prosecute crimes for which more lenient penalties were stipulated – fines or up to ten years’ imprisonment. The Organised Crime Prosecutor’s Office and a special division of the Higher Court in Belgrade (the Special Court) dealt with bigger cases. Over three years, this prosecutor’s office charged 232 persons for corruption-related crimes and the Special Court passed 200 guilty verdicts over the same period. Borislav Novaković told CIJS he had been first interviewed by the police about three months prior to his arrest going on to say he did not expect to be arrested.
“They did not even know how to pronounce properly either my name and surname or my public office title. They came to my door, showed their official IDs and asked me if I were Branislav Novković, a director of the public enterprise Urbanizam”, said Novaković. “When they arrest you, you’re on central news show and national breaking news. When the prosecutor’s office drops its investigation (…) and says ‘this man is innocent’, then it’s published in small print in a newspaper’s crime section which only my family and my friends would read.”
Arrests as Reality Show
Police raids and arrests over alleged corruption have been front and centre on cover pages of Serbian media in the past three years. The last one in a series was Scanner 2 operation which took place at the height of the election campaign in April 2016 as part of which 49 persons were detained.
Experience so far teaches us that only a few end up being convicted of corruption. According to the Interior Ministry data, from the 1st of January, 2013, to the 31st of December, 2015, in Serbia, 254 persons were arrested and 6,179 persons were charged with corruptive criminal offences analysed by CIJS.
The new Criminal Procedure Act, in effect since 2013, lowered the suspicion threshold required for launching a criminal investigation. CIJS’ interviewees described a number of criminal charges were brought as a potential vehicle for political score-settling as well as a means for the citizens to ‘collect debts’ through the police and prosecutors’ offices.
Deputy prosecutor with the Third Basic Prosecutor’s Office Nenad Stefanović said it was now possible to initiate investigations based on low suspicion threshold ‘just because someone doesn’t like you or wants to frame you’.
President of the Serbian Judiciary Trade Union Slađanka Milošević was of the opinion that there were both genuine criminal charges and those used for political score-settling:
“They bring charges, prosecutor’s office pokes you a bit, no evidence there, but regardless, the whole judicial machinery is set in motion, it ends up in court, but in court this can’t hold water or no guilty verdict is likely, and then we, all the citizens, pay for this shadow play involving judiciary, politics and police.”
The CIJS investigation shows that fight against corruption in Serbia for the most part comes down to only three criminal offences: embezzlement (982 criminal charges), abuse of public office (2,361) and abuse of position by a responsible person (2,098), which was introduced through amendments to the Criminal Code in 2012.
Depending on the gravity of a given criminal offence, i.e. prescribed sentence or damage inflicted, the whole proceedings are conducted by either basic or higher public prosecutor’s office. As in the case of criminal charges above, the prosecutors’ offices most often bring indictments for abuse of office and embezzlement. However, the difference in the number of people who were reported for corruption and the number of those actually charged with corruption is significant.
Statistics for the three biggest cities in Serbia – Belgrade, Niš and Novi Sad – will illustrate the point vividly. In the past three years, the Higher Public Prosecutor’s Office in Belgrade has processed reports for embezzlement, abuse of public office and abuse of position for a total of 1,376 persons, whereas bills of indictment and indictments were brought against 362. The Higher Prosecutor’s Office in Novi Sad has processed reports for corruption involving 843 individuals, but indictments were brought against 68. The Higher Prosecutor’s Office in Niš has received reports for corruption against 210 persons, but indictments or bills of indictment were brought against 72 individuals.
Abuse of Abuse
Two criminal offences of abuse of office are problematic, according to some legal experts, because they are formulated in broadest terms so that, in practice, it is possible to prosecute people for a variety of things, but without big results. In its latest progress report on Serbia, even the European Commission stated that the abuse of public office was excessively used, “including in those cases where objectively there is no criminal conduct”.
Judge of the Court of Appeals in Belgrade Miodrag Majić explained that serious errors are often made in the interpretation of these offences so it is possible to prosecute “everyone and no one”. Hence, he went on, it would be for the best to either remove or replace these offences with others which would be far more specific.
“I always say the abuse of that abuse is taking place,” said Majić. “How many such cases are meaningless in legal terms from the very start… but there is a certain political pressure seeping through the media and then you plunge yourself in a stream with no end and no beginning, where everyone more or less clearly sees that this will lead to nowhere.”
High-level corruption cases are not even investigated as long as the individuals in question are a part of the current government,added Majić. Serbian deputy public prosecutor Goran Ilićexplained that abuse of public office, as it now stands, provides “a very broad discretion in prosecution”, going on to say that it should be specified in more detail.
“More often than not prosecutors resort to the charge of abuse of public office, when they are not sure if a more specific offence against public office is at issue in a given case. (…) Some types of crimes against public office are not ‘covered’ by some other criminal offence so the only thing possible is to prosecute for abuse of public office,” said Ilić.
The Justice Ministry, which has drafted new amendments to the Criminal Code, is also aware of this problem.
Radomir Ilić, state secretary with the Ministry of Justice, explained that these changes would introduce new types of criminal offences, but also modify the abuse of position by a responsible person, which would be used only if no other offence was applicable.
Otherwise, said Ilić, the court will not allow the indictment to take effect, but if that happens, it will not be able to stand the test of the appellate procedure.
Helped Themselves from Solidarity Fund to Give Over to Football Club
In the autumn of 2008, a sum of about 700,000 dinars was transferred into the account of a small football club Crnokosa from Kosjerić, from the account of this municipality’s Solidarity Housing Fund. This payment was approved by the then mayor Željko Prodanović.
This was why, in 2014, he was handed down a suspended sentence of two years. Over the course of those two years, Prodanović was first working as a deputy mayor, and then, following his resignation from this office, as a deputy in the municipal assembly.
Prodanović told CIJS he just wanted to help the local football club until it received a previously promised payment after which the money would be repaid to the municipality.
“Meanwhile, Kosjerić was placed under emergency management and I left the municipality so this wasn’t finalised, and then someone took advantage of it to attack me. (…) I didn’t do anything that hadn’t been done before to fund the football club. This was a procedural mistake there, but it had nothing to do with corruption whatsoever,” explained Prodanović.
Prodanović’s suspended sentence is a part of the aggregate statistical data provided by the basic courts which responded to the CIJS request, where 80 per cent of all the sentences are suspended ones.
Higher courts have fewer convictions, but they hand down equally often, in about 80 per cent of all the cases, prison sentences since they process more serious criminal offences resulting also in higher fines.
Out of a total number of sentences (1,861) handed down by courts in the past three years, 538 persons received house imprisonment and proper prison sentences, whereas 55 were fined. Suspended sentences were given to 1,268 persons.
As regards the verdicts themselves, taking into account all analysed corruptive criminal offences in the past three years, there were 871 acquittals as well as 463 nonsuits – where the court did not accept the plaintiff’s charges. Overall, there were 1,118 guilty verdicts of which some pertained to several individuals with different sentences.
Marko, a son of Miroslav Mišković, was recently acquitted of charges for corruptive offence. His arrest and that of his father was captured on camera by the Interior Ministry in December 2012, and the charges were brought five months later for the criminal offence of abuse of position by a responsible person and tax evasion over alleged infliction of damage to privatised road construction companies. In March 2016, Marko Mišković was sentenced on tax evasion charges to 3.5 years’ imprisonment and fined 8 million dinars. He was acquitted of the charge of abuse of position by a responsible person. The proceedings against Miroslav Mišković is still under way.
President of the Judges’ Association of Serbia Dragana Boljević said that the outcome in court depends on how well the police and the prosecutor prepare their case.
“It is not a duty of a court of law to convict someone at all costs. If there is a reasonable doubt, the court must find a way to acquit the defendant because the court is not there to mete out convictions but to administer justice,” said Boljević and added that judges needed additional training in the field of economy as some offences therein were difficult to prove.
Never-Ending Criminal Trials: Mira Marković’s Trial Adjourned 50 Times over 13 Years
Trial of Slobodan Milošević’s wife and another ten persons suspected of alleged abuse of public office for allocation of apartments is just one out of 583 criminal court proceedings which have gone on for over a decade and another 2,188 trials extending over a period of five years before Serbia’s criminal courts. Default of appearance by witnesses, adjournment of hearings, years-long length and lapse of the statute of limitations have plagued many trials.
24 June 2016
By Milica Stojanović
One of the oldest pending cases in the Higher Court in Belgrade, the trial of Mira Marković and another ten defendants, has been dragging on for 13 years already. Hearings have been adjourned at least 50 times, and the whole case has been remitted for retrial at least four times, which is bound to happen once again in September this year.
Higher Public Prosecutor’s Office pressed charges against the defendants of involvement in an illegal allocation of state-owned apartments in the year 2000. The trial has since been marked by adjournment of hearings, default of appearance by witnesses and repeated amendments of indictment. The case against two defendants was dropped due to the lapse of the statute of limitations.
Except for Mira Marković, the wife of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milošević and the Yugoslav Left political party leader, among the defendants were also Živka Knežević, former Serbian Government’s secretary-general; Mihalj Kertes, former head of the Federal Customs Administration; Branislav Ivković, former science and technology minister; as well as many others.
This is only one out of 583 pending criminal trials before Serbian courts whose length in late 2015 spanned a whole decade. Higher Court in Belgrade had a backlog of 38 such cases. There were many more 5-year-or-older pending cases – as many as 2,188 in aggregate in all criminal courts.
Years-long court proceedings endlessly defer meting out punishment for criminal offenders or, for that matter, prompt acquittal of those found to be not guilty as charged. At the same time, this creates a significant strain on the budgets of judicial institutions and further delays payment of damages to injured parties, be it the citizens or the state.
Center for Investigative Journalism (CIJS) interviewees cited difficulties in bringing suspects, lawyers and witnesses to trials, excessive workload for judges as well as changes to the justice system resulting in remission of cases as the reasons for lengthy court proceedings.
Attending Hearings, Paying Lawyer and Wasting Time
The trial of Mira Marković and another ten defendants charged with abuse of public office for illegal allocation of apartments was scheduled to start a day after the assassination of prime minister Zoran Đinđić on the 13th of March 2003.
Marković failed to show up at the first trial hearing. Later it would turn out she had left for Russia which is why she is on trial in absentia. This would not disrupt the trial, however, the court proceedings unfolded at a painfully slow pace for other reasons.
Most of trial hearings scheduled for 2003 did take place and the defendants presented arguments in their defence. On the 27th of October the court ruled to retry the case due to “a lapse of time” as stated in the trial records.
In the following years, the trial hearings were often adjourned. In 2005 the hearings were adjourned at least four times. When eventually a trial hearing did take place on the 10th of November that year, the case was remitted once again due to “a lapse of time”.
One of the most common reasons for adjournment of trial hearings was default of appearance by witnesses. According to the record of the hearing scheduled for the 23rd of March, 2006, witnesses Srđan Nikolić, Zlatan Peručić and Milunka Lazarević failed to appear although the official notes read that “the trial chamber president contacted by phone the female witness who promised to appear” in the courtroom.
The court records to which CIJS gained access showed that not a single trial hearing took place in 2007, whereas the trial was adjourned at least three times in 2008. Thereafter, the trial chamber presiding judge retired and the justice system reform (election and re-election of judges) was launched, which further slowed down the proceedings.
From 2012 through to 2015, trial hearings were scheduled, but never held. In addition, indictment was amended several times – the last time in April this year. The case has now been remitted once again to the phase of pre-trial review and the trial hearing is scheduled for September this year.
In the meantime, the case against two defendants – Bratislava Morina, former minister for refugees, internally displaced persons and humanitarian aid; and Petar Zeković, former interior ministry official – was dropped due to the lapse of the statute of limitations.
Branislav Ivković, one of the defendants, argued the charges against him were trumped up going on to say that the decision to award one of the apartments had been made by a seven-member commission, but only he was indicted.
“I was attending hearings at least four or five times a year, paying lawyer and wasting time,” said Ivković in response to the CIJS journalist’s question about the court proceedings.
Veljko Đurđić, a defence counsel of defendant Živka Knežević, said the excessive trial length was, among others, a consequence of an incomplete investigation, poorly collected evidence and amendments to the charges brought.
Indictment against Mira Marković was amended twice – in 2010 and 2016, respectively. Her lawyer Zdenko Tomanović said the 2010 amendment to the charges had been made only several days before the lapse of the statute of limitations, when the Prosecutor’s Office converted the criminal offence of illegal mediation into the abuse of public office.
Officials of the Higher Public Prosecutor’s Office were unwilling to comment on the case stating that this would be “inappropriate” and “counterproductive for the proceedings” in a reply to the request for an interview.
Neither the Higher Court in Belgrade would grant an interview request by the CIJS journalist.
Criminal Charges from Previous Century
In the end of the last year, out of the total of 583 pending criminal cases older than ten years, basic courts had a backlog of 519 and higher courts another 64. The Higher Court in Belgrade had 38 such cases, two of which were over 15 years old. Other higher courts had fewer than five such outstanding cases in their backlog.
Belgrade courts also rank at the top of list in terms of the backlog of 10-years-and-older cases in basic courts – 27 such cases in the First, 22 in the Second and 19 in the Third Basic Court in the capital city.
In late 2015, there were 2,188 pending criminal cases older than five years on courts in Serbia. The Higher Court in Belgrade had 240 such cases and the Basic Court in Niš – 214.
The trial which has been going on for almost eight years before the Higher Court in Smederevo has been attracting public attention in Serbia because of both its excessive length and the number of defendants. Charges in the so-called “Index Affair” were first brought in 2007, amended in 2008, against 89 persons, including Kragujevac Law Faculty professors. They were suspected of selling exams in exchange for cash or luxury items such as whiskey or perfumes.
Eight years on, there is no judgment in sight, hearings have been adjourned several times, and the case against almost half the defendants was dropped due to the lapse of the statute of limitations.
In the Second Basic Court in Belgrade, the majority of pending cases older than 10 years pertain to aggravated larceny and robbery.
Judge Dejan Garić, president of the Court’s Criminal Chamber, explained that the years-long duration of trial proceedings was often down to multiple suspects and injured parties in a single case, going on to say that it was not always possible to bring them all together for a trial hearing.
“The biggest problem is that we cannot find them at all at their registered addresses, hence we cannot take any other measures,” said Garić, adding that the trial would not proceed until after the suspects were tracked down.
Garić explained that checking addresses, which often entailed a flurry of correspondence with the police, might well drag on for over a month. Therefore, it would be a good thing, he said, to have some sort of a streamlined system whereby the courts could check themselves if a suspect was serving a sentence or what his address was.
Defence counsels also fail to attend the trial. They are entitled to do so under the law, but they must notify the court about the reasons for non-attendance.
Ivana Ramić, a judge and Belgrade First Basic Court spokesperson, said such a right was being abused once in a while by defence counsels, at times with the intent to exceed the statute of limitations, particularly in cases with many suspects and lawyers involved.
At times lengthy trials render meaningless the right to damages and presumption of innocence, she added, which may lead to a loss of trust in the judiciary.
President of the Judges’ Association of Serbia Dragana Boljević said judges had an excessive workload, and therefore, it would be hard to expect of a judge with a backlog of 250 or 300 cases to schedule more than three or four trial hearings per case a year.
“Most often a judge is overburdened and has not had the time to prepare the case in question,” said Boljević.
“The judge is not quite sure what to do in a given case and at times he gets frightened by the gravity of the issue at hand so he postpones it a bit, just like any other person would procrastinate if it’s something really hard. It may seem terribly stupid to do so, but it happens because, after all, judges are also just humans.”
Pressure on Judiciary: Intimidated Judges and Prosecutors Listen In Even on Politicians Whispering
Politicians are sending out messages through the media where they pick out culprits in advance and thus bid courts and prosecutors’ offices what to do in specific cases, whilst creating an illusion in public that a case in question has been solved. Judges and prosecutors are already intimidated following the 2009 failed judicial reform.
04 July 2016
By Ivana Jeremić
At a press conference in June 2014 where Serbian prime minister Aleksandar Vučić announced dismissal of four heads of police administrations, he labelled Dragoslav Kosmajac ‘Serbia’s biggest drug-dealer’. This is an individual whose name no one dares utter out loud, said Vučić, and everyone is already familiar with the ties between Kosmajac and police and other services’ officers.
In November the same year, Kosmajac was arrested, but not for drug dealing. He was apprehended on suspicion of tax evasion, abuse of office by incitement, squatting and forging a document. Some media even dubbed him ‘Serb Al Capone’.
In the autumn of 2015, the Higher Public Prosecutor’s Office in Belgrade charged him with illegally appropriating a plot of land
of about 7.5 acres. The indictment was referred back for amendment and then brought again last month, but has still not been confirmed. Another indictment from May this year alleged that Kosmajac evaded tax to the tune of about € 4,000, but it was thrown out in the same month as the First Basic Court in Belgrade found the offence in question to be a possible misdemeanour instead of a criminal one. The First Basic Public Prosecutor’s Office has appealed against this ruling.
Dragoslav Kosmajac case is not the only example in recent years where high-ranking state officials from previous governments and the current one would announce arrests, prejudice the outcomes of investigations and give estimates that a big new breakthrough in fighting corruption and organised crime has been made. For the time being, the results have failed to match the announcements.
Fear Is in the Air
In December 2015 police operation code-named Cutter, 80 persons were arrested, including former agriculture minister Slobodan Milosavljević and his associates, on suspicion of misappropriating about 7.8 million dinars in state funds. By late February all the detainees were released from custody, and the Interior Ministry filed 17 criminal charges against 93 persons by mid-June.
Following this police action, interior minister Nebojša Stefanović said the evidence collected was very solid and comprehensive‘so that it wouldn’t happen again as earlier in the past to have to ponder if there was solid enough evidence, if the suspects were to be released, if charges were to be brought against them or if everything would fall through’.
He told a press conference that sufficient evidence was gathered and that he expected ‘the prosecutors’ offices and competent courts to do their job well as part of the ongoing criminal prosecution, resulting with convictions’.
Minister Stefanović did not grant a request for an interview to the journalist from the Center for Investigative Journalism (CIJS).
Statements by politicians and public officials place a heavy burden on prosecutors’ offices and courts which are to handle cases where suspects have been labelled guilty in public thus creating an illusion that these cases have already been solved.
Whenever an expected outcome fails to come to pass, said the president of the Serbian Judiciary Trade Union, Slađanka Milošević, an opinion is created in public that prosecutors’ offices and courts are corrupt whereas the police have done their job.
The rules stipulate that a prosecutor’s office is to issue instructions to the police to gather evidence, she explained, but the prosecutors may solely act upon what the police have incorporated in criminal charges.
Serbian deputy public prosecutor Goran Ilić said it is a problem when minister announces arrests as this gives an impression of everything being motivated by political reasons even though most often this was not so.
“The moment a prosecutor takes over a case, even the minister has no knowledge, nor he should have any knowledge of the developments in the proceedings, except in the event of the prosecutor’s complaint against a police officer’s failure to act as instructed,” explained Ilić.
In its March 2016 Report on Current State in Judiciary, the Anti-Corruption Council cited as one of the biggest problems the pressure exerted on prosecutors and judges who were receiving through politicians’ statements instructions and warnings as to what they had to do.
Recently published annual report by ombudsman Saša Janković also highlighted ‘a strong public perception, which is difficult to substantiate, that judicial and prosecutorial public offices are under a strong influence of the political authorities’.
To illustrate the point, both the Anti-Corruption Council and ombudsman cited the example of former Belgrade Special Court president Vladimir Vučinić who presided over a trial chamber in the proceedings against Miroslav Mišković. Following his decision to return temporarily the passport to Mišković, Vučinić came under significant pressure which was why he eventually re-established his practice as a lawyer.
Vučinić told CIJS he would take the same decision again adding that he was guided by law and the principle of presumption of innocence in the process. He did not try to hide his disappointment over scant support by his colleagues going on to say that this perhaps was an opportunity to show some integrity.
“I think it’s fear. One should say it in public. Fear is in the air,” said Vučinić.
For days, Miroslav Mišković was the main feature in tabloids’ cover pages and politicians often cited him as an example of the fight against corruption. In June Mišković received an intermediate judgment sentencing him to five years in prison over aiding his son Marko in tax evasion, but was acquitted on charges of corruption, i.e. abuse of office.
Media are carrying uncritically the opinions of strong political figures as to how specific trials should look like, said Miodrag Majić, a judge of the Belgrade Court of Appeals, and the judiciary is sometimes susceptible to this sort of pressure.
“For quite some time, the media have served as chief messengers of the executive authority telling everyone how they should behave, even which decisions to make. (…) If there weren’t susceptible judges and prosecutors in sufficient numbers to receive such instructions, this wouldn’t be so simple”, said Majić.
In Vladimir Vučinić’ s view, public officials have no authority whatsoever to comment on the proceedings which have just started.
“All those statements, particularly if they’re coming from the government’s top brass in this country, certainly may influence anyone coming into contact with a case in question – police, prosecutors’ offices and ultimately courts.”
Nenad Stefanović, a deputy prosecutor with the Third Basic Prosecutor’s Office in Belgrade, explained the pace of some proceedings might even be stepped up due to public pressure.
“The cases where there’s no either public or media pressure, except on the part of lawyers who are indeed in a hurry – well, those are the cases where I don’t know what the outcome will be”, said Stefanović.
Recently CIJS published an investigation showing that a large number of cases were going on for too long and that they were plagued by adjournment of hearings, default of appearance by witnesses and amendments to charges brought. In late 2015, there was a backlog of as many as 583 criminal cases whose trials in Serbia’s courts of first instance lasted for over a decade.
Once the corruption trials eventually come to conclusion, the sentences are for the most part suspended, whereas more than half of all the judgments from 2013 through to 2015 were acquittals and nonsuits.
Politically Eligible People End Up in High Places
Except for using media as a mouthpiece for their targeted messages, politicians are exercising their influence on judiciary through
appointments of judicial office holders. Fallout from the 2009 failed judicial reform, carried out by the then justice minister Snežana Malović, when a large number of judges and prosecutors were given their marching orders, is still being felt.
Majority of judges who were relieved of their public offices at the time by the High Judicial Council’s decision sued the state and most of them were granted damages for the time spent out of work unlawfully.
A criminal charge over alleged abuse of public office in the course of judiciary reform and the estimated damage inflicted of 1.5 billion of dinars was brought against the High Judicial Council members, but was thrown out in December 2014. The total damage inflicted on the state budget has never been established.
Fear of being removed from their offices at any given time by some executive authorities has been creeping into the prosecutors’ organisation and judicial authorities since 2009/2010, said prosecutor Nenad Stefanović.
According to Judiciary Trade Union’s Slađanka Milošević, prosecutors and judges today are intimidated by the failed judicial reform and the problem is no one’s been held accountable for blunders, “They’re so intimidated that they listen in even on politicians whispering.”
Public prosecutors are formally nominated by the Serbian Government, to which a portion of the candidates are put forth by the State Prosecutorial Council, whilst the Parliament ultimately elects them.
Prosecutor Goran Ilić said the election of prosecutors served as a conduit for letting off steam built up by politicians’ pressure on prosecutors’ offices where the appointment procedure was ultimately political in its nature.
“No one who hasn’t ingratiated himself with the current or any other government cannot be appointed to an important position in a public prosecutor’s office,” said Ilić and added that with this in mind other types of direct pressures were not necessary “given that only ‘politically eligible’ people end up in important senior positions”.
Three lawyers earned as much as their 511 colleagues
Out of 1,617 lawyers who acted as duty counsels in Belgrade, only five had more than 100 cases each – this making the total of 1,009 cases. As many as 492 other attorneys, engaged far less frequently than their five colleagues, were duty counsels in the same number of legal cases. Only three lawyers earned more than six million dinars each.
11 October 2016
By Milica Šarić
Within a period of four years, Predrag Šekara defended 362 people in his capacity as duty counsel.
According to the data provided by the courts and the police, he is the most frequently appointed lawyer in the territory of Belgrade. From the beginning of 2012 until the end of 2015 he earned almost 2.5 million Serbian dinars by doing this type of attorney jobs.
Although having the largest number of appointments, Šekara is not the best paid Belgrade duty counsel. Through a state funded defence work, his colleague Goran Jovandić earned approximately 14.7 million dinars during the same period of time.
According to what Jovandić told the journalists of the Centre for Investigative Journalism of Serbia (CIJS), the amount earned was considerably smaller, although he produced no evidence to support this statement.
As per levels of their income as duty counsels, Dragomir Mrdalj with the income of almost 9.7 million dinars and Nemanja Govedarica, with the income of more than 6.9 million dinars, are the next on this list.
Duty counsels are appointed by courts, prosecutor’s offices and police, while the state pays them for their work. These institutions should be recruiting defence counsels as per order given in the list of lawyers of a competent bar association – in this case the Bar Association of Belgrade. CIJS investigation shows employment of a different practice.
For more than a year, the CIJS journalists have been gathering data from Belgrade courts and police on duty counsel defences, for the period between 2012 and 2015. Based on the information obtained, a database including the appointments of and the earnings for 1,617 lawyers has been produced and you can search it HERE. Supreme prosecutor’s office and the majority of basic prosecutor’s offices in Belgrade do not keep separate records on duty counsel defences, therefore their answers have not been included either in the database or in this story.
There are significant differences in the frequency of appointments of duty counsels. Had they been appointed in due order, each one out of 1,617 lawyers would have had nine or 10 such cases. In practice, however, only one third of them – namely 536 duty counsels were appointed 10 times or more. The others defended clients less frequently, while 321 counsels were appointed only once or twice in the course of a four-year period. As opposed to this, five most frequently appointed attorneys had more than 100 cases each.
Regardless of the fact whether they have already been paid or are yet to be paid, 88 lawyers have earned over one million dinars each, however only three of them earning more than six million dinars. These three lawyers together gained earnings of almost 31.3 million dinars, which is the amount earned by their 511 colleagues.
The CIJS contacted the most frequently appointed and the highest paid attorneys. Those of them who agreed to talk said that they had accepted the engagements offered by the institutions because the other lawyers did not want to.
Their colleagues having a significantly smaller number of duty counsel defences explain that things are different in practice. Within a four-year period, Željko Simić was a duty counsel 19 times, earning somewhat more than one million dinars. He said he used to accept these jobs every time he was in Belgrade. He is not satisfied with how this system works, as the order is not being respected: “We expect to be called when it is our turn and we also expect to receive the money on time“.
Omer Ćehović, a lawyer and President of the Association for Rule of Law and Social Justice, believes to have been called only when nobody else wanted to do the job – only three times in the course of the last 10 years. The first time they called him at night, the second time he was supposed to cover duty hours from Friday evening until Saturday morning, while the last time they called him was prior to Serbia – USA basketball finals at the Olympic Games this year.
According to Slobodan Šoškić, President of Belgrade Bar Association, it is on purpose that the lawyers are engaged without following due order, while the payments are also being arranged: “If you stick to the order, those enormous earnings for duty counsel defences can never be made by a single lawyer“.
However, according to his words, the bar association does not have the capacity to solve these problems which should actually be solved by those appointing the lawyers.
Called by courts and police stations because they lived close by
For the purposes of legal hearing, Criminal Procedure Code binds the institutions to assign duty counsels to arrested and detained persons. Those charged by prosecutor’s offices and courts for the crimes punishable by imprisonment for eight years or more (grand larcenies, rapes, murders, serious abuse of official authority, etc) must have defence counsels.
Police and judicial institutions call those attorneys listed in the lawyers’ directory who have applied for duty counsel positions, this directory being submitted by the bar association. The attorneys are listed in alphabetical order and should be called accordingly.
With regard to other institutions for which the CIJS has obtained the data, Ministry of Internal Affairs leads in the number of appointments (6,151 lawyers) and also in the amounts of the fees paid for duty counsel defences (164.4 million dinars).
At the police station in the suburban settlement of Grocka, Predrag Šekara was appointed duty counsel in 343 out of 362 such cases he overall had. He used to represent as many as four arrested people in a single day in Belgrade. He did not want to answer the questions of the CIJS journalists to explain this number of appointments.
According to the number of duty counsel defences, spouses Milorad and Snežana Matejić won the second, namely the fourth place. Milorad was appointed 259 times, of which 170 cases took place at the police station in Barajevo. In her capacity as duty counsel, Snežana had 130 defences, also mostly in Barajevo.
Milorad Matejić says that the two of them are the only ones who agree to come to the police station inBarajevo and defend the detained.
“If the police stop working, it means that we have lost everything. Having in mind that I also serve as a lawyer for the folks (…) people are addressing me and it is my wish to put in more effort for my native village“, explains Matejić, adding that he used to get up at two or three o’clock in the morning to do the job.
Within a total of 259 appointments in Barajevo during a four-year period, the Matejić family had 251 appointments. In their letter to the CIJS, the representatives of this police station said that, in order to be efficient and observe the time limits prescribed by law, they used to cooperate with a limited number of lawyers. Having in mind that Barajevo is far from Belgrade, few attorneys wanted to defend clients in this suburban settlement.
In the course of a four-year period Milica Vlahović had 139 cases as duty counsel, 114 of them at the police station in Lazarevac – vis a vis her lawyer’s office.
“Nobody wanted to go during the night, they would come to my place and beg me to come to the police station as the hearing cannot be finished without a lawyer (…) I was literally doing them a favour“, says Vlahović. Srećko Kosanović, professor at the Union University Faculty of Law, says that it is not a good solution to appoint attorneys living in a specific area. They may be in the neighbourhood and may be able to come in cases of emergency, but not all the cases are like that. He adds that, when applying to be duty counsels, the lawyers have accepted this type of commitment, aware that there is a unique list for the entire city. Therefore, it is possible that some of them do want to go to Barajevo and can get there in a rather short I would always come very quickly
All the lawyers for whom the CIJS gathered data earned a total of 446.8 million dinars, although some of this income relates to defences prior to 2012. In the past, the State was slow in paying duty counsels, sometimes these payments were years overdue, which is why many of them filed lawsuits.
This data does not include data of the Higher Court which did not provide information on individual earnings. However, they did provide the aggregate amount – during four years, they paid duty counsels almost 682.5 million dinars, more than all the other institutions together. Due to the severity of the criminal offences it prosecutes, the Higher Court pays higher lawyer fees than the other institutions.
The rate according to which state appointed lawyer’s fees are calculated is 50% lower than the usual lawyer’s rates in criminal proceedings. Lawyer’s fees are payable after concluding representation duties.
Dragomir Mrdalj is the second highest paid attorney, and the fifth most frequently appointed attorney. He lives near the Palace of Justice, the seat of several Belgrade prosecutor’s offices and courts – including the First Basic Court. Of the total of 119 duty counsel duties performed, Mrdalj was appointed in this court 67 times, and in the course of 2013 in some instances he was called to court several times during one day. The Court justified this with there being an immediate need for a defence counsel as the hearing was in progress, and in several of these cases he was engaged because “he was already in the building”.
Mrdalj explains that he was frequently called to court because he lives close by and because he had no problem with acting in his capacity even at night, regardless of whether it was raining or snowing: “I was someone who was just starting out and I never refused anything. I was called by the court administration probably because they knew that they could count on me. (…) I would always come very quickly”.
He adds that as a young lawyer (he is 37 now) he asked the courts to appoint him duty counsel in order to gain experience. Željko Simić is only two years older than Mrdalj, but he had far less duty counsel defences – of the total of 19, five were before the First Basic Court. The differences in appointment of lawyers are greater in this court than in the other two Belgrade Basic Courts.
Ivana Ramić, a judge and spokesperson of the First Basic Court in Belgrade, says that it is possible that some attorneys get the impression that they are overlooked, but that fact of the matter is that they couldn’t be reached because the court doesn’t always have up-to-date lawyer contact information. She adds that in some cases the court retains the defence counsel appointed by the prosecutor’s office during the investigation proceedings as they are acquainted with the case from the beginning.
Calling lawyers to court in order has its flaws
Even if lawyers were called by the alphabetic order, such a system is not ideal, said some of the people CIJS talked to. If the suspect is being prosecuted for murder, and the next on the list is a lawyer specializing in theft, the suspect might be at a disadvantage.
„You wind up with a lawyer who has little knowledge of the matter, with no experience, no insight into the specific field of criminal activity. (…) The interest to ensure an efficient defence surpasses the need to blindly respect the order of call “, said President of the Bar Association of Belgrade Slobodan Šoškić.
Judge Ivana Ramić explains that such circumstances could be damaging to suspects, but this is something the Bar Association should look into, as the courts have no insight into the field of specialization of each attorney.
Some of the people the CIJS talked to state that the system is now a little better regulated than it was before. Nevertheless, Željko Simić says that regulations should be amended as the same problems persist for years.
Professor Srećko Kosanović proposes as a solution maintaining a central register from which lawyers would be called, or at least a follow-up of appointments and payments. Another option is to have the State employ a small number of competent attorneys who would be required to respond when called, providing regular income for them. According to the lawyer Omer Ćehović, rigorous penalties should be introduced for failure to call lawyers by the order.
Football, Business and Politics: New Management Agency Takes Over Most Talented Partizan Players
Within little less than two years since its inception, the International Sports Office has succeeded in becoming the management agent of some of the most promising FC Partizan players. Its owners are Branko Radovanović and Dejan Grgić, who started collaboration with FC Partizan thanks to the signing of a contract with a young talented player Dušan Vlahović. On top of this, Grgić is also a friend of the Serbian Government’s secretary general and former club official Novak Nedić.
18 November 2016
By Ivana Jeremić
It was the 70th minute of the Serbian football super league match between FC Partizan and OFK Beograd when the referee stopped the game. In a part of the football pitch with substitutes benches, a player with number 9 on his back was getting ready to go onto the field. As soon as he stepped onto the grass of the stadium in Vračar, he went down in history as Partizan’s youngest debutant ever.
Dušan Vlahović was a little more than 16 at the time. Ever since, the media have been referring to him as a player who is bound to leave FC Partizan. Names of interested parties, among them the greats of European football, keep flashing by in headlines, whilst his price tag keeps rising. Nothing out of the ordinary for the Serbian football scene where the survival of clubs and satisfying the appetites of managers and players depend directly on their sales. For the most part, the exact transfer figures remain under wraps, but more often than not we are talking here about millions of euros.
This particular case stands out since the manager of this young football player does not bear a name which would be well-known to the fans. Vlahović, as a client, is represented by the International Sports Office player management agency which was established in January 2015. Within only two weeks after its inception, Vlahović signed a professional contract with Partizan.
Former player of Serbian and foreign football clubs Branko Radovanović and his business partner Dejan Grgić are the agency owners. Up until last year their names had not come up in public in connection to sales of football players.
An investigation of the Centre for Investigative Journalism of Serbia (CIJS) shows that the International Sports Office sprang into action at a point when a faction close to the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), including Vojislav Nedić, a lawyer and the father of the Serbian Government’s secretary general Novak Nedić, took over a leading role at FC Partizan.
According to CIJS interviewees, Dejan Grgić and Novak Nedić are friends. In addition, in 2007, Grgić replaced Novak’s mother Branislava as the head of branch office of an off-shore company incorporated in Delaware, U.S.
In the past, criminal charges of aggravated robbery had been brought against Grgić, but following several amendments to the charges filed, the prosecutor’s office in Kruševac dropped the prosecution against him declaring that there was no evidence of the criminal offence having been committed. Earlier Grgić had also been labelled in the media as a member of one of the Belgrade criminal groups, the so-called Dorćol Gang, but he flatly denied that this was so.
One Brother – A Coach, Another – A Scout
In a short space of time the International Sports Office agency has managed to attract some of the biggest talents from FC Partizan’s youth school, as well as one of the best FC Partizan’s players last season Aboubakar Oumarou, now playing for Chinese FC Shenzhen.
On its web site, the International Sports Office describes itself as “a sports management and consulting agency” which manages the careers of “well-established professional players, as well as young promising players with great future in football”.
Miloš Vazura, FC Partizan general manager, said that Novak Nedić, the Serbian Government’s secretary general and former club official, introduced him to Radovanović and Grgić. According to Vazura, he knew Grgić as Nedić’s friend.
Vazura explained that they struck a deal with FC Partizan because they managed to sign up the best young player – Vlahović.
This signing spread the news among parents which was why they gained access to other players as well.
“They didn’t ask for any money when Aboubakar was brought, which was rare,” said Vazura. “And we thanked them for it”.
He went on to say that he was not interested in who was friends with whom. It only mattered to him that the money stayed in FC Partizan’s cash box and that it was players’ concern to pick their agent.
Some of Vlahović’s peers from FC Partizan youth branch are also the International Sports Officeclients, and the agency also manages this season’s newcomer – forward Uroš Đurđević.
Most of these players played in FC Partizan under-15 football squad. The coach of these boys, born in 2000, was Milan Ristić, brother of Darko Ristić, who was named on the International Sports Officeweb site as the agency’s scout until recently, but is now referred to as a director.
Previously, Darko Ristić used to work as a PR for FC Voždovac, and Milan Ristić is currently a coach of FC Partizan subsidiary – FC Teleoptik.
According to FC Partizan general manager Mr. Vazura, Ristić brothers’ family connections were not a problem, going on to say that Milan was achieving good results as a coach.
Branko Radovanović, Dejan Grgić and Darko Ristić did not respond to the CIJS requests for an interview.
Grgić and Branislava Nedić as Off-Shore Company Reps
International Sports Office agency’s co-owner Dejan Grgić is not particularly well-known to the public in Serbia, or in the world of football for that matter. Officially, he is a co-owner of an organic food trading company and the Serbian Business Registers Agency’s data also show previous business links with the Nedić family.
Dominus LLC was established on the 7th of December 2006 in the U.S. state of Delaware, a well-known offshore territory. Excerpts from the local business register point to Vesna Nikolić from Slovenia as the company founder. In January 2007, this company’s branch office opened in Belgrade, with Branislava Nedić, the mother of the Serbian Government’s secretary general Novak Nedić, as its legal representative. Novak’s name was on one of the payment slips whereby an administrative fee for thiscompany was paid to the Serbian Business Registers Agency.
Already in April 2007, it was Dejan Grgić who replaced Branislava as the Dominus LLC legal representative, and on the very same day the address of the company’s headquarters was changed from Prespanska Street to Pavle Pap Street (now Jelisaveta Načić Street). Prespanska Street was the address which Branislava Nedić registered when setting up the company, whilst Novak Nedić declared the same address as a candidate on the Serbian Progressive Party-led coalition list running in the 2012 Zvezdara municipality local election.
The company’s branch office was closed in November 2011.
Until April 2014, Novak Nedić had been an FC Partizan management board member. Even though he submitted his resignation at the time, the media often labelled him as a man of great influence at the club. In October last year, at the FC Partizan 70th anniversary celebration, Novak took centre stage in the main hall of the National Theatre. His best man, Miloš Vazura, has been the football club general manager since 2014, but early this year they parted ways.
Novak’s father, lawyer Vojislav Nedić, used to be a vice-president and, until recently, a member of the club’s working group. He came to FC Partizan in late 2014, following a dismissal of the then club management with Dragan Đurić and senior Socialist whilst Novak has served two terms in office as the Serbian Government’s secretary general. Novak and Vojislav Nedić declined to speak to the CIJS journalists.
Bus Driver Robbery Charges
In the past, the name of Dejan Grgić was not associated with football, but it did emerge in the media in October 2007 when he drove injured Marko Filipović a.k.a. Taki to a hospital. Soon after, Filipović, who was reported to have been a Dorćol Gang member, succumbed to his injuries sustained in a blast of a bomb planted beneath his Mercedes driver’s seat. In the aftermath of the bomb blast, the then interior minister Dragan Jočić said Filipović was a member of a gang involved in racketeering and robberies.
State Shows No Interest in Fighting Corruption
The enactment of a new bill on the Anti-Corruption Agency, stipulating broader competencies to be vested in this institution, has fallen behind schedule for over two years. Independent institutions exposing corruption lack the support of the highest echelons of power. Officials are taking no notice of the Anti-Corruption Agency’s decisions whilst the government is failing to take into consideration the Anti-Corruption Council’s reports.
26 May 2016
By Anđela Milivojević
From 2012 through to 2014, the municipality of Babušnica made payments to the tune of over RSD 4 million to Juginženjering company, whose majority owner first was mayor Saša Stamenković, and later on his brother Srđan. As a local official, Stamenković was issuing payment orders in favour of the said company, failing in the process to notify the Municipal Assembly and the Anti-Corruption Agency about his potential conflict of interest.
However, acting upon a report filed, the Agency brought proceedings against Stamenković and subsequently found that “both he and the related parties benefited from this scheme thereby compromising the trust of the citizens in respect of his conscientious and accountable discharging of public office duties”. He was penalised by making public recommendation to be relieved of his post in November 2015.
Stamenković has carried on as Babušnica mayor since the municipal assembly failed on three occasions to get quorum required to vote on a motion to relieve him of his post even though Stamenković himself had filed the motion for his resignation. Thus, on 14 April this year, the municipal assembly meeting started with 35 councillors in attendance out of a total of 37.
Following a debate on Stamenković’s resignation, only 6 councillors remained in attendance, shrinking further to 4 councillors present after a fifteen-minute break, which was eventually not enough to pass a decision. A similar scenario played out at the assembly meetings on 22 April and 5 May, respectively.
This is just one of dozens of cases in which the Anti-Corruption Agency has found officials holding public office to be in a conflict of interest and issued recommendations to relieve them of their posts, but which have not been followed through in practice.
“Such actions of individual public bodies give political will precedence over the rule of law,” says Tatjana Babić, the Anti-Corruption Agency director. “If a political majority’s own decisions are taking primacy over legal solutions, then such a majority may well push through anything just because they are in the majority.”
Mr. Stamenković has not responded to requests of the Center for Investigative Journalism of Serbia (CIJS) for an interview. The Agency has also filed criminal charges against him on suspicion of abuse of office.
The enactment of a new bill on the Anti-Corruption Agency, which might stipulate broader competencies to be vested in this institution, including binding decisions on dismissal of politicians from their positions, has fallen behind schedule for over two years. Nonetheless, the deadlines have been extended at least three times, hence the passage of the bill will have to wait for the first session of the new parliament.
Radomir Ilić, state secretary with the Ministry of Justice, said the quality of legislation mattered more than deadlines, “It would be better if both the Agency and the Ministry backed this bill 100%, and then there would be no flaws whatsoever in its enforcement.”
Essential anti-corruption strategic documents, such as National Strategy and Anti-Corruption Action Plan, are not being implemented consistently, said Nemanja Nenadić, Transparency Serbia programming director. He went on to say no one was held to account for a failure to meet the set deadlines and obligations, including the adoption of the new Anti-Corruption Agency bill.
Stricter Controls for Public Officials
One of the messages most often put across to public in the past two terms in office of the Serbian Government was that the talk about fighting corruption amounted to much more than just paying lip service to it. The government with Ivica Dačić at its helm passed the 2013-2018 National Anti-Corruption Strategy along with an action plan for its implementation.
The Strategy stipulated the passage of amendments to the law on Anti-Corruption Agency, which, in its capacity as an independent body, controls the financing of political parties, personal property of public officials, their private businesses and conflict of interest that may arise whilst holding public office.
As far back as 2013 the Ministry of Justice was tasked with working on a draft law for 12 months and submitting it to the government for consideration. The one-year deadline expired in mid-2014 without even a working group to start drafting the bill having been formed.
With new bill falling behind schedule, in July 2014 the Agency launched an initiative with the Justice Ministry to pass a new bill and put forward a blueprint after which the working group might model the draft law.
Problems encountered whilst operating under the existing law prompted the Agency to suggest its recommendations to dismiss public officials from their posts should become mandatory instead of non-binding. Thus, public officials would not be able to hold on to their posts if the Agency found they were in a conflict of interest or holding several public offices.
“If a city council refuses to dismiss a public official three times, each time another public official, whom have been found to be in a conflict of interest, without any explanation…, then you have to propose that your recommendation become binding instead of having a recommendation merely calling on another body to do its job,” Babić told CIJS.
In addition, the Agency sought to introduce checks of personal assets of not only public officials’ spouses and their underage children, but also their parents and adult children. Accuracy of data in personal income and property statements would also be
checked and the banks would be under an obligation to present information on personal accounts and businesses of public officials.
“Everything we’ve suggested is intended to enhance our efficiency in combating and preventing corruption and protecting public interest,” said Babić.
According to Radomir Ilić, Justice Ministry state secretary, the Ministry agrees with regard to the manner of defining public officials’ conflict of interest, personal property sheets and access to databases.
There is a disagreement though over the binding character of the Agency’s rulings, said Ilić, as such a proposal would empower the Agency to infringe on the political system and create a possibility for triggering a government crisis in the event of a dismissal of a cabinet minister. He went on to say it was indeed a problem that the recommendations for dismissals had not been acted upon so far at all.
Dragging Feet over New Law
In September 2014, Justice Minister Nikola Selaković was voicing his dissatisfaction with the implementation of measures from the Strategy’s Action Plan going on to say that “there are many anti-corruption bodies in Serbia, but no results nevertheless”.
The situation was further complicated by the proceedings brought a month later by the Agency against Selaković on account of his conflict of interest as he has been involved in the election of an advisor from the Justice Ministry as a judge and of another as a prosecutor. Thereafter, due to this case which has not yet been brought to a conclusion, the Minister has been criticising in public the work of the Agency.
In late 2014, the Justice Ministry drafted an action plan for Chapter 23 of the EU membership negotiations. Once again the deadline for the passage of the new law was extended to the first quarter of 2015.
In January 2015, Minister Selaković took a decision to set up a new draft law working group, including representatives of the Agency and the Anti-Corruption Council, Ministry of Justice, Belgrade Misdemeanour Court, Public Prosecutor’s Office and Transparency Serbia.
This body held over 20 meetings in the course of 2015, but no bill has yet been finalised to be tested in a public debate. A new extended deadline for the adoption of the new bill was set in December 2015 by the Serbian Government’s Annual Plan stipulating the completion of the bill by June 2016.
In the final version of the Chapter 23 Action Plan for accession to the European Union from April 2016, the deadline was once again extended and set for the second half of this year.
Radomir Ilić of the Justice Ministry said the Agency director was trusted with chairing the working group, hence the ministry was not solely responsible for the slow pace of the working group.
Agency director Babić said the working group faced constraints from the beginning, above all, due to its size – there were as many as 17 members, hence the meetings were often cancelled for lack of quorum.
Nemanja Nenadić, also a working group member, said one of the reasons for delays stemmed from the general attitude of the executive branch of government towards independent bodies, including the Agency, “which has evolved from support for them 4-5 years ago into their treatment as enemies”.
Adoption of the new law is a sensitive issue, explained Nenadić, as it is hard to come up with solutions which would not send shock waves through the entire system. Therefore, he went on, many reasons could be found for foot-dragging, but such delays were directly precipitated by reasons which were political in their nature and by some sort of a stand-off.
The European Commission’s 2015 Serbia Progress Report also highlighted the issue of major delays in amending the Anti-Corruption Agency Act. Fighting corruption received one of the poorest marks in the report and the adoption of a new Anti-Corruption Agency law was referred to as something that Serbia needed to do as soon as possible.
No One Needs Council Reports
The Anti-Corruption Agency is not the only anti-corruption body facing problems in its work and being given the cold shoulder by the institutions. Since its inception in 2001, the Anti-Corruption Council has been constantly alerting the authorities to corruption in various walks of life and in institutions, but their reports are not promptly acted upon, whilst their appeals fall on deaf ears in the government.
Just in 2015 the Council compiled six reports on pressures and ownership in the media, public sector advertising, Serbia
Railways business operation, procurement of electric meters by the Ministry of Mining and Energy, unlawful privatisation proceedings and Dipos doo Belgrade business operation, respectively.
“There’s been no reaction to any of the reports… Never has the prime minister called us, and yet we’ve asked for meetings countless times (…) As if we didn’t exist, as if he couldn’t care less about our work,” said Vasilić.
For almost two years already the Council has been operating without some of its members as the Government is not responding to its repeated requests for filling the vacant posts.
“One may claim with certainty that the failure to fill the vacancies in the Council is a direct consequence of the lack of support for these institutions, i.e. the authorities’ backlash against their critical remarks,” said Nenadić.
The Council’s reports on twenty-four contentious privatisation cases and the sale of state-owned companies were made a condition for Serbia’s accession to the EU in 2011 and the last two governments both pledged these cases would be resolved soon.
However, according to the CIJS investigation in 2015, out of a total 24 cases, not a single judgment was handed down, whereas trials were set in motion in only five cases. In the meantime, one year on, draft charges in another case have been filed with the Higher Prosecutor’s Office in Belgrade, whereas other cases are stranded in the investigation phase.