Anti-Corruption Agency conducted proceedings against one in five out of a total of 250 members of the new convocation of the Serbian National Assembly. Among these 51 MPs, the majority were from the ranks of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) – 13, the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) – 9 and Social Democrat Party of Serbia (SDP) – 4.
Three MPs were from the Democratic Party (DS), including the incumbent party president Bojan Pajtić. The Agency issued a warning to Pajtić over his failure to declare timely his public office.
Pajtić did not respond to requests for an interview from the Center for Investigative Journalism of Serbia (CINS).
Out of 51 MPs, the Agency conducted proceedings against 43 legislators on suspicion of having failed to submit property and revenue declarations or that they deliberately concealed their assets, whereas another four MPs allegedly failed to declare either having entered or left a public office.
Other proceedings were brought against public officials on suspicion of failure to step aside from management positions in their own companies, of accepting gifts, of failing to transfer managerial rights and of discharging general manager’s duties in a privately owned company for the duration of their term in public office.
Database on Proceedings Against Public Officials
For the past six months, in order to narrow down the total number of MPs in breach of the law, CINS journalists have gathered data on almost 2,000 public officials against whom the Agency has brought proceedings since its inception. Database with all the proceedings can be searched on this link.
The Agency institutes the proceedings against a public official suspected of breaching the Anti-Corruption Agency Act. If the alleged infringement is corroborated, the Agency may issue a warning to the officials in question, a public recommendation for their dismissal or an instruction to publish the information that the law has been breached.
In the event of suspicion that a more serious infringement of the regulations or a criminal offence has occurred, the Agency files a motion to commence misdemeanour proceedings or criminal charges in courts and with prosecutors’ offices.
Misdemeanour proceedings conducted against newly elected MPs have resulted for the most part in minimum penalties. In five cases, the Agency also brought criminal charges.
One of the officials against whom the Agency filed misdemeanour charges in mid-2013 was Veroljub Arsić, an MP from the Serbian Progressive Party’s caucus in the new parliament. The Agency established that Arsić was a general manager in his company Vecko, based in Požarevac, at the same time whilst serving his previous term of office as an MP in the Serbian parliament.
For over a year, Požarevac Misdemeanour Court was trying to induce Arsić to come to a hearing. Court summonses were being sent to his postal address, and even delivered to his father, but Arsić never attended the scheduled hearings. On two occasions he cited business trips and a reception for a senior foreign delegation, respectively, as a reason for his absence.
In February 2015, the court handed down a minimum penalty for such a misdemeanour offence – a 50.000 dinars fine, whereas the Agency instructed that its decision stating a violation of law is to be made public.
Arsić said he could not appear in the court due to his prior engagements going on to say that his case was all about a violation of legal formalities because of an oversight on his part and resulting in no harm to anyone whatsoever. Given their positions and the need to set an example for the citizens, public officials must do more to abide by the law, Arsić added.
Five Criminal Charges
Amongst other things, the Anti-Corruption Agency monitors and penalises public officials. Namely, the Agency checks if they are in a conflict of interest, if they have declared their property, etc. When graver violations of law occur, e.g. if there is a suspicion that some public official has had an intent to conceal his property, the Agency may also bring criminal charges. This was what has actually happened with five MPs in the new parliament.
The cases of Čedomir Jovanović and Dušan Bajatović have been closed, but the proceedings against Goran Ješić, Slavica Đukić Dejanović and Veroljub Stevanović are still under way.
The Agency handed over the copies of criminal charges to CINS, but almost all the information contained therein was blacked out, hence there were no additional details accessible even in the cases which had already been closed.
A charge against Čedomir Jovanović, the Liberal Democrat Party (LDP) leader, was dismissed as the First Basic Prosecutor’s Office in Belgrade could not establish his intent to conceal his property. Jovanović’s tally also included a misdemeanour charge for his failure to transfer management rights in a company to another person, however, the proceedings were suspended as the statute of limitations had occured.
Dušan Bajatović did not respond to CINS journalists’ request for comment by the time of publication of this article.
Photo: Media Centre
Dušan Bajatović, Srbijagas director and SPS vice-president, was acquitted after having struck a plea bargain with Novi Sad Prosecutor’s Office to make a payment of 200,000 dinars for humanitarian purposes.
By the time of publication of this article, Jovanović and Bajatović did not respond to a request for comment on their respective cases to CINS journalists.
Kragujevac Appellate Public Prosecutor’s Office notified CINS that the local Basic Public Prosecutor’s Office was running cases against a member of the Democratic Party (DS) parliamentary caucus, Veroljub Stevanović, and SPS vice-president, Slavica Đukić-Dejanović, respectively.
According to their records, the hearing of ex-Kragujevac mayor Veroljub Stevanović was postponed several times over irregular delivery of court summons, and the new hearing was scheduled for the 13th of June this year.
Stevanović said he did not show up for that hearing either as he was away adding that everything would be postponed for another day. When CINS journalists called him, he did not say much about the criminal charge levelled against him. And then he did not answer the calls despite an agreement to talk with journalists later.
In the Đukić Dejanović’s case, evidence is currently being presented to establish if there are revenues and property which she has failed to declare despite the obligation to do it under the Anti-Corruption Agency Act.
In a statement for CINS, she said the problem was with an apartment she had sold before she became a public official, hence she thought there was no need to declare it.
“I fully agree the information about public officials and their property, everything, should be made available to the public, that the Agency should do its job, but with regard to some illogical things, I think it would be fairer if the Agency first sought to confirm the truth,” said Đukić Dejanović.
Goran Ješić, a DS MP, said he was in breach of the law having failed to declare his property accurately, but he did not think such an infraction warranted a criminal charge but a misdemeanour one instead. In 2013 an earlier misdemeanour charge had been brought against him over his failure to declare property on time, but it was dismissed having exceeded the statute of limitations.
Almost all public officials whom CINS contacted agreed the Agency’s work was important, but went on to say no serious violations occurred in their respective cases.
Minimum Fines for Misdemeanour Offences
In almost all cases before misdemeanour courts, the levied fines hovered around the legal minimum or even dipped below it. Thus, in 29 cases resulting in a judgment, fourteen officials were fined with 50,000 dinars, whilst in another three cases the fine amounted to 20,000 dinars. A warning was issued to public officials four times, and another eight cases were dismissed.
I didn’t have time, trust me on this, to deal with the law; none of us have time to deal with the law
Goran Knežević, former minister of agriculture, forestry and water management and DS party official, but now, though, an SNS MP, did not declare on time 1.34 million dinars in income made as a member of the Board of Directors with Petroleum Industry of Serbia (NIS).
The Misdemeanour Court in Belgrade handed down its judgment in first instance issuing a warning to Knežević, but the appellate court overturned the verdict, hence he had to pay the minimum penalty – a fine to the tune of 50,000 dinars.
Knežević said he acknowledged the penalty adding that there was nothing contentious about it. He was late with his declaration as, in his own words, “I didn’t have time, trust me on this, to deal with the law; none of us have time to deal with the law”.
“Had someone alerted us, we’d probably have done it and sorted it out in time, so I’d say, in principle, at issue here is a delay, but there was nothing malicious about it as I’ve declared in the meantime all my income and paid all the taxes due, therefore there’s nothing contentious about it,” explained Knežević.
An SPS official Branko Ružić fared the same in court as Knežević. In the past he had already served as an MP and held a post as a cabinet minister. Belgrade Misdemeanour Court fined him as he failed to submit on time his property and income sheet.
HERE you may look up a list of all the deputies in the National Assembly against whom the Agency has brought proceedings.