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Branislav Švonja Arrested

10. Mar 2017.
Foto: Medija centar
Last year Švonja was appointed Acting Manager of the Provincial Fund for Refugees, while the company he had founded - Nacionalni privredni operater – was making millions by selling information which is free otherwise, which CINS wrote about on several occasions. Švonja was previously convicted for purchase of votes.

Branislav Švonja, Acting Manager of the Provincial Fund for refugees, exiled, and displaced persons, was arrested last night within the Pluton 2 operation, having been searched for by the police for several days. Švonja was arrested because of operations of Nacionalni privredni operater, company which he had founded.

Švonja was appointed to the position of the Fund manager on 27 July 2016; Serbian Center for Investigative Journalism (CINS) wrote about his operations on several occasions.

Dušan Šaponja, formerly the responsible person within the company Nacionalni privredni operater was also arrested on Monday within the Pluton 2 operation for suspicion that in the period from August 2014 to March 2016, together with Branislav Švonja, he had committed the criminal offence of fraud in extended duration.

It is suspected that they were presenting themselves as representatives of the Ministry of economy, Ministry of health, National Bank of Serbia, and Serbian Chamber of Commerce. Thus they deceived responsible persons from 34 legal entities to take allegedly free USB sticks with a Package of personal data on legal entities of the Republic of Serbia, and sign and seal the document on acceptance of free copies.

Several months later, the suspects would file the document with an invoice as the contract, threatening with a lawsuit; thus, to the detriment of their assets, the injured legal entities instituted payments to the account of the Nacionalni privredni operater Company at the total amount of 11.4 million dinars.

As many as 100 persons were arrested in operations Pluton 1 and 2, while 44 criminal charges were filed for suspicion of their having committed a range of corruptive offences.

Igor Mirović, President of the Provincial Government, says in his comment of Švonja’s arrest to CINS:

“We will take all measures we are obliged to take by law, and will inform the public to that extent. No one is alleviated of responsibility, and we shall act as the Provincial government.”

Employees of the Fund for refugees did not want to comment this case for CINS.


Operations of the Nacionalni privredni operater


In July 2014, Švonja founded the company Nacionalni privredni operater, which is located at the same address in Novi Sad as another company of his – SB Company – representative of the South Korean car manufacturer Kia, which is, at the same time, the address of the head office of Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), which he is the president of.

According to CINS research, in the course of previous years, Nacionalni privredni operater was selling data otherwise freely available on the Internet to state institutions, local self-government units, and public and private companies throughout Serbia.

Company and institution employees and managers say they were offered data by Nacionalni privredni operater, merely being requested to sign the acceptance note. The sales agents would say they represented state institutions, and they would file invoices several months later. Believing to be defrauded, numerous entities filed criminal charges against them later.

Thus, the City of Belgrade paid 294,000 dinars for USB sticks with 15 types of data, all of which but one may be found on the Internet, free of charge. Agency for business registers, disposes of almost all such information which it may distribute to state bodies and local self-government units free of charge.

According to data from APR, on 26 October 2016 Branislav Švonja was replaced as the company owner by Slobodan Švonja whose other company – Privredni propisi – performs the same operations as Nacionalni privredni operater. One month before, Slobodan had also replaced Branislav as the manager of Nacionalni privredni operater.

From its establishment in July 2014 till the end of 2015, the company earned the income of almost 11 million dinars, as indicated by financial reports of Agency for business registers (APR). According to the data of the Treasury, from its establishment to April 2016, Nacionalni privredni operater was paid more than 4.2 million dinars by budgetary beneficiaries, among which the City of Belgrade, Provincial Secretariat for health, social policy, and demographics, as well as 11 health institutions. The institutions which responded to requests of CINS journalists had been paying the company for data on legal entities.

By mid-March 2016, as many as 64 lawsuits featuring Nacionalni privredni operater were launched before the Commercial court in Belgrade. Some of them were launched by the company itself, for the purpose of collection of the total amount of 7.6 million dinars, while others were launched by clients who believed to have been defrauded and wanted to contest the claims.

The companies who instituted lawsuits were, to name but a few: Elektromreže Srbije, Zavod za udžbenike, KBC Bežanijska kosa, Telekom Srbije, Knjaz Miloš, Infostan, etc.

The account of the Nacionalni privredni operater has been blocked since 8 April 2016, while its debt currently amounts to 553,204 dinars.


Vote buying


A lawsuit for cancellation of the contract with Nacionalni privredni operater was also filed by the Hidroelektrane Đerdap Company; the value of the dispute amounted to a million dinars. According to statements of the prosecution, Dušan Oluić, employee with Nacionalni privredni operater, delivered eight packages to responsible persons in the company, asking them only to sign acceptance.

During the court proceedings, Oluić denied that he had introduced himself as a person from the Ministry of economy. Dušan Šaponja, the then-manager of Nacionalni privredni operater, also took the stand and testified in court; however, the court assessed the two statements as “contradictory and confusing”, as if they had been “prepared and calculated to help avoid guilty verdict”.

The court accepted testimonies of officials of Hidroelektrana Đerdap and annulled the contracts, while the Commercial Court of Appeals confirmed the verdict on 21 January 2016 .

Švonja had been involved in such operations for a long time. Back in 2011, CINS wrote about the companies founded by him and his associate Dušan Oluić in Serbia and other countries in the region, which were earning money in the same way as Nacionalni privredni operater.

In the end of 2015, Švonja was legally convicted of having purchased votes at local elections in the municipality of Odžaci. With another individual, he organized a network of people who offered citizens 1,000 or 2,000 dinars, as well as consumer goods, to vote for SDS at the elections held on 15 December 2013.

At these elections, SDS won two out of 27 mandates. Švonja was pronounced a fine at the amount of 200,000 dinars which he was to pay in 12 equal monthly installments starting from January 2016.

Švonja also pursued politics in Croatia. At the local elections in Zadar County in 2013, Branislav Švonja and Dušan Oluić were on the electoral slate of the Democratic Party of Serbs. Slobodan Švonja, owner of Privredni propisi, company performing similar operations as Nacionalni privredni operater, also appeared as a candidate on the same list of candidates.

The story has been produced under an EU funded grant, awarded in the Media Programme 2014. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of the Center for Investigative Journalism of Serbia and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the EU.

 


The story has been produced under an EU funded grant, awarded in the Media Programme 2014. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of the Center for Investigative Journalism of Serbia and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the EU.

  

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