In April this year, four months after the start of vaccination in Serbia, the Belgrade Emergency Situations Headquarters ordered the Secretariat for Defense, Emergency Situations, Communications and Coordination of Public Relations of the City of Belgrade to call urgent procurement. The Headquarters was looking for a company that would design a campaign aimed at getting the citizens of Belgrade to receive the vaccine. By April 21, more than 560,000 citizens had been vaccinated, i.e. just under a third of the total number of vaccinated people in the country.
The procurement procedure was called two months later, in June, but kept its “urgency” and so not everyone could apply for the procedure, rather only the companies invited by the Secretariat.
According to the documents the Center for Investigative Journalism of Serbia (CINS) had access to, invitations were sent to Belgrade-based company Moskito ADV, Studium Animation Studio and Kronomedia, the company that publishes a magazine on luxury watches and goods called Satovi i Nakit (Watches and Jewelry).
The job, worth 960,000 dinars, was awarded only in August to Moskito ADV, which produces video content and animation. This company is linked to the ruling Serbian Progressive Party, CINS has learned. Since 2008, Moskito has been cooperating with the Progressives, making election campaign spots and propaganda videos.
One of the recent works by this company is a TV series based on a book about Belgrade by Goran Vesić, deputy mayor of the Serbian capital. Vesić is also one of the deputies of the commander of the City Emergency Situations Headquarters, which issued the order for urgent procurement, signed by Mayor Zoran Radojičić.
Moskito owner Srđan Vasić openly supports the Serbian Progressive Party and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić on social networks, attends party gatherings and mocks the opposition.
In a statement to CINS, Vasić did not explain what the job entails and what has been done so far.
“The complex epidemiological situation and a confidentiality agreement do not give me room to publicly speak about the dynamic of production and release of the campaign to the public. Although I personally think that is bad, the main criterion for the selection is, as usual, the lowest price offered, which precisely we offered this time,” says Vasić.
The fact that the lowest price was crucial is also confirmed by the Secretariat for Emergency Situations.
Urgency of procurement as an excuse
Procurement was carried out urgently, meaning that where, for example, health protection is concerned, the contracting authority does not need to have an opinion from the Public Procurement Office and the whole procedure is a lot shorter. According to an explanation CINS was given earlier, that kind of procedure paves the way for avoiding transparency and for greater corruption.
Jasmina Marković of the Bidders of Serbia association says that this procurement was not supposed to be urgent. She explains that it is not logical for the Secretariat to wait so long to conclude an agreement:
“Everyone knows how something urgent is done and how something is done if there is time. If something is urgent, you will set forth in the contract that it be executed in 15 days at the latest, you will not wait a month.”
Public procurement expert Rade Đurić also thinks the urgency was unjustified. He explains that the articles of the Public Procurement Law used in this instance can be applied only in conditions of extreme urgency caused by events that could not have been foreseen and in line with the strict requirements stated in the law – which was not the case here.
“The epidemic itself is no longer news, nor something that cannot be or could not have been foreseen, especially not the situation and mood regarding vaccination. The option of shorter deadlines is out, too, because there was really no need for it, given the time of concluding and realization of the contract. On the other hand, the document they are citing (the order, journalist’s note) does not seem to be sufficient for applying this kind of urgency,” said Đurić.
Secretariat officials declined to state the criteria based on which only these three companies had been invited.
Moskito – from Ravna Gora to road traffic safety
Moskito has been making promotional films for the Road Traffic Safety Agency since 2016. The company has received just over 28 million dinars without VAT for those projects.
The State Lottery of Serbia, Belgrade’s Parking Service and the Ministry of Interior also commissioned Moskito to make promotional videos, while the company boasted on its website about its cooperation with the companies SBB and NIS.
In addition to that, the company also worked on Ravna Gora, a film by Radoš Bajić.
The heads of this publishing company are Predrag Pauković and Croatian businessman Leopold Botteri. Botteri is a former journalist of daily Slobodna Dalmacija, and has also been involved in olive oil production and the hotel business in Istria.
The third company that was invited, the Studium Animation Studio, dropped out of the race for the job. CINS did not get an answer to the question about why the company had not even sent a bid because owner Zoran Stanojković hung up the phone on the journalist.
The owner of Moskito has a “history” with this firm, too. From 1998 to 2000, Stanojković was Vasić’s superior on Košava TV, owned at the time by Marija Milošević, daughter of former president of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Slobodan Milošević. Stanojković was the head of the animation department, while Vasić was an animator in that media outlet.
Mentor: Stefan Marković