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.
Novak Nedić, Serbian Government’s secretary general
Novak Nedić did not respond to CINS questions about his relations with Dejan Grgić
Photo: Beta Agency
An investigation of the Centre for Investigative Journalism of Serbia (CINS) 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 CINS 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.
Branko Radovanović (left) and Darko Ristić (right), representatives of International Sports Office agency with Uroš Đurđević.
Photo: Facebook, International Sports Office
Some of Vlahović’s peers from FC Partizan youth branch are also the International Sports Office clients, 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 Office web 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 CINS 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 this company 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 Party of Serbia (SPS) official Brank Ružić at the helm. In 2010, Vojislav Nedić was presented to the public as an SNS member, whilst Novak has served two terms in office as the Serbian Government’s secretary general.
Novak and Vojislav Nedić declined to speak to the CINS 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.
Miloš Vazura, FC Partizan general manager, said 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.
On several occasions following this incident, Grgić was labelled by the media as one of Dorćol Gang members. After an article was published in Glas javnosti daily newspaper, several of them, including Grgić himself, contacted the daily and requested a publication of a reply denying their affiliation with the criminal group and claiming that they were students, house painters, floor layers, etc. Grgić also argued that he had been previously convicted for stealing only, as a minor.
The documentation acquired by CINS shows that a criminal charge was brought against Grgić over a 2002 bus driver robbery. The then District Prosecutor’s Office in Kruševac filed a request for an investigation of aggravated robbery, and following several amendments to the investigation, indictment was filed against Grgić.
However, the Kruševac District Court requested additional investigation to be carried out after which, in 2004, the prosecutor’s office dropped the charges against Grgić, declaring that there was no evidence of the criminal offence having been committed.
Rade Đukić was also labelled by the media as a Dorćol Gang member. Rade Grgić is also name of a business partner of Grgić and Radovanović, the International Sports Office agency owners.
Đukić is a director of Radovanović’s construction company Taurunum Invest, whereas Grgić took over from Đukić an ownership stake in Beoinvest Gradnja company in September 2013, which subsequently changed its business operation and name into Srna Store. Instead of residential building construction, the company is involved today in organic food trade.
In February 2016, CINS journalists requested data on criminal charges against Grgić and Đukić, but the Ministry of Interior refused to grant the request due to concerns over protection of personal privacy. Nonetheless, CINS managed to acquire the documentation related to the aggravated robbery, but featuring only this criminal offence’s description, and not Grgić’s name.
Vladimir Kostić participated in the investigation.
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.