Continuing the tradition of his grandfather and father, Velibor Zlatković had been maintaining roads in his native town of Crna Trava in the south of Serbia for thirty years. He says he is familiar with his work in details and emphasizes with pride that he had been looking after state-owned property all the time. Through his career he had never experienced any unpleasant situations.
This changed two years ago.
Checking a part of a road, some 14 km away from the settlement of Sastav Reka, he noticed that a part of the roadside was missing on the right side; the railing was torn away to the level of asphalt.
“That meant that someone clumsy could have slipped off the road and got killed”, explains Zlatković.
He called the police and competent persons from the public road company, placed appropriate signals, and, as he says, did everything by law. When he came to his office the following morning, he received an unexpected phone call from Dragan Klisura, owner of the company for construction of small hydro power plants, Hidro-Tan.
“’What is it that you have against my company?’, he asked me. I said I had nothing against it, I was just doing my job. He said: ‘Well you won’t be doing it any longer’“, tells Zlatković his story.
He reported the threats to the police. Several months later, he was fired from his job, and he still does not know what happened to his report.
Leskovac police department notified the journalist from the Center for Investigative Journalism of Serbia (CINS) that they filed the report on acting upon charges to the Prosecutor’s Office in Leskovac; however, before the publishing of this story, the Prosecutor’s Office did not reply to the questions about this case.
Representatives of the road company Trace did not want to provide any comments for CINS.
In the place where the road was damaged, Klisura’s Hidro-Tan company was building a hydro power plant, one of the total of eleven hydro power plants constructed by the company in the territory of Crna trava.
The eleven hydro power plants also include Jabukovik. It is partly owned by Klisura himself, but also Nikola Petrović, best man of Serbia’s president Aleksandar Vučić. Last year, Hidro-Tan used it as a reference to win the job of restoration of small hydro power plants from Serbian Electric Power Industry (EPS).
CINS discovers that within two tenders for reconstruction of 14 hydro power plants conducted by EPS in February and May 2017 Hidro-Tan received somewhat less than €5 million. At both tenders, Hidro-Tan was the only bidder, while EPS kept hiding this data for a long time. Implementation of the project is delayed for years.
The story of Hidro-Tan and the second most important player in the area of small hydro power plants in Serbia – company Eco Energo Group – does not start with the coming of Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) and its leader Aleksandar Vučić in power, although both companies experienced greatest success in this period.
The CINS investigation indicates that managers of the former Yugoslav construction giant, Energoprojekt company, with criminal charges for abuse of office and money laundering, which was dropped later, developed the two companies while the business of construction of small hydro power plants was only in the beginning, in period of power of the Democratic Party and its coalition partners.
Thus, in April 2010, the first small hydro power plant owned by the company Eco Energo Group in Crna trava was started up by the then minister of energy Petar Škundrić from the Socialist Party of Serbia. As it was reported by media, Škundrić gave the future power plants of the company constructed in Vlasina the name of “Verini đerdani” (Vera’s necklaces) after Vera Ristić, one of the owners.
While they were still opposition, members of the Progressive Party kept promising that they would assist Energoprojekt shareholders to resolve issues in the company; however, this did not happen, while the main roles in companies Hidro-Tan and Eco Enegro Group were assumed by Dragan Klisura and Nikola Petrović.
Petrović and Klisura did not accept to talk to CINS journalists.
In spring 2010, Mija Popović, employee with the marketing department of Energoprojekt Holding Company, was tasked by the then Managing Board president, Miodrag Zečević, to go to the Ministry of Mining and Energy and see whether Energoprojekt could participate in the business with small hydro power plants which was only just emerging in Serbia, Several days later, Popović appeared at the door of Zečević’s office, slightly angry.
Popović explained that he had visited Nikola Rajaković, former state secretary with the Ministry, and that he was told the following: “Are they pretending they are crazy, privately developing small hydro power plants and sending you to inquire about the procedure.”
Zečević was perplexed. Neither he nor the then general manager Vladan Pirivatrić had anything to do with the business with small hydro power plants.
“All of a sudden, it was like a fire – who does it by oneself, who is actually competition to Energoprojekt itself”, says Zečević. He adds that at the Managing Board meeting he requested criminal charges to be filed against him should it turn out that he did not speak the truth.
Documents from Energoprojekt indicate that he did not lie, but also that managers and employees connected with this company did participate in the whole story.
“That is something we could call a Nigerian scheme”, Zečević describes the beginnings of Eco Energo Group company.
Back in 2006, together with the daughter company Energo Management Group, Energo Nigeria, which was partly owned by one of the Energoprojekt Holding members, Energoprojekt Oprema, established a company nowadays known as Eco Energo Group, which is the owner of seven small hydro power plants in Serbia, and which earns income worth several million from subsidies for renewable energy sources.
Some employees and managers of companies directly or indirectly related to Energoprojekt – Pavle Tomašević, Dejan Jerotić, Ranko Božović, Dragan Klisura, and Svetlana Gregović – were involved in ownership of the company from the very beginning.
In the following years, the ownership changed several times; Tomašević, Božović, and Klisura first became owners and then left the company, abandoning it to ownership of an off-shore company from British Virgin Islands, Eco Energo Group Corporation, the manager of which was Gregović.
Documents from the Serbian Business Registers Agency indicate that in 2008 and 2009, while Klisura was its manager, the off-shore company Eco Energo Group Corporation granted credits to Eco Energo Group company at the amount of about €532,000 and US$265,000. Later on, as it could not be repaid, the money was turned into the capital of the company the money was borrowed to.
By 2010, the individuals who became owners of Eco Energo Group were first Vera Ristić, mother-in-law of Serbian tennis player Novak Đoković, with her company Eco Global, and then Nenad Kovač, called Neša Roaming, through the company Roaming Electronics.
When the Managing Board of Energoprojekt discovered business operations of Eco Energo Group in June 2010, the off-shore company Eco Energo Group Corporation sold its share to the company Roaming Electronics for about €867,000 and withdrew from the company.
In the same month, Pavle Tomašević was replaced from the position of manager of Energoprojekt Oprema, while criminal charges were filed against him, Božović, Jerotić, Gregović, and Klisura by Energoprojekt Holding in June 2010. As it is stated in the charges, almost €1.8 million was transferred without any known source of income, with indications that it is actually about the funds of the company Energoprojekt Nigeria, which is why there was suspicion as to money laundering.
As it is stated in the charges, these and other funds were used to build small hydro power plants.
The company which constructed these power plants for Eco Energo was Hidro-Tan. In time, the name of Dragan Klisura, car-mechanic unknown to the public till that time, employed with the company owned by Energoprojekt and companies connected to Energoprojekt, started being mentioned with increasing frequency. Klisura is first mentioned as a representative of the off-shore company General Engineering – Electrical and Mechanical Engineering and Construction LTD, which founded Hidro-Tan, and then as a company co-owner, together with Dragan Tanasković and Nebojša Tomašević, son of Pavle Tomašević.
Don’t ask me about the first million
In June 2010, soon after Tomašević was replaced, the state took over Energoprojekt shares from the Shareholding Fund and Old Age Pension Fund, which gave it the possibility to vote, i.e. manage the company. At the Energoprojekt assembly meeting, held in September of the same year, new members of the Managing Board of the Energoprojekt Holding were appointed, including Zečević as well as Svetlana Gregović.
Pavle Tomašević later returned to the position of the manager, while Miodrag Zečević left the company in 2011.
“Then I started working as a professor and ended this all (…) You know, when you disagree with something, and you can’t change it, why should you sit in such an environment”, explains Zečević. In September last year he returned as a member of the Supervisory Board of Energoprojekt, after the company had been taken over by private owner Dobrosav Bojović.
He says for CINS that after the state had taken over management of Energoprojekt, interest in the case in relation to small hydro power plants ceased so that it remained on margins of private interest of individuals employed with the company.
One of these persons is Jovan Korolija, who spent almost 40 years on different positions in Energoprojekt. At the moment when it was discovered that people from the Holding itself were initiating business with power plants, Korolija was the representative of small shareholders at the Managing Board. Having realized that the state would not help them and protect them, in 2012 representatives of the association of small shareholders had a meeting with Aleksandar Vučić as a representative of the then opposition SNS and came to an agreement.
The Agreement on cooperation and mutual assistance was signed on 2 April 2012, just before elections; it implied that the association should support SNS members at the elections and assist them in the course of the pre-election campaign, while, should SNS win, it would take into consideration suggestions of the association in relation to “organization and structure of future state bodies, institutions, and organizations.“
“We would like to thank the SNS legal team who reviewed our documents and who understood that something illegal was taking place in Energoprojekt” – is how the Pravda daily reported the quote of Zoran Simić, president of small shareholders, on presentation of the agreement.
According to Korolija, shareholders did not know that Nikola Petrović, manager of the company Eco Energo Group and best man of Aleksandar Vučić was at the same time a co-owner of the Pravda, newspapers closely connected to nobody else but Progressive Party members.
Petrović became the manager of Eco Energo Group in November 2010, when he succeeded Vera Ristić at the position. When he was appointed manager of public company Elektromreže Srbije in September 2012, he was relieved of the previous duty, only to return to it in February 2017. In January of the same year, he also became one of the co-owners.
In the course of the last five years, companies connected to Petrović and his business partners were paid somewhat more than €10 million for the electric power generated at small hydro power-plants; CINS has already written about this.
“I was not aware of Nikola Petrović, although I had met his father at least two hundred times”, says Korolija. Petrović’s father Radivoje also used to work with Energoprojekt.
Korolija continues: “To be honest, we came to senses in 2012 when Petrović was appointed manager of Elektromreže Srbije”.
When SNS won the majority of votes and constituted a new Government in 2012, they turned a cold shoulder to small shareholders and their problems.
According to Korolija, the only meeting took place in Serbian Government in May 2013; it was a meeting with Siniša Mali, current minister of finance, and then advisor to Aleksandar Vučić. The meeting lasted for about 40 minutes; at the meeting, Korolija and his colleagues pointed to the issues occurring at Energoprojekt at the time, including the criminal charges filed in 2010. Korolija says that they did not receive any reply.
Cabinets of Aleksandar Vučić and Siniša Mali did not reply to CINS questions.
What representatives of shareholders did not know was the fact that in March, only two months prior to the meeting with Mali, the Higher Prosecutor’s Office in Belgrade dropped the charges, i.e. passed the decision that there were no grounds for launching criminal proceedings for the reported act or any other criminal act which is prosecuted ex officio.
Documents from the Prosecutor’s Office analyzed by CINS indicate that some information was not verified.
Dragan Klisura receiving a charter for special contribution
Municipality of Crna Trava handed a charter for special contribution in development of the municipality to Dragan Klisura on 26 April 2018, on the occasion of marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Crna Trava in the Second World War.
Photo taken from the website: http://www.opstinacrnatrava.org.rs/
Thus, Dragan Klisura told the police that since Tomašević, Božović, and himself had left Eco Energo Group, he had “no more impact in the company”, and that he did not know if any payments were made to its account. Documents indicate that it was Klisura who represented the off-shore company as the manager when money borrowed to the company Eco Energo Group was transferred to its equity, same as in other contracts.
CINS journalists established that the document showing whether Klisura was faced with these facts at any point of time do not exist at the Prosecutor’s Office.
Pavle Tomašević, Svetlana Gregović, and Ranko Božović did not reply to the questions filed to them. In their statements to the police dated 2011, they stated they had not damaged Energoprojekt, or done something illegal.
Tomašević and Božović said that Energo Nigeria and Energo Management Group founded a joint company so as to participate in an EPS tender, which did not happen later, while the company remained inactive. Then they passed the decision to sell the company, and a share was bought by the two of them together with Dragan Klisura. When they realized they did not have enough money to initiate construction of small hydro power plants, they decided to sell their shares to the company Eco Energo Group Corporation from the British Virgin Islands.
Tomašević stated to the police that he made a proposal to a Matthew Charles Stokes, who he “had known for a long time”, to invest money in the business with small hydro power plants, while he meanwhile founded the off-shore company Eco Energo Group Corporation. According to the documents examined by CINS journalists, neither the Prosecutor’s Office nor the police tried to find out who this person was about.
Svetlana Gregović told the police that she was asked to sign the contract on behalf of the off-shore company, as Matthew Charles Stokes could not do it.
Pavle Tomašević is still the manager of Energoprojekt Oprema, while Ranko Božović is a member of the Managing Board of the company. Svetlana Gregović (now Tolić) is manager for financial planning and analysis within Energoprojekt Oprema.
Meanwhile, Dragan Klisura assumed full ownership over Hidro-Tan and remained the only owner of the company.
His former partner, Dragan Tanasković, says he came into Hidro-Tan upon Klisura’s invitation, with the idea to initiate the business with small hydro power plants. According to him, Klisura was the head of the construction site, while the third co-owner, Nebojša Tomašević, was the coordinator between the field and the head office. Tanasković also says that he left the company as he did not manage to secure a single location for power plant construction.
Commercially sensitive data
In New Belgrade, business part of the capital of Serbia, in Jurija Gagarina street, there is a high-rise business building which occupies the area of some 195 square meters and the appearance of which fits perfectly in the setting in the area. Constructed last year, the building is nowadays a symbol of success of companies accommodating it, and their wealth which especially increased in the period of SNS rule – Hidro-Tan and Eco Energo Group, with other companies connected to them.
According to data from financial reports, in 2013 Hidro-Tan increased its income by almost 4.5 times, from about €2.4 million in 2013 to about €10.4 million in 2017.
This company which construcs small hydro power plants may, to a significant extent, ascribe its rise to bountiful businesses it got from the state. Thus, for instance, only in the previous year, EPS conducted four public procurements and concluded contracts worth more than €10 million with Hidro-Tan, independently or as a part of consortium.
Two out of the four public procurements relate to the project of restoration of 14 small hydro power plants located in south-east and south-west Serbia. They are a part of the loan which EPS took from European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) back in 2011. EPS originally borrowed €45 million, but gave up six sites in 2014, while the amount of loan was decreased to €32.7 million. The original deadline for completion of the project was December 2014, but it was prolonged until the end of 2018, which CINS already wrote about.
By mid-June 2018, EPS used only €6.9 million of the borrowed money; due to failure to use the remaining amount and delay in project implementation, this public company paid somewhat more than €1.2 of commitment fees for unused funds, using taxpayers’ money to this effect.
Results of these two public procurements, published in February and May 2017, have not been known to the public so far, as they may not be seen on the EPS website. CINS journalists reached the documents only after the complaint to the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance, because EPS had previously refused to supply them, stating that this would make “commercially sensitive” data available.
In June and September last year, both contracts were awarded to Hidro-Tan, which was also the only bidder. The first contract relates to hydro power plants in Novi Pazar, Mali Zvornik, Prijepolje, Priboj, Užice, and Ivanjica. The value of the contract is somewhat more than €1.6 million. The second contract implies reconstruction of small hydro power plants at the territory of Niš, Pirot, Zaječar, Leskovac, and Surdulica, and these works will cost about €3.2 million.
In the official latter addressed to EBRD by Dejan Vuksanović, EPS project manager, in August 2017, the possible reason stated for just one offer is the fact that “this is relatively small and cheap business of reconstruction of small hydro plants, which may also be demanding in relation to time and work”. In his explanation, he also states that “for this reason, the business might not be interesting to foreign construction companies, while Serbian companies may not have the necessary level of experience for implementation of such complicated projects, or lack capacities to perform such works at several places at the same time”.
EPS did not reply to questions about these tenders asked by CINS.
In a letter to EBRD it is stated that three companies and one natural entity purchased documents for the tender published in May last year, and that Slovenian company Kostak attended the meeting prior to the procurement and visit of the site. EPS stated that this company did not apply as they did not have all references necessary to meet the conditions from the tender documents.
In her written reply to CINS, Sabina Žibert from the company Kostak stated that following the detailed analysis of the tender for reconstruction of small hydro power plants “located in inaccessible places, without access roads, with relatively small scope of various types of works”, the company concluded that they would need to engage a partner from Serbia, who has not been found.
In its explanation to EBRD, EPS also claimed that operations in relation to reconstruction of small hydro power plants would not overlap, as works on power plants in south-west Serbia should be mostly completed in 2017, while reconstruction of remaining power plants would be initiated in 2018. However, in May this year, this company stated to CINS that only four power plants in south-west Serbia are in the final stage, while reconstruction of the other power plants would start in mid- 2018, simultaneously with seven power plants in south-east Serbia.
Beside the fact that Hidro-Tan was the only bidder – prices of individual works were also higher than those from the EPS assessment. Thus, the difference between the assessed value and contracted price from September amounted to €418,872.
As it is stated in the documents, this is caused by the increase in prices of works and materials in relation to the time when the assessment was made, modifications in technical documents, and changes in the scope of works for some power plants.
EBRD noted that the fact that the prices are higher does not result from one bidder at the tender, adding that they organize open tenders where interested and eligible companies may apply, and that some tenders are subject to greater, and some to lower interest:
“Our role is to make sure policies and rules of the bank in public procurements are observed throughout the process”.
The investigation was developed within the project co-financed from the budget of the Republic of Serbia – Ministry of Culture and Information. The positions stated in the supported media project do not necessarily express positions of the body which allocated the funds.