When the Prosecutor’s Office for Organized Crime filed the press release on suspension of the investigation against Bogoljub Karić at about 7 o’clock in the evening on 27 December 2016, this shortly became the lead story. Almost 11 years earlier, Karić had also made the leading news when he departed Serbia and went to Russia, having had two investigations launched against him.
The first investigation against Karić was launched in January 2006 by the then District Public Prosecutor’s Office in Belgrade (now the Higher Public Prosecutor’s Office) for the alleged withdrawal of money from Mobtel company. In this case, the indictment was pressed later, but the part of the procedure relating to Karić was suspended in January 2016 due to statute of limitation.
Karić was declared to be on the wanted list on 4 February 2006, while two weeks later the District Prosecutor’s office launched another investigation against him.
Between 2007 and 2015 there was not a single hearing
In its request to carry out the investigation, the Prosecutor’s Office stated that Karić and other suspects damaged the then Public company PTT Serbia by fictitiously increasing the value of assets his company BK Trade was supposed to bring in to Mobtel. BK Trade and PTT Serbia had established Mobtel in 1994 with the aim of introducing mobile telephony into Serbia.
Center for Investigative Journalism of Serbia (CINS) is revealing details from this investigation to show why the investigation lasted for longer than 10 years without the indictment pressed.
Among other things, not a single document in a foreign language was translated for seven years, while almost every attempt to obtain documents lasted for months or years. Between 2007 and 2015 there was not a single hearing.
In its press release from December last year, the Prosecutor’s Office stated that the new expert evaluation from 2015, which indicated that BK Trade had not obtained any illegal asset-related benefits, was the main reason for suspending the investigation. The document which was subject to the expert evaluation had already been analyzed in 2011.
On the investigation of business affairs of Mobtel, Bogoljub Karić said to the CINS journalist:
Statute of limitation after 10 years
The first investigation against Bogoljub Karić, which also related to Mobtel, was launched by the then District Public Prosecutor’s Office on 17 January 2006. Almost two and a half years later, on 6 May 2008, the investigation was completed. On 27 July 2010, the file was handed for action to the deputy prosecutor, who pressed an indictment in September. The indictment was re-qualified in 2013.
Criminal prosecution of Bogoljub Karić in this case was ended on 28 January 2016, when the court passed a decision on suspension due to statute of limitation. Following this, the case was returned to the Higher Prosecutor’s Office to pass an order on additional investigation in relation to other suspects.
The Higher Prosecutor’s Office refused to supply CINS with data and the reply to the questions what was actually going on from the end of the investigation till the pressing of the indictment, how many people were interrogated, and how many expert evaluations were requested, stating that “passing of this information could jeopardize the further course of the criminal proceedings “.
“Political actors were stalling the case with the aim that it should never reach the court. If the case reached the court, if the proceedings were launched and if innocence was proved, which would certainly happen (…), this would incur enormous damage to the state. And then, when one set of people stepped out of power, and then the second and third one, what was there to be done? They could only suspend the process, which would become subject to statute of limitation in May anyway“.
Miroslav Đorđević, one of Karić’s defense counsels, says that the investigation should have been suspended back in 2006, as “even at that time there were no grounds for launching and instituting criminal proceedings“.
When CINS journalists asked the Prosecutor’s Office for reasons for such a prolonged investigation, they were told that the investigation is not limited by time, and that this case involved several individuals:
“It was necessary to obtain various evidence important for the decision, from a number of countries, which is why court and Prosecutor’s Office addressed competent bodies abroad on several occasions, and this significantly slowed the process down”.
Karić’s case is not the only of the kind – CINS reported on several occasions on investigations and court proceedings of cases of corruption and organized crime which took a range of years. In the end of 2016, in Serbian courts there were 533 criminal cases which had lasted for more than 10 years.
Eight years without a hearing
In 2005, the Anti-Corruption Council submitted a report to the Serbian Government in which it stated that “Mobtel Company was founded in serious breach of law” and that it “conducted business operations in privileged conditions due to close connections with the regime”. The case was later included in the so-called “24 privatizations”, the resolution of which was requested from Serbia by the European Union.
Following Karić’s departure from Serbia in the beginning of 2006, the authorities took over majority ownership in Mobtel, changed its name, and later sold it to Norwegian Telenor.
Except for fictitious enlargement of value of the equipment brought in on establishment of Mobtel, members of the Karić family were also suspected of transferring assets originating from Mobtel to private accounts though a private company; according to prosecutors, this earned Karić the illegal profit at the amount of then 757.5 million dinars.
In February 2006, the Prosecutor’s Office also launched an investigation against two Mobtel employees and two BK Trade employees; the investigation was later extended to include Karić’s sister and his three brothers. They were first investigated under suspicion of abuse of office, but in March 2014 the criminal act was re-qualified as abuse of office of the person in charge.
In June 2006, the case was transferred to the newly-established Special Prosecutor’s Office, presently Prosecutor’s Office for Organized Crime.
Between March 2006 and March 2007, 17 persons were interrogated. Until April 2015, there were no more hearings. In December 2014, the Prosecutor’s Office requested defense counsels to present their evidence, but rejected their proposals in February 2015; following an appeal, they were finally accepted in March by the Higher Court.
From April to October 2015, as many as 24 individuals were interrogated, including ministers in different sets of Serbian Government, Velimir Ilić and Branislav Ivković, as well as Nikola Šainović, former Prime Minister of Serbia. Defense counsels waived 16 other witnesses, including Jorgovanka Tabaković, Boris Tadić, and Zoran Živković.
As a part of the investigation related to the purchase of disputable equipment from Swedish company Ericsson, in February 2014 competent bodies requested interrogation of Mats Arnam, Peter Olsson, and Joakim Cerwall in Sweden. However, a year and a half later, Swedish Prosecution replied that “witness Mats Arnam is not an employee with Ericsson” and that “there are several employees at Ericsson bearing the name Peter Olsson, so it is not possible to identify which one is the witness”. Joakim Cerwall was interrogated.
The reply from the Prosecutor’s office to CINS also stated that interrogation of 20 more witnesses “was not possible to conduct because they are not known at the addresses provided by the defense”.
Lost in translation
In the end of 2016, in Serbian courts there were 533 criminal cases which had lasted for more than 10 years.
In most cases, obtaining of documents in this investigation lasted for months or years. Thus, for instance, in May 2007, Mobtel was ordered to file documents in relation to the founder’s share of BK Trade in Mobtel, as well as invoices and other documents relating to telecommunication equipment. The documents were not filed before three years later.
The order on dispossession of documents from Karić‘s Astra banka was passed in February 2008. A part of documents was sent in March 2008, while the other part was submitted in May 2010 with a note that some documents were destroyed in fire in bank premises – five years before.
Documents from Russia and Cyprus were also expected for a long time.
The Karić family entered politics in 2004, when Boguljub Karić was a presidential candidate before a group of citizens, while later in the same year he founded a political party, which is nowadays called Pokret SNAGA SRBIJE – BK. At the parliamentary elections in 2007 and 2008, the party acted independently, while Bogoljub Karić’s wife Milanka was a presidential candidate in 2008.
Karić’s brother Dragomir and wife Milanka have been members of Serbian Parliament since 2012, within Pokret SNAGA SRBIJE, which is a part of the coalition around Serbian Progressive Party. At the last presidential elections, the party supported the candidacy of Aleksandar Vučić, while Karić became actively involved in Vučić’s campaign upon his return to Serbia in the beginning of 2017.
The first letter rogatory, which related to companies Sistem Braća Karić BK Trade, AKA banka, and BK Trade, was filed to Russia in the end of 2006. In the meantime, Russia requested that the letter rogatory be complemented, so the new one was filed in September of the following year. The reply from Russia was received in July 2008, stating that BK Trade and AKA banka “are not recorded in tax records of the Federal tax service“.
In December 2008, Serbia filed Russia an urgent request “to act in entirety after the letter rogatory”, and two days later documents relating to the ownership structure of AKA Banka arrived from Russia. Additional documents on the bank were filed in July and August 2009.
When it comes to Cyprus-based companies, the reply from the Prosecutor’s Office to CINS stated that documents from this country were requested twice: in November 2006 and in July 2010 and that the reply was received in May 2011.
In April 2013, the Prosecution passed the order to complement the investigation which, among other things, also requested “to translate, from Swedish, the reply of Swedish judicial authorities (…) from 10 November 2006 “, then “to translate, from English, evidence relating to the ownership structure of company ‘Yucyco’ Ltd Cyprus“, and 68 foreign invoices for imported equipment.
When CINS asked how it happened that these documents were never translated, the Prosecutor’s Office replied, in writing:
“The court never translated a single document in any foreign language since the launching of the case, which is why the Prosecutor’s Office, on 24 April 2013, passed an order to translate various evidence relating to company ’Yucyco’ Ltd“.
Until January 2012, the court, that is, investigative judges, was in charge of investigations in competence of the Prosecutor’s Office for Organized Crime. The Higher Court in Belgrade stated to CINS that they could not provide an answer to the question of why documents were not translated for such a long time, as the acting judge from the case is no longer employed with the same court.
By the same order issued by the Prosecution in 2013, reports from criminal records were requested for Karić and four more suspects, presenting, according to the acting deputy prosecutor, “elements which any indictment would have to include “.
Expert evaluation of the already evaluated
Dinkić: It is not my world anymore
In the 1990s, Bogoljub Karić was one of the most powerful people in Serbia. Except for a part of Mobtel, he and his family owned a large number of companies, including BK TV, BK University, and Astra Banka, which was revoked its license to operate in October 2001 by the National Bank of Yugoslavia.
In the press release of the then National Bank Governor Mlađan Dinkić it is stated that, for the monetary part of the stock capital, it was established that, “instead of the stipulated $5 million, it has a negative value and that there is a drawback of more than $35 million”. The press release also read that “the bank has still not fulfilled seven out of the total of ten prescribed indicators of business operations.”
The bank does not operate anymore and is in liquidation.
It was Dinkić, who was later Minister of finance and economy in several sets of Serbian Government, who was frequently speaking critically of Bogoljub Karić; still, he refused to comment the suspension of the investigation in the Mobtel case, saying that he ceased giving public statements three years ago. “It is not my world anymore”, he said.
In its press release on suspension of the investigation issued in the end of 2016, the Prosecutor’s Office for Organized Crime stated that in 2015 it rejected the new evidence proposed by defense counsels as well as new expert evaluation, but that the proposal was approved by the court following an appeal. In the end of 2015, the Prosecution was ordered “to perform an additional expert economic and financial evaluation to take into account new circumstances as stated in the report on Alfa Profit doo from Moscow, which was filed meanwhile by defense …”
The report mentioned is the report of the Russian company Alfa-profit on the amount of costs of Karić’s company on entering equipment into Mobtel. Although this report was already analyzed in 2011, in the end of 2015 the Prosecution ordered additional expert evaluation, after it was requested by the defense and approved by the Higher Court in Belgrade.
On both occasions, expert evaluation was performed by the City Institute for Expertise of Belgrade with the task to determine the costs of company BK Trade for delivery of the equipment brought into Mobtel.
In its press release, the Prosecution stated that in the case of the first expert evaluation it was established that the costs of purchase and deliver of the equipment for Mobtel were justified, “which resulted in the conclusion that no illegal profit was obtained”.
In its reply to CINS, the Prosecution stated that on the first expert evaluation, the report “was not included in the court order, but was supplied by the defense in the course of the expertise.”
When asked about expert evaluations and other details of the proceedings, Bogoljub Karić’s lawyers – Miroslav Đorđević and Milorad Panjević – did not reply to CINS, stating that they are bound to keep business secrets.
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.