Back on 11 February 2011, Emir Kusturica and Oliver Dulić opened the National Ecological Centre Čarobni breg (Magic Mountain) within the Park prirode (Nature Park) Mokra Gora. Although the role of the Nature Park was also to prevent illegal construction, Dulić, the then Minister of Environmental Protection and Physical Planning, was actually opening the facility lacking the building permit. His Ministry granted the building permit to the Centre no sooner than a day before the opening.
Although the state paid about 89.5 million dinars for construction of this mansion, as many as six years later the National Ecological Centre does not have a certificate of occupancy and is still not open. In January 2017, they requested to be issued a certificate of occupancy, but the Ministry of Construction, Transport and Infrastructure rejected the request due to incomplete documentation. They submitted another request in the beginning of March, however the Ministry said it would be rejected, too.
Mokra Gora is classified as one of significant tourist potentials in Serbia. A film director Emir Kusturica plays an important role in this region for years.
The Ecological Centre, also mentioned in certain documents as the Visitors Centre, is managed by the state company Mokra Gora Nature Park, with Kusturica as a president of this company’s Assembly. Kusturica served as a director of the Nature Park from its establishment in 2006 until 2013, namely throughout the period when the Centre was under construction.
Kusturica resigned from the position of a director after the officials from the State Audit Institution had pointed put to irregularities in business operations of the Nature Park, such as troublesome public procurements and failure to list assets and liabilities.
The Nature Park has been operating for years with the help of state subsidies. At the same time and in the same area, Kusturica’s private company Lotika successfully operates based on tourism, first of all owing to tourist settlement Drvengrad, known as a venue where a film festival Kustendorf takes place. Although the National Ecological Centre has no certificate of occupancy, the web page of the festival specifies that the festival guests are accommodated in this mansion.
In his mail to a journalist of the Center for Investigative Journalism of Serbia (CINS) Kusturica said that, due to a music tour and completion of the film he is working on, he won’t be able to talk to her “before the end of the autumn”. He added that he is no longer the director of the Park, as well as that all the data on business operations of this company and his private companies are provided in publicly available documents.
According to his words, although it cannot be entered into the land register, the facility can be still used without the certificate of occupancy. He also adds that numerous other facilities in Serbia are in use in spite of not having this certificate.
However, when the CINS journalist called the National Ecological Centre in December 2016, they explained that they could not accommodate guests as they were lacking certificate of occupancy.
In his written response to CINS, Radomir Stojić, Acting Director of the Nature Park, says that the reason why the Nature Park is submitting the request for the certificate of occupancy as late as six years after its construction is “the dynamics of the works and the necessary financial means”.
He also adds that “as obtaining the certificate of occupancy is a matter of moments, it has been hypothetically assumed that the Visitors Centre can accommodate guests”.
Building without a permit
When, in 2006, the state had founded the Nature Park, and during its later expansion, the protection of this region and prevention of illegal construction were stated as the main reasons. The rangers guarding the Park were given weapons and granted powers to prevent tree cutting and illegal construction even within the villagers’ private properties located in the protected area, as shown in the investigation carried out by the Insider in 2009.
Nevertheless, business headquarters of the Nature Park – the National Ecological Centre Magic Mountain – was built without a building permit. Although its completion was planned before the end of 2009, it was opened in February 2011 due to the fact that the deadlines were postponed several times. The facility was granted the building permit a day before the opening, while a request for legalization was submitted to local self-government in the city of Uzice in March 2010, when the facility was already built.
Two months following the opening of the Ecological Centre, municipal police in Uzice filed criminal charges against Emir Kusturica on the grounds of carrying out construction works without a building permit.
The National Ecological Centre located in Mokra Gora in the immediate vicinity of the ski slope accommodates no guests, although six years have passed after its official opening.
The charges were filed based on an incident at the end of September 2010 when Slavenko Andrić, an inhabitant of the city of Višegrad, fell off the roof of the National Ecological Centre and got seriously injured. As per documentation, Andrić was there as the owner of the Visegrad based contracting company Limo-Rad. During the construction site investigation, the police established that no building permit was granted for the facility.
The police had submitted a report to the prosecutor’s office ”the contents of which led to a reasonable suspicion that Emir Kusturica from Mokra Gora had committed a criminal act of building without a building permit”. The prescribed sentence in this case is from six months to five years of prison.
Based on the legal possibility to postpone criminal prosecution, Kusturica paid 200,000 dinars to the account of the General Hospital of Uzice. On these grounds, the prosecutor’s office dismissed the criminal charges in February 2012.
At the very beginning of 2017, the Nature Park requested certificate of occupancy from the Ministry of Construction, following the audit in December 2016 carried out by a five-member commission for technical inspection.
The minutes of the Commission specified that at the time of construction the facility lacked a building permit, which is why it did not have construction log book, attests, the accompanying documentation for the built-in materials and equipment. Nevertheless, the commission suggested the issuance of the certificate of occupancy.
The Ministry rejected the request of the Nature Park, specifying that the report was not properly made and that the documents submitted were incomplete, missing, for example, geodetic surveys and the as-built design based on which the technical inspection had been carried out. The Ministry specified that the new request, submitted in the beginning of March, will also be rejected „due to formal deficiencies”.
Financing by means of subsidies
The National Ecological Centre is located on a hill-side about ten kilometres away from Drvengrad settlement. A ski slope is located in the immediate vicinity of this mansion surrounded by a thick forest. The centre, with its 22 rooms and two apartments should have been used for giving lectures, holding seminars, providing information to tourists, but also for accommodation of guests.
The majority of the funds for building the Centre were provided by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Fund.
The first agreement in the value of 40 million dinars was signed in 2007 by Emir Kusturica and Saša Dragin, then serving as the Minister of Environmental Protection.
In April 2009, additional 15 million dinars were requested from the Environmental Protection Fund and this investment was approved at the end of the same month. The first annex to the agreement was signed in December of the same year, thus increasing the participation of the Fund by another 22 million dinars.
The Park asked for these additional funds because they had spent the money granted in 2007 to invest in the waterworks, sewage system and hydrant network for the Ecological Centre, ”and also for Mokra Gora settlement”.
By signing a new annex in July 2010, the sum was increased by 2.5 million dinars, while in the month to follow another 10 million dinars were granted. Thus, 89.5 million dinars in total were given from the budget for the purpose of building the Centre.
The fourth annex to the agreement with the Fund, singed in April 2011, governs only the extension of deadlines for carrying out the works as ”due to bad weather conditions” the Park failed to carry out external finishing craft works. Two months earlier, Oliver Dulić and Kusturica had opened the Centre.
In the Report on implementation of the funds from 2011, Park specified that accommodation capacities will be at disposal to “third parties” for a fee, which will reduce the need for budgetary funds.
In the same Report, Park referred to the parcel the Centre was built on as a part of the budget, namely a donation by Emir Kusturica, worth of somewhat more than 411.000 dinars.
As 2016 financial reports are not yet available, the report for 2015 shows that about one fourth of Park’s income is generated from the subsidies.
The data available at the Treasury show that, from 2009 until 20 July 2016, based on the „subsidies, vacation supplements and premiums from special accounts” only, Park was granted at least 130.85 million dinars from the budget.
Park was spending the money for various purposes. For example, the subsidies granted in 2015 were spent for the salaries and for purchase of uniforms for the guards, gas expenses, collection and transport of municipal waste, signalling equipment, depreciation costs, presentation of the Park and landscaping.
A portion of Park’s money was spent for paying services rendered by Kusturica’s private company. Thus, for example, Park’s business records show that, in 2011, about 1.8 million dinars were paid to the company Lotika. Out of this amount 355,000 dinars were allocated for ”accommodation costs for business partners attending the ceremony on the occasion of completion of works at the Visitors Centre”.
Radomir Stojić, Acting Director of the Nature Park, had served as a director of the construction company Felini, owned by Dragan Radivojević, until April 2016.
Felini was being granted jobs based on public procurement tenders invited by Park. In the sole year of 2016, Felini had signed four agreements in the total value of about 15 million dinars. The contracted construction works included wastewater treatment plant, identification and marking the boundaries of the park, as well as material for decorating the Ecological Centre.
Kusturica says that great human and financial efforts were made in building the National Ecological Centre: ”Both, the state and myself were making investments. Changes in the government structure led to interruptions in funding, thus seriously undermining the works. However, the final result is impressive.“
Graphics: Andrija Ćeranić
No guests and no stars
As specified on Park’s website, aside from the Centre Magic Mountain, other accommodation facilities in this area are: tourist settlement Drvengrad, several facilities owned by Serbian Railways JSC, rural households and Mladost hotel. This hotel, founded by Kusturica’s company Lotika, is located in the ski resort Iver, close to the Centre.
In order to accommodate guests, each hotel has to have a particular category, i.e. the number of stars. As per data of the Ministry of Tourism, from 2005 until 1 November 2016, the Nature Park did not file a request for categorization of the National Ecological Centre. Out of the hospitality facilities in Mokra Gora owned either by Park or by Kusturica’s company Lotika, only Drvengrad is categorized, as shown by the data from the end of January 2017.
A sojourn tax for an overnight stay of each guest is paid either to the municipality or to the city in which the accommodation facility is located. Mokra gora is in the territory of Uzice where, based on a decision passed in 2013, the sojourn tax is 80 dinars. In 2011, when the Centre was opened, the sojourn tax was 60 dinars.
According to the data of Uzice City department of finance, accounting and business administration, until March 2017 the Nature Park received only one payment based on sojourn tax, back in 2015, in the amount of 4,320 dinars.
However, Park submitted different data to CINS – per their records, from the beginning of 2011 until 16 November 2015, a total of 10,820 dinars were paid as a sojourn tax for 108 guests.
From 1 January 2011 until 1 March 2017, the company Lotika as the managing company of Drvengrad, made a payment of somewhat more than 8.18 million dinars. The website of the National Tourism Organization of Serbia lists Drvengrad as the only accommodation facility in the region of Mokra Gora.
The location of the facilities is attractive both to domestic and foreign tourists, as well as to foreign delegations. In the previous period, the Ambassador of Portugal and the Ambassador of Austria were among the guests visiting this area. The National Tourism Organization of Serbia used to bring to Lotika’s facilities numerous student and journalist delegations from abroad, covering also their food and accommodation expenses. Tourism Organization of Uzice was also paying hospitality expenses to Lotika owned facilities.
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.