Investigative storiesPublic officials

Serbian MP Gets Montenegrin Company as Gift, Fails to Report It to Anti-Corruption Agency

25. May 2020.
Milutin Mrkonjić; foto: N1
A member of parliament, former minister and senior official of the Socialist Party of Serbia, Milutin Mrkonjić, in 2002 took over – completely free of charge – ownership of Montenegrin company Habit Invest, which had been linked to Radosav Sekulić, otherwise known as an actor in the Agrobanka affair and a man close to the Socialist Party of Serbia. Mrkonjić is still the owner and representative of this company, but has never reported that to the Anti-Corruption Agency, which is why this institution is checking to see whether there are grounds for initiating proceedings against this official.

The formal head office of the Habit Invest company is located in a two-story building in a downtown of a Montenegrin capital Podgorica, at 45 Njegoševa Street. Although there is no visible business sign of Habit Invest in the building, the company has existed since 2000 and since September 2002 its owner and representative has been Milutin Mrkonjić, a senior official of the Socialist Party of Serbia, former minister of infrastructure and energy and subsequently minister of transportation.

A little more than four years after taking over the company, Mrkonjić was also elected as MP and deputy speaker of the National Assembly of Serbia, and with that office came the duty of transferring managing rights in the company to another person not connected with him – such as a family member or partner – within 30 days. He was bound to do so by the Law on Prevention of Conflict of Interest in Discharge of Public Office, and as of 2008 by the Law on the Anti-Corruption Agency. However, Mrkonjić has not done that to date.

Nemanja Nenadić from Transparency Serbia says that Mrkonjić could have authorized someone else to run the company in his name and for him, but should not have continued to manage the company:

“He should not be the representative. He should not be involved in the work (of the company) in any way,” says Nenadić.

Representatives of the Anti-Corruption Agency point out another potential violation of the Law on the Agency – even though he has submitted 12 reports on his property and income so far, Mrkonjić has not listed ownership of this company.

“An examination of the aforementioned reports has revealed that Milutin Mrkonjić did not report his ownership stake in a legal entity, and thereby in Habit Invest d.o.o. Podgorica, in any of the reports,” Agency officials told CINS.

For that reason, they added, they will check whether there are grounds for launching proceedings against Mrkonjić. However, 20 days later CINS still did not receive an answer to the question of whether the Agency had launched proceedings.

Zgrada u kojoj je smešten Habit invest u Podgorici; foto: Lazar Grdinić / MANS

Mrkonjić, on the other hand, claims that he has never even been to Montenegro: “I have never been to Montenegro. What happened in Montenegro?”

When the CINS journalist mentioned the company Mrkonjić had there, he asked that they talk later. However, he later said he did not know what the journalist was talking about and that he did not wish to discuss it over the phone. He promised to provide an additional explanation at a meeting. Nonetheless, Mrkonjić did not answer his phone at the agreed time and when he finally did, he asked that they postpone the conversation until after the elections, and then also remarked: “You have no comment. Who are you for me to give you comments? What’s wrong with you? Pull yourself together, man.”

According to data found in the Montenegrin Central Registry of Business Entities, the company has another representative – Ljiljana Svrzić from Belgrade, who has been performing the office of acting director in Habit Invest since 2004. Svrzić declined to comment on the company’s operations and cooperation with Mrkonjić, asking: “What good would all that do me?”

The Liechtenstein Connection

In August 2012, the media reported that Radosav Lale Sekulić had been arrested, among others. Sekulić is a former director of the Federal Customs Administration, former head of the municipality of Ivanjica, one of the founders and former co-owner of bankrupt joint stock company Habit Pharm, who, according to media reports, was close to the Socialist Party of Serbia.

He was arrested over the corruption affair related to Agrobanka, from which he had until 2011 taken unsecured loans for his companies, which he never paid back. At the time, Mrkonjić claimed to have no business relationship with the participants in the embezzlement, but that Sekulić was “a friend, like Slobodan Milošević had been.”

Agrobanka affair: embezzlement of 84 million euros

On suspicion that Agrobanka failed because it had issued unsecured loans in the period between 2005 and 2011, in August 2012 police arrested the bank’s CEO, Dušan Antonić.

By the end of the month, the number of individuals suspected of embezzling 84 million euros had grown to several dozen. Among them were Radosav Lale Sekulić and his son Duško Sekulić, who were suspected of having taken these loans for Habit Pharm and its affiliates.

A trial is under way before the Higher Court in Belgrade. Radosav Sekulić did not see the end of the investigation, as he passed away in 2014.

However, the connection between Mrkonjić and the (now deceased) Sekulić was much more than friendship, CINS has learned.

Sekulić founded drug manufacturer Habit Pharm in Ivanjica in 1997, together with his son Duško and the company Habit Med from Liechtenstein, a state known as an offshore haven.

Mrkonjić took over the Montenegrin Habit Invest from Habit Med and Zoran Vidić free of charge in September 2002, reads the ownership transfer agreement.

The former owners, according to the same agreement, waived all rights and obligations, including ongoing deals, but also the 10.000 dollars of initial capital invested.

Vlado Ostojić from Belgrade remained the executive director until September 2004, when he was replaced by Ljiljana Svrzić.

After taking over the company, Mrkonjić replaced the main operation of selling medicines and medical equipment with something more familiar to him – specialist construction works.

According to the information CINS received from the Agency for Construction and Development of Podgorica, Habit Invest cooperated with this public institution from 2002 and 2004, on the making of a detailed zoning plan of Nova Varoš 2, Gorica C and on the project of a bridge on Ratnih Veterana Street.

Mrkonjić’s company earned 41,500 euros through those projects.

The company has not had any registered turnover for years and has been blocked since June 2005. On the last day of 2019, Habit Invest’s account was frozen due to a debt of just under 6.000 euros.

Office Space in Belgrade Link to Sekulić

With Podgorica-based Habit Invest, Milutin Mrkonjić also moved into the company’s office in Belgrade in 2002. Several offices, a storeroom, a spacious room with a bar, toilet and storeroom – all that spanning 212 square meters located in Belgrade’s high-end Dedinje quarter, became Mrkonjić’s office space.

According to the company’s Articles of Association, all mail was delivered to the address of the Belgrade office – 27 Teodora Drajzera Street.

Radosav Sekulić’s Habit Pharm became the owner of this space in April 2003, and so the pharmaceutical company’s headquarters also moved to this address.

Later on, AIK Banka took over the office space in Dedinje on account of unpaid debts.

When he took over the company from its previous owner, Mrkonjić also kept the director of Habit Invest’s Belgrade office – Aleksandar Jankulović. Jankulović previously, from 1995 to 2001, worked at the Institute of Transportation CIP. At that time, the director of this analysis and design institution was none other than Mrkonjić.

Hidden ownership of Habit Med

Even though it is landlocked, because of its tax benefits Liechtenstein is considered an offshore haven, suitable for hiding ownership of a company. After Radosav Sekulić was arrested in 2012, Serbian and Montenegrin media reported that Sekulić was the man behind Liechtenstein-based Habit Med.

However, according to official data, the owner of this company was one Ulrike Antonia Schreiber-Eggenberger.

The data from Liechtenstein’s central register mark her as the owner of several companies, which are, like Habit Med, registered in the town of Schaan. Habit Med was shut down in February 2012.

Jankulović refused to speak to CINS about cooperation with this official.

“Without going into the intentions of your story, I think there is nothing interesting about the company Habit Invest. I have long lost touch with all the people you mentioned,” Jankulović briefly said.

After the company was shut down in March 2005, a new company moved into the office space in Dedinje – Habit Sport, owned by Duško Sekulić, followed by a company called Diabact, which Duško Sekulić is the director of today.

Duško Sekulić, who is standing trial for the Agrobanka affair, denies cooperating with Mrkonjić and says that he only saw him a few times.

“I don’t actually know him. The man is 80, I’m 50. I met the man five times and that’s all,” Duško Sekulić told CINS.

He claims to have nothing to do with Habit Invest either, even though the previous office of the company, in 2001, was located at 10 Uzun Mirkova Street, in office space rented from none other than Duško Sekulić.

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