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Serbian Officials in Kosovo Do Not Report Property and Income According to Serbian Law

27. May 2020.
Kosvska Mitrovica; foto: Ivan Vučković
The officials running Serbian public institutions in Kosovo mostly do not report their apartments, estates, cars, or the salaries paid to them from Serbian citizens’ money, to the Anti-Corruption Agency even though they are legally obliged to do so. The officials mainly answered calls from Belgrade and provided various excuses – they were not focused enough to answer, they didn’t know they were supposed to report the property or they asked the journalists for help.

“I don’t know, I can’t remember now whether I did or didn’t report (property and income), I’m self-isolating now and so I can’t focus,” Milan Ivanović, until recently the acting director of the Health Center in Kosovska Mitrovica, told the Center for Investigative Journalism of Serbia (CINS).

Milan Ivanović; foto: Kossev

There are more than 100 institutions in Kosovo that are under the jurisdiction of the Republic of Serbia, while Ivanović is just one of a number of officials whose salaries are financed by Serbian citizens’ money, and whose data on property and income are not on the Serbian Anti-Corruption Agency’s website.

The Anti-Corruption Agency is initiating proceedings against six officials employed in Kosovo

The mayor of North Mitrovica, Goran Rakić, is one of those who did not report his property and income to the Anti-Corruption Agency, nor was the Agency informed about his functions, the anti-corruption institution announced.

In addition to him, the president of the Provisional Authority of the Municipality of Kosovska Mitrovica, Aleksandar Spirić, the former director of the Health Center Kosovska Mitrovica Milan Ivanović, director of JKP Vodovod Ibar Miodrag Ralić and director of the Elementary school Sveti Sava in the same city Milorad Jovanović, as well as the dean of the Faculty of Sports and Physical Education in Leposavić Veroljub Stanković, although public officials in Serbian institutions in Kosovo did not report property and income, and the institutions in which they work did not inform the Agency about their appointment.

Therefore, the Anti-Corruption Agency announced for CINS that it will 'initiate preliminary checks against these officials in order to determine the existence of a violation of the Law on the Agency.'

Note: Text was added on May 28, 2020

According to the publicly available register of the Agency, only a small number of incumbent public officials in Kosovo respect the legal obligation of reporting their property and how much they earn. The data are absent for the principals of elementary and high schools, public and utility companies, deans, directors of cultural and welfare institutions, health care institutions, even for the presidents of the interim bodies in Kosovo and Metohija.

For example, according to the Kosovo Anti-Corruption Agency, the head of the Provisional Institution of the Municipality of Zvečan, Ivan Todosijević, in 2017 owned three houses, a Chevrolet, and an annual salary of 7,800 euros.

Todosijević did not wish to explain over the phone why the data were not in the records of the Serbian Agency, too. After we had organized a meeting in Kosovo, Todosijević stopped answering his phone or even replying to messages.

Some, on the other hand, passed the buck.

Officials violate law by not reporting property and income

According to the Law on the Anti-Corruption Agency, all officials are obliged to submit a report on assets and income to the Agency when they take office. Also, they are obliged to submit an annual report, if there are changes in their assets compared to the previous report, and extraordinary reports if in the meantime they receive income that exceeds the national average annual salaries.

They also submit reports two years after the termination of office, if there is a change.

There is a detailed explanation on the Agency website, along with the form they need to fill out. Those who fail to do so are committing a violation that carries a fine of between 50,000 and 150,000 dinars for reporting property after the deadline, while the same penalty faces those who do not report their taking of a new office.

If they hide or provide false data on their property, an official may also be handed down a prison sentence of between six months and five years, which entails dismissal from the job and a ban on performing public service for 10 years.

Agency officials confirmed for CINS that the same procedure applies to those who perform offices in Kosovo:

“The directors of public companies in the territory of the Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija, the founder of which is the Republic of Serbia, are obliged to submit the Report.”

Slavko Simić, head of the Kosovska Mitrovica Administrative District and Serb List (Srpska lista) representative in the Kosovo Assembly, according to last year’s data of the Kosovo Agency owns a car worth 7,000 euros, which he received as a gift, and savings in several banks. When asked how it was possible that the Agency in Belgrade did not have these data, Simić told us to ask his spokesman, who had no comment and pointed us back to Simić.

Zlatko Minić of Transparency Serbia told CINS that neither an official nor an institution could allow themselves to have double positions or salaries if they did not follow the law.

“It is shameless for both to earn anything and not fulfill something that is their obligation. On the other hand, the question is whether and how the Anti-Corruption Agency reacts. No one can get special treatment because they are in Kosovo or because they are uninformed.”

“I didn’t know I was supposed to do that” – Serbian officials’ most frequent excuse

Serbian officials, as an earlier investigation by CINS revealed, most often resort to the excuse of not being aware that they should report their property and income.

One of them is actor Svetislav Goncić, who has been the head of the Cultural Institution Vuk Stefanović Karadžić since 2016. He submitted his report 526 days late, using the excuse that he did not know he was supposed to do that and that he did not have a legal advisor who would inform him of the obligation.

Incumbent Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management Branislav Nedimović used a similar excuse when he was mayor of Sremska Mitrovica. He told CINS that he did not submit a report on his property and income in 2015 because he “forgot.”

None of that is an excuse for violating the law, says Zlatko Minić of Transparency Serbia.

“The law does not envisage that anyone is obliged to remind officials – not the institution in which they are employed, not their secretary, not the ministry, nor their fellow party members, but rather the law entails that someone who accepts a certain responsibility, who takes on a certain office, should check what obligations that office carries. Just like they know whether they are entitled to a driver, or to financial bonuses, so they should also know that they are obliged to report their property,” Minić explains.

Delays in the sending of reports, violation of the ban on performing other office and not transferring management rights in a company are the most frequent grounds for misdemeanor charges the Agency pressed from 2010 to November 2018, in 746 cases.

 

Director of the Welfare Center in Leposavić, Gradimir Nastić, did not deny that he had failed to report his property and income. However, he did not wish to give any official comment, but rather told us to address the Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs. The journalists contacted the Ministry, where we were told to address the Municipality of Leposavić which had appointed Nastić as director. We did not get an answer from the municipal administration by the time this article was published.

Other officials gave CINS various reasons why they had not submitted their reports.

Slobodan Mihajlović is the principal of the Gymnasium (preparatory high school) in Kosovska Mitrovica, who claims that he basically has nothing to report because he lives in his mother’s apartment.

“I was appointed only recently and I will report it, no problem. (…) I don’t even have any property. Income, yes, property – no. (…) I live in my mother’s apartment,” said Mihajlović.

His fellow citizen, Sveti Sava Elementary School principal Milorad Jovanović, asked the journalist whether he had to do that in every term in office even though, according to the data from the Anti-Corruption Agency website, he has never reported his office or property and income.

Jovanović kindly asked the journalist to tell him where he could find the form he needed to fill out, and agreed to give a statement on camera. However, when a Kosovo journalist asked him to arrange a shoot, Jovanović changed his mind.

Veroljub Stanković has been the dean of the Faculty of Sports and Physical Education in Leposavić since 2015 and told CINS he had “heard” that he did not need to report anything. However, he could not remember where, when and from whom he had heard that.

“Well I don’t know, that’s what the story was. (…) By the way, assets certainly cannot increase regarding salaries and all that, because the salaries are getting lower and lower,” Stanković says.

On the other hand, the dean of the Priština Faculty of Economics based in Kosovska Mitrovica, Tanja Vujović, was obviously well informed because she submitted a report to the Agency in late 2018.

Nevertheless, an excuse frequently used by Serb officials in Kosovo is that they did not know they needed to report their property and income.

The head of the Provisional Institution of the Municipality of Kosovska Mitrovica, Aleksandar Spirić, says that he definitely did not report his property and income. This official, who according to the Kosovo Agency’s data has an apartment spanning 72 square meters, another one spanning 60 square meters registered in his wife’s name, and annual earnings of 7,800 euros, explains:

“To be honest, I didn’t get any e-mails, I don’t even know. Honestly. But that’s not a problem, I can report that at any moment.”

Despite numerous attempts, North Mitrovica Mayor and Serb List (Srpska lista) official Goran Rakić did not answer journalists’ calls or reply to messages. Rakić performs several offices in Kosovo, but has not reported his property. According to the Business Registers Agency, Rakić is also the director of the Standard public utility company, while since September 2019 he has also been the representative of Trepča Football Club, having succeeded controversial businessman Milan Radoičić.

Goran Rakić; foto: Ivan Vučković/CINS

CINS asked the Anti-Corruption Agency representatives whether they would launch proceedings against the officials who had not reported their offices in Kosovo, property and income, i.e. whether they would be sanctioned, but no reply came by the time the article was published. We also asked why many of these officials could not be found in the “search officials” field on the Agency website, as well as whether any of them had sent a report after all, but the Agency had failed to publicize it.

Reports against officials in previous years

From 2010 to 2018 the Anti-Corruption Agency pressed four charges against public officials working in Kosovo. In the case of Basic Court in Kosovska Mitrovica Judge Milorad Antić and Priština-based Institute for Serbian Culture director Dragan Tančić, charges were pressed in 2016 and 2017 respectively due to their being late in reporting their property and income.

More details on the subject can be found in the database of proceedings against officials on the CINS website.

Zlatko Minić from Transparency Serbia explains that it is quite possible that the Agency has not heard of a health care institution or faculty in Kosovo, but as soon as it does hear about it, it must react.

“So now, if it has not done that yet, it must initiate proceedings”, Minić underscores.

The Office for Kosovo and Metohija had no comment on such moves by the officials who are financed from the Serbian budget.

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