06 December 2018, 09:06

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Irresponsible Officials Still Get the Biggest Number of Lightest Penalties

The Anti-Corruption Agency has so far launched proceedings against Prime Minister Ana Brnabić and eight ministers on suspicion of violation of the Agency Act, while in the case of seven of them the suspicion was confirmed, shows research by CINS, which has put together a single database with more than 2,700 proceedings launched against officials across Serbia

By: Anđela Milivojević, Bojana Bosanac, Teodora Ćurčić

Ilustracija: Đorđe Matić

Ilustracija: Đorđe Matić

An apartment in Belgrade, six cars and about 1,700 square meters of real estate in the territory of the municipality of Brus, as well as several plots approximately twice that surface area, have for years been the property of Serbian Progressive Party official and Brus Mayor Milutin Jeličić and his wife.

 

Jeličić also owns a company called Panikop in Belgrade, in which he transferred management rights no sooner than at the beginning of November 2018, even though he should have done so back in 2010 – when the Agency Act came into force.


The Anti-Corruption Agency pressed criminal charges against him with the Basic Public Prosecutor’s Office in Brus in May 2018, because he had not reported all property data despite having been obligated to do so under the Agency Act.

The municipal chief ended up in the spotlight due to the “café on Pančić’s Peak” case. According to a story by BIRN, in late July the Ministry of Construction, Transport and Infrastructure pressed criminal charges against Jeličić on suspicion that, in collusion with Snežana Mitković, the investor behind the illegal structure built at the top of Mt. Kopaonik, he had brokered and traded in influence by ordering an officer to forge official documents.

Jeličić, who did not wish to speak with the journalists of the Center for Investigative Journalism of Serbia (CINS), is one of the four officials against whom the Agency pressed charges in the first 10 months of this year, on suspicion that they had intended to cover up their actual property.

 

“In the National Assembly itself these decisions by the Agency are not particularly important, because if they were they would be taken into account when deciding who can be a member of the government and whether someone should be dismissed from that position because they committed a violation”.

Nemanja Nenadić, Transparency Serbia Program Director

 

Photo: Media Center

Charges were also pressed against Dragan Budujkić, on suspicion that, as an alderman of the Serbian Progressive Party in the Kladovo Municipal Assembly – a position he occupied until 2016 – he had concealed property.

“I didn’t acquire anything, I have two loans which I’m barely dealing with. I didn’t even buy myself a pen while I was in the municipal assembly. I drove my own car to work and I never abused official cars”, Budujkić told CINS.

Before these proceedings, under way before the Basic Public Prosecutor’s Office in Negotin, Budujkić received a warning and misdemeanor charges from the Agency. In an interview with the journalists, Budujkić explained that the warning and charges had been caused by his ignorance, since prior to politics he had worked in health care.

In 2018, criminal charges were also pressed against Gordana Radosavljević, former assistant minister at the Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications, as well as against Stevan Dželatović, former director of Resavica, a Despotovac-based public company operating nine underground coal mines. The charges against Dželatović were dismissed.

 

The Proceedings against Officials database publicized by CINS shows that from its formation in 2010 until November 2018, the Agency sent prosecutors’ offices across the country criminal charges against 81 officials. Among them are one incumbent minister in the Serbian government, several current and former MPs, mayors and municipal chiefs, as well as judges and faculty deans.

The criminal charges are just a part of the total 2,766 proceedings the Agency initiated for the purpose of checking the assets of officials and preventing a conflict of interest.

 

Lightest Penalties Most Frequent

 

The database reveals that the Agency is predominantly inclined to issue the mildest warning – 1,839 warnings in total were handed down to officials in the observed eight-year period, to some of them several times, in different positions, like Minister of Finance Siniša Mali. The most frequent reason for the warning is a delay in submitting reports on property and income, as well as failure to report property, transfer managing rights, conflict of interest etc.

At an individual level, a warning may have some effect if the same official does not repeat that or another form of violation of the law in their subsequent work. However, the problem with handing down such measures is that they remain unknown to other officials, they are not publicized, thereby the possibility that they, too, will be persuaded to break the law less is lost, says Nemanja Nenadić, the program director of the Transparency Serbia NGO. 

 

A delay in sending a report on one’s own assets, violation of the ban on performing other office or the non-transfer of management rights in a company are the most frequent grounds for the criminal charges the Agency decided to press in 746 cases.

 

In the event that a misdemeanor has been detected, an official may be fined between 50,000 and 150,000 dinars, but data show that a considerable number of proceedings end with fines at a legal minimum, a serious warning or with exceeding the statute of limitations, among other things, because the court could not locate the officials and hand them subpoenas.

 

Due to the incomplete data the CINS journalists received from the Agency, as well as due to the particular method of data search at the Misdemeanor Court in Belgrade, the outcomes of a number of misdemeanor proceedings in the CINS database are not completely known.

 

Source: the Anti-Corruption Agency; graphic presentation: CINS


However, the Agency also has other ways of punishing irresponsible officials.

 

The Agency handed down the measure of publication of the decision on violation of the law 328 times, and along with it the Agency also publicizes on its website, in the Official Gazette and in other media which official has violated the law and how. Some measures are currently being appealed.

 

Nenadić believes that this form of pressure is insufficient:

 

“The Agency could certainly give its decisions much more publicity, yet it does so only sporadically. In the other part, it is up to the public itself, to what extent the media will cover that which has been publicized. In the third step, at least judging by the experience so far, in many cases those measures turn out to be ineffective as long as there is political support for the official in question. And in situations where it is politically convenient for some reason, then the Agency’s decisions are used as one of the reasons for dismissal”.

 

A Record Holder in Number of Warnings among Ministers

A Record Holder in Number of Warnings among Ministers

Minister of Finance Siniša Mali received three warnings for being late sending reports, but also because he had not reported all of his property, nor had he transferred management rights in his company at the time.

 

Mali did not answer CINS’ questions by the date of publication of this article.

 

Photo: Nenad Petrović, BETA

On the grounds of conflict of interest the Agency requested the dismissal of 204 officials, i.e. gave a non-binding proposal to the institutions at which they were working to dismiss them. Some of those proposals are currently being appealed. The reasons for the proposed dismissal are, among other things, nepotism in employing members of the immediate family and other relatives, or, for example, the allocation of municipal budget funds to one’s own company.

 

Among the officials who received a dismissal recommendation are some who were handed down the measure twice.

 

Biljana Nikolić, director of the Ub Health Center, received her first recommendation for dismissal in 2017 after she had employed her son Aleksandar first as an intern and then part-time, while in 2018 she got another recommendation for dismissal because, after a competition in which four candidates met the requirements, she had once again hired her own son, this time full-time. Both times she failed to notify the Agency of the potential conflict of interest. The appeal procedure for the second warning is still in progress. Nikolić still occupies the post of Health Center director and refused to talk about the subject with the CINS journalists.

 

The data CINS obtained show that not all institutions follow recommendations for dismissal.

 

Nenadić says that the fact the Agency is not authorized to order a body to dismiss an official affects decisions on dismissal, but adds that this, too, is a matter of political will.

 

Past Violators of the Law, Today’s Ministers in the Government

 

The Anti-Corruption Agency initiated proceedings against nine out of the 22 Serbian government members on suspicion of violation of the Agency Act, and the violation was confirmed for seven of them, according to the CINS database on proceedings against public officials.

Prime Minister Ana Brnabić and three ministers were handed down warnings over problems with the data in their property reports.

Brnabić received a warning in March 2018 for having failed to report that she owned some land on the Croatian island of Krk, which she had acquired after probate proceedings. In her reply to CINS, Brnabić said that she filed an appeal against the warning to the Administrative Court in May 2018, and that the proceedings were still in progress.

“I did not violate the Anti-Corruption Agency Act because I regularly reported my assets. I certainly respect the work of independent and judicial institutions and will abide by any decision of the Agency and the Administrative Court”, Prime Minister Brnabić told CINS.

 

Ana Brnabić, Serbian Prime Minister

Ana Brnabić, Serbian Prime Minister

Ana Brnabić did not wish to comment on the actions of other cabinet members. In that way, she believes, she would violate the presumption of innocence and the rule of law.

Photo: website of Serbian Goverenment 

Minister of Culture and Information Vladan Vukosavljević and Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management Branislav Nedimović were handed down warnings in 2015 because they were behind schedule in sending property reports. At the time, Vukosavljević was working at the Belgrade City Administration Secretariat for Culture, while Nedimović was the mayor of Sremska Mitrovica.

 

Nedimović says that he did not submit a property report in 2015 because it had slipped his mind, but that he has submitted it every time since then, even up to three months in advance, as it seems to him.

 

“I think that, in the case of top officials, for the sake of the public and the public funds they manage it is important that [these things] are known“, Nedimović said, commenting on the importance of the Agency Act.

 

Vladan Vukosavljević declined to comment on the proceedings the Agency had initiated against him.

 

A record holder in the number of warnings received is Minister of Finance Siniša Mali, who received three for being late sending reports, but also because he had not reported all of his property, nor had he transferred management rights in his company at the time. Besides that, in 2016, on suspicion of money laundering, the Agency also sent a report on checking Mali’s property to the Higher Public Prosecutor’s Office in Belgrade, which dismissed the charges, while a portion of the case was forwarded to the First Public Prosecutor’s Office as well. In the end, Mali gave 200,000 dinars to charity and the proceedings were suspended. The action in question was the legal option of application of opportunity whereby the prosecution, after striking a deal with a suspect and their fulfillment of obligations, dismisses criminal charges.

 

Mali did not answer CINS’ questions by the date of publication of this article.

 

Slavica Đukić Dejanović, the minister without portfolio in charge of demographics and population policy, is the only incumbent minister in the government against whom the Agency pressed criminal charges. The proceedings, on suspicion that Đukić Dejanović had hidden information on ownership of an apartment, have been under way since 2014 before the Basic Prosecutor’s Office in Kragujevac. The minister was questioned, but the investigation is still in progress.

 

Đukić Dejanović says that the subject of the charges is an apartment she sold long before she became a politician.

 

“I have delivered all documentation regarding all the circumstances that were asked of me and I really think I have nothing more to add there. I had evidence for each element which, in fact, refuted the very content of those criminal proceedings”, she told CINS.

 

In the meantime, Dejanović was handed down a 100,000 dinar fine because the Agency pressed misdemeanor charges in 2013. She said the reason for these charges was tardiness of a service of the Ministry of Health, which she had led at the time, in submitting certain data to the Agency which had not had anything to do with her property.

 

“I didn’t acquire anything, I have two loans which I’m barely dealing with. I didn’t even buy myself a pen while I was in the municipal assembly. I drove my own car to work and I never abused official cars”.

Dragan Budujkić, former Serbian Progressive Party alderman in the Kladovo Municipal Assembly

Misdemeanor charges were also pressed against Zorana Mihajlović, the minister of construction, transport and infrastructure, in 2014, because she had not reported significant changes to her property, but the proceedings against her exceeded the statute of limitations in 2016. The Misdemeanor Court handed down 50,000 dinar fines to Minister of Public Administration and Local Self-Government Branko Ružić, who was late sending a property report, and Minister of Economy Goran Knežević, who failed to report significant changes to his property.

 

“In my particular case, the measures were not completely justified nor were they too important, given that I, as a responsible citizen, fulfill my obligations within legally defined periods and respect the work and measures of the Agency”, Ružić told CINS and added that he believed the Agency played an important social part.

 

The Prosecutor’s Office for Organized Crime focused on the property of Minister of Defense Aleksandar Vulin in 2015, based on an Agency report. The proceedings were suspended due to a lack of evidence of the existence of a criminal offense.

 

CINS did not receive any answers from Zorana Mihajlović and Aleksandar Vulin by the time this article was publicized.

 

Prime Minister Ana Brnabić did not wish to comment on the actions of other cabinet members. In that way, she believes, she would violate the presumption of innocence and the rule of law, i.e. she would risk affecting the principle of division of government, i.e. the independence of the judiciary.

 

The current ministers are not the only ones who violated the Agency Act – proceedings were initiated against 10 ministers from several previous cabinets.

 

Five of them received the mildest warning: two former culture ministers, Ivan Tasovac and Bratislav Petković, Alisa Marić as the minister of youth and sports, Ivan Mrkić while at the helm of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Tomislav Jovanović while spearheading the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development.

 

Nikola Selaković, Aleksandar Vučić’s Secretary General

Nikola Selaković, Aleksandar Vučić’s Secretary General

In 2014, the Agency issued a recommendation that then justice minister Selaković be dismissed from the position due to a conflict of interest. He appealed to the Agency Board, which never made a final decision in this case. Today he is the secretary general of Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić.

Photo: website of Ministry of Justice

In early 2012, while he was the minister of culture, Predrag Marković awarded his own company Stubovi kulture – Vreme kulture more than 1.1 million dinars from the Ministry budget. The following year the Agency issued a public decision on violation of the law in this case, and declared the Ministry’s decision and the controversial contract null and void.

 

The same measure was handed down to Mlađan Dinkić, former minister of finance and economy, because he had gotten a job as director at the MD Solutions company without the Agency’s consent and before the end of two years as of his departure from office, envisaged by the Agency Act. Dinkić appealed the decision and the Agency Board put the proceedings up for another review. Although the Agency website says that the Agency’s decision is final, it is impossible to see what happened after the Board’s decision.

 

The Agency also conducted proceedings against Zoran Stanković, former health minister, and in 2013 issued a public decision on violation of the law because he had, during participation in a meeting of the Council of Europe health ministers, in a statement to the media, promoted the idea of regionalizing Serbia. That idea was part of the political program of the United Regions of Serbia party, on whose election ticket Stankovic was a presidential candidate. He appealed to the Agency Board and the decision was annulled several months later.

 

In late 2014, the Agency issued a recommendation that former justice minister Nikola Selaković be dismissed from the position due to a conflict of interest. Selaković appealed to the Agency Board, which never made a final decision in this case, thus the proceedings are officially still in progress. Selaković is today the secretary general of Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić.

In the case of Dragan Šutanovac, former defense minister, criminal charges were pressed in 2012, but he was acquitted after a trial.

“In the National Assembly itself these decisions by the Agency are not particularly important, because if they were they would be taken into account when deciding who can be a member of the government and whether someone should be dismissed from that position because they committed a violation”, Nemanja Nenadić explained, commenting on the proceedings the Agency had launched against current or former ministers.

 

More than Half of Criminal Proceedings Dismissed

 

Source: courts in Serbia and the Anti-Corruption Agency; graphic presentation: CINS


Prosecutors’ offices in Serbia most frequently dismiss criminal charges against officials pressed for failure to report property, show the data CINS found analyzing the outcomes of 81 criminal charges pressed between 2010 and November 2018.

 

A total of 24 criminal charges were dismissed as unfounded, while in 19 cases proceedings were resolved with the application of opportunity, meaning that the officials were ordered to pay certain amounts of money, for example to charity, after which the charges were dismissed.

 

The sums paid on these grounds ranged from 30,000 to 300,000 dinars and were often lower than the officials’ monthly earnings.

 

On the other hand, if a court finds that an official has hidden or provided false information on their property, they may be sentenced to between six months and five years in prison. Being found guilty of this criminal offense also means dismissal from the job and a ban on performing public office for 10 years.

 

The data from the Proceedings against Officials database show that very few criminal charges were resolved before a court – 15 in total.

 

Serbian courts handed down guilty verdicts in 10 cases: among them to two former MPs – Momčilo Duvnjak of the Serbian Radical Party and Radoslav Mojsilović of the New Serbia party, as well as to the former head of the municipality of Mladenovac, Dejan Čokić, and Serbian Railways Managing Board member Nebojša Janićijević.

 

Two officials were put under house arrest and had to wear ankle monitors, while all the others received suspended sentences, so to date none of the officials who were convicted after the criminal charges have actually gone to jail.

 

The criminal charges and other documents from criminal proceedings can be found in the database: funkcioneri.cins.rs.

 

Five officials were acquitted of charges of violating the Agency Act. Besides Dragan Šutanovac, also acquitted were former MP Dragan Tomić, former state secretaries at the Ministry of Youth and Sports and the Ministry of Economy, Predrag Peruničić and Aleksandar Živković, respectively, as well as Snežana Paralidis, a former councilwoman of the Crveni Krst municipality in Niš.

 

Almost a quarter of criminal charges remain unresolved, and some of them were pressed back in 2013 and 2014, like in the case of Minister without Portfolio Slavica Đukić Dejanović or MP Goran Ješić.

 


This article is funded by a grant from the US State Department. Opinions, findings and the conclusions set forth here belong to the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the US State Department.


From November 2018 to September 2019 the work of CINS is supported by Sweden, within the Belgrade Open School program "Civil Society as a Force for a Change in the Serbia's EU Accession Process."


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Binka Butic
23 March 2019, 06:23
Ko delio pa plakao, nikas se ne veselio!


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