By Biljana Pekusic
The public is still shaken a week after the arrests of 17 people, including two former directors of the state mine Kolubara. Former executives Dragan Tomic and Vladan Jovicic, eight executive managers and seven owners of private firms with which Kolubara conducted business were arrested on October 4th.
Justice Minister Snezana Malovic said the prosecution would not stop at this juncture and Serbia would never again be seen as a country in which corruption is acceptible or thieves protected.
“Pre-trial proceedings were initiated because of suspicion that Kolubara’s assets were used illegally through the leasing of construction machinery from privately owned companies, and by enabling other corporations and persons material gain,” organised crime prosecutor Miljko Radisavljevic told SETimes.
The executive managers are suspected of abusing their positions to illegally appropriate up to 2.9m euros, while enabling private companies to illegally profit 9.2m euros.
According to documents, the Kolubara executives rented construction machinery from private owners without issuing public procurement tenders.
The executives increased payments by exaggerating work-hours, such as for bulldozers which operated uninterrupted for 24 hours a day. The executives also paid two or three times for machinery doing one job, falsely presenting excavators as operating 30 days in a row and workers 90 hours without a break.
“Operating costs for leasing machinery increased in 2009 up to 80% or 40m euros,” current Kolubara director Nebojsa Ceran told SETimes.
Ceran assumed the position of director after the now arrested directors left in 2009.
Most of the arrested blame Tomic, saying he made the decision to rent the machinery and enter false data to pay for jobs that were never really done.
He spent millions of state funds at Kolubara, donating to churches, sports clubs, individuals and organisations, including the nationalist organisation “Dveri srpske” (Serbian doors).
The Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) of former Prime Minster Vojislav Kostunica placed Tomic at the helm of Kolubara during Kostunica’s premiership. DSS, now in the opposition, demands “to determine responsibly and impartially whether there were violations of the laws in that company, and who was responsible”.
“It is very dangerous if arrests are for a political showdown with opponents,” DSS spokesperson Petar Petkovic told SETimes.
Velimir Ilic, former infrastructure minister in the Kostunica government, explained that Kolubara’s high costs were never discussed at government meetings.
“It was a practice that lasted for years, not only during our government, but also before 2000,” Ilic told SETimes.
However, former Kolubara General Director Slobodan Djeric, who served under the late Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, was among the first to warn of theft in the company years ago.
“By some estimates, the state suffered damages in the amount of 550m euros by employing privately-owned machinery from 2004 to 2009, Djeric told SETimes.
Others implicated in the situation at Kolubara are businessmen Radoslav “Kene” Savatijevic and Vitomir Dimitrijevic.
Prior to being taken into custody, Savatijevic was already under house arrest for several months on suspicion of fictitious construction of the road bypasses around Pozarevac and Smederevo.
Kolubara leased from three Savatijevic-owned companies, and it sold coal at reduced prices to his fourth company.
About 100 machine owners worked with Kolubara, including the daughter-in-law of Jagodina Mayor Dragan “Palma” Markovic, president of the United Serbia Party in the ruling government coalition.
The investigation is likely to be extended to other people, time periods and areas, such as coal trading.