Photo: The premises are now party’s headquarters in Belgrade, CINS

Photo: The premises are now party’s headquarters in Belgrade, CINS

By: Vladimir Kostić, Milica Šarić (CINS)

Five offices, with a total area of 590 square meters on the third floor in the building in Palmira Toljatija Street in Belgrade municipality of Novi Beograd, became the property of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) in December 2017. Velibor Jovanović, the SNS councillor in the Assembly of Kruševac, and Aleksandar Vučić, the President of the Republic of Serbia and the ruling party, signed a Gift Deed with an obligation to let the Belgrade City Board of the party to use the space.

Although the Gift Deed does not specify the price of the real estate, i.e. the value of the gift, the financial report of SNS shows that Jovanović donated to the party the offices in the amount of 156 million RSD, or about 1.3 million EUR in 2017. Jovanović bought those offices in October 2016 at a price of about 250 thousand EUR, or five times lesser value.

Nemanja Nenadić, from the organization Transparency Serbia, says he sees no reason why SNS has not bought the property since SNS has large budget funds and the Law on Financing Political Activities allows them to buy real estate.

The Law prescribed the ways in which political actors can accept contributions or donations. A contribution can be money of an individual or a company, but also a gift and some services provided without compensation or under conditions that differ from market conditions. A party is obliged to report to the Anti-Corruption Agency every contribution, and if it exceeds an annual average wage, it has to be published on the website of the party.

However, the Law prescribes limits as well - the amount of donation a party is allowed to take. When a natural person donates to a party, the value of the gift for party’s regular work on an annual basis should not exceed twenty average monthly wages, which in 2017 amounted to about 920 thousand RSD. In case that a donor is a company or any other legal entity, this limit is raised to two hundred average salaries. If a donor exceeds the limit a party shall return the donation within 15 days of receiving the contribution. This, however, did not happen.

Giving of the premises in New Belgrade was not legally allowed, Nenadić said. “In case of misdemeanor proceedings and finding SNS and the responsible person in the SNS to be guilty for illegal gifts, I see no other solution in the Law than to seize the asset acquired by committing these offenses.”

Except of being the SNS councilor in Kruševac, a city in central Serbia, Jovanović is also the manager of Kruševac-based branch of the Automobile and Motorcycle Association of Serbia (AMSS) and the owner of several companies, including privatized Radio Television Trstenik. He is the director of two companies owned by Vladan Gašić, son of Bratislav Gašić, the director of the Security Information Agency.

Jovanović did not answer phone calls of journalists from the Center for Investigative Reporting in Serbia (CINS), and SNS also didn’t answer the questions.

Božo Drašković, the former member of the Board of the Anti-Corruption Agency, thinks that it is doubtful whether the Agency has noticed or missed to notice that the legal limit has been exceeded.

I am afraid that there are different criteria in this country when you are in power and when you are not in power,” Drašković said.

Before donation in Belgrade, in February 2016, Jovanović led a consortium of 20 people that bought about 396 square meters of office space in Kruševac, worth slightly more than 13 million RSD. Just two months later, they gave the offices to the party, for the local City Board to use.

When asked by a CINS journalist whether and when it initiated proceedings in these two cases, the Anti-Corruption Agency did not respond.

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