Serbia’s Top Politicians Offer Humble Asset Declarations

Publicly available records show that the leading contenders in Serbia’s upcoming parliamentary election only own modest assets - although the documents may not tell the whole story.

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Most of the leading candidates in Serbia’s April 24 parliamentary election hold only modest assets, according to publicly available records reviewed by BIRN, and some do not even have a home to their name despite long careers in politics.

Politicians such as former Serbian President Boris Tadic and Vojislav Seselj, a former deputy prime minister, do not personally own any properties. Incumbent Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic is listed as the owner of a modest studio apartment, while the leader of the opposition Democratic Party, Bojan Pajtic, owns a one-bedroom flat.

In some cases, however, family members are listed in public records as owners of assets that are many more times valuable.

The BIRN investigation into the holdings of 11 current and former state officials who are running in the election as leaders of their party candidate lists looked only at publicly-available information, including cadastral records, business registers and data of Serbia’s Anti-Corruption Agency.

The data from cadastral records, business registers and the Anti-Corruption Agency was cross-referenced in a search for apartments, land and companies. This investigation, however, does not provide the complete picture of the financial might wielded by Serbian politicians, given it relies only on public records, and not the clandestine channels some might pursue to amass assets out of the public eye.

Only Dragan ‘Palma’ Markovic, leader of the United Serbia party and head of the council in Jagodina, a town in central Serbia, could be said to have considerable declared assets far exceeding those of his peers who were investigated by BIRN.

Out of the 11 politicians in the investigation, nine agreed to discuss their property holdings.

Boris Tadic, president of Serbia between 2004 and 2012 and leader of the Alliance for a Better Serbia election coalition, is not registered as owning any real estate or companies.

Tadic told BIRN that his parents were granted a university apartment which they later bought outright and also had a small weekend property originally of 19 square metres for which they paid about 7,000 German marks before building an extension to the house.

“I have no other real estate in the country or abroad because I had no way of obtaining it on the income I have received up to now,” Tadic said.

Bojan Pajtic, who heads the regional government in Serbia’s northern Vojvodina region and is the top candidate of the opposition Democratic Party in the nationwide elections, owns a one-bedroom apartment in central Novi Sad, Serbia’s second city.

His wife, Vesna is registered as owning half of a three-bedroom, riverside apartment, also in Novi Sad, according to cadastral records. Pajtic told BIRN that his wife inherited half of her family apartment but that her sister quickly bought her out so she is no longer the co-owner.

“My apartment was bought in 1999 – when I did not hold any public office – with funds given to me as a gift by my grandparents while I was doing my post-graduate studies,” Pajtic told BIRN. He said the property cost 40,000 German marks.

Neither Cedomir Jovanovic, the second-ranked candidate in the Alliance for a Better Serbia coalition with Boris Tadic, nor his wife Jelena, are registered as owning a home. The couple rent a villa in the riverside Belgrade municipality of Zemun, according to media reports. 

Jovanovic, a former MP, deputy prime minister is registered as owning 1,420 square meters of land in Mladenovac, south of Belgrade, and a company involved in agriculture called Agrohub. 

Until February 2015, Jovanovic owned 45 per cent of a Belgrade-registered company called SHSF, before transferring his stake to another person, his Liberal Democratic Party said in an email to BIRN. 

The company, which deals in energy industry equipment, owned around 1,200 square metres of business premises in the Belgrade neighbourhood of Krnjaca but is now bankrupt. His wife Jelena holds a 0.15 per cent stake in the company Agroposlovi, which is also involved in agriculture.

Vojislav Seselj, who hopes to lead his ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party back into parliament having been acquitted of war crimes by the Hague-based UN tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in March, is registered as living in a house owned by his wife, Jadranka, a housewife, in the Batajnica suburb of Belgrade. Jadranka Seselj also owns a field and a plot of land in Batajnica. 

Seselj’s late mother Danica, who died in 2007, is still listed in records as the owner of two plots of land, a garage and two houses with a combined area of 500 square metres. Seselj, who served as deputy prime minister from 1998-2000 and mayor of Zemun from 1996-98, is only registered as owning a 56-per-cent share in the publishing company Velika Srbija (Greater Serbia), which is worth just over 1,000 euros. 

Prime Minister Vucic and Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic, both former close aides of Seselj, were also previously co-owners of the publishing house. Seselj did not respond to questions sent by BIRN.

According to the most recent asset declaration available on the website of Serbia’s Anti-Corruption Agency, Vucic owns a studio apartment of 30 square metres. The apartment is according to cadastral records located in the Belvil apartment complex of New Belgrade.

In the same building, next to the prime minister’s studio, is a 104 square metres apartment owned by Vucic’s wife, Tamara Djukanovic. In an April 13 interview, Vucic told the KRIK Crime and Corruption Reporting Network that his wife’s parents had bought that apartment.

Cadastral records list Vucic as the owner of a 118-square-metre apartment, also in New Belgrade, awarded to him by the Serbian government in 1998 when he was minister of information. But in comments to BIRN, Vucic’s media aide Suzana Vasiljevic said the information was out of date and that Vucic had signed the apartment over to his former wife, Ksenija, but that she had not yet been entered into the records as owner.

Vucic’s brother, Andrej, owns a four-bedroom apartment in New Belgrade. His father, Andjelko, has a house of 174 square metres in the Belgrade neighbourhood of Jajinci, built without a construction permit, according to cadastral records, and around 2.4 hectares of arable land near the northern town of Sremska Mitrovica.

Vucic’s mother, Angelina, owns around 1.7 acres of land in Novi Becej, also in northern Serbia, and until February this year was the owner of a 62-square-metre apartment in New Belgrade.

Vucic’s parents also own an apartment in high-end Krunska Street in Belgrade, though its size is not listed in cadastral records. They are also registered as owning an apartment of 88 square metres in New Belgrade, but Vasiljevic said they had sold it in order to buy the Krunska apartment.

Dragan ‘Palma’ Markovic, leader of Jagodina municipal assembly who shares top billing with Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic in the United Serbia-Socialist Party of Serbia election alliance, holds the most declared assets, by a long way.

With his wife Snezana, their son Dalibor and Dalibor’s company Palma, which he got from his father, Markovic is joint owner of over 190 hectares of arable land and about 3,500 square metres of office and housing space. Markovic did not respond to BIRN’s questions.

His election running-mate, Dacic, has nothing under his name in cadastral records, but in his asset declaration for the Anti-Corruption Agency, the former prime minister, interior minister and aide to late Serbian strongman leader Slobodan Milosevic, said he owns three quarters of a 119-metre-square apartment. Dacic’s Socialist Party of Serbia, in replies to BIRN, said there was a mistake in the cadastral records.

Sanda Raskovic-Ivic, Serbia’s former commissioner for refugees, who heads the right-wing election alliance between her Democratic Party of Serbia and the Dveri party, is not registered as owning any property. Her husband, Aleksandar Ivic, owns a three-bedroom apartment in central Belgrade, a weekend house in the northwestern Fruska Gora region and agricultural land he inherited in Vojvodina.

Aleksandar Ivic told BIRN that the couple had bought the apartment in 1996 in his name given that his wife at the time did not hold Serbian citizenship and that he later gave her half as a gift but had not registered this in the cadastral records.

Sasa Radulovic, a former economy minister, holds no real estate in his name. He previously had a business in bankruptcy management registered at his mother Danica’s address, in an apartment she bought in the 1990s, according to Radulovic’s replies to BIRN.

Radulovic’s wife, Tatjana, owns two firms with total capital of 1,000 euros. She also has part-ownership of four inherited properties in the Vracar neighbourhood of Belgrade.

Borko Stefanovic, an MP, former foreign ministry official and now leader of the Serbian Left party, is not registered in cadastral records as owning any property, but said in his asset declaration that he owns two-thirds of an apartment.

Stefanovic said the cadastral records had made a mistake. “I bought this apartment when I sold a previous, smaller apartment that I inherited from my grandmother,” he said.

“I paid some additional money that I saved up in the United States,” he added, referring to a stint working at the embassy of Serbia and Montenegro in Washington from 2003 to 2007. His father, Vasilije, owns a small apartment and office space, while his brother, Branislav, owns an apartment, which Stefanovic said was where the brothers grew up.

Dveri leader Bosko Obradovic, a local councillor in the western city of Cacak, owns an apartment of 63 square metres in Cacak and is co-owner of the publishing company Catena Mundi in Belgrade. In replies to BIRN, Obradovic said he still did not consider himself the owner of the apartment as he has four years of repayments left to make on the bank loan he took to buy it.

Declaring assets

People who hold public office in Serbia are obliged to submit an asset declaration to the Anti-Corruption Agency, under a practice introduced in 2010.

According to the law, besides their own holdings, politicians must declare assets also held by their spouses or partners, their children, parents, brothers and sisters and, at the request of the agency, all other persons deemed to be connected with them.

The declaration includes data on real estate, vehicles, valuable, valuable art work, bank deposits, interests in companies, copyrights, debts, loans and income.

“Since Serbian voters feel animosity toward the rich, particularly toward those who got rich while engaged in politics, it’s logical that politicians act accordingly and, even if they have personal possessions, are not willing to show it,” said Nemanja Nenadic, programme director of the Transparency Serbia watchdog.

While noting that the average official salary of a politician in Serbia is actually relatively small, Nenadic said it was possible that a part of their assets remained undeclared, the scale of which would depend on how many people they trusted to take on the formal ownership.

“There’s no mechanism to check that,” Nenadic told BIRN.

“Our laws don’t provide the solutions that could prevent politicians from prescribing their property to third parties,” he said.

This article is also available in: Bos/Hrv/Srp