Miskovic has been remanded in custody, and the news of this event was received in Serbia with significantly less discord than the arrest and extradition of, for example, Ratko Mladic to the Hague Tribunal. I am not denying that a serious investigation of one of the key players of the fourth (tycoon-partocracy) branch of power is an important event. I agree that a truly serious criminal investigation demands his incarceration. If he did create governments, something he is being accused of, not without grounds, he could try to influence at least the witnesses. Everything is as it should be in a country with the rule of law.
In one of his numerous statements, Aleksandar Vucic informed us that the police and prosecution are no longer being prevented from doing their jobs. And just when I thought that the rule of law has been liberated within Vucic’s peaceful soul – he hailed it – political will (Svedok, RTS, 12.12.2012). Without both his political will, and the political will of his party, the prosecution and police would be still diligently studying the documents provided by the Anticorruption Council, and would be limiting themselves to theoretical study of the legacy of Verica Barac. The only things they needed to turn theory into practice was political will. The law, by itself, without political flavor, is not sufficient for our prosecutors and police officers. As if not one of those people who graduated in law remembers at least the boring history of law lesson about the definition of rule of law from the The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, a fundamental document of the French Revolution. No body or individual may exercise any authority unless said authority has been expressly delegated. If said authority has been expressly delegated, then it must be exercised. Denying access to the judiciary is a criminal act.
If the rule of law, functioning independently from political will, existed in Serbia, the Prosecution for organized crime would, for example, already be processing the criminal charges filed (back in May 14th, 2010 – www.antikorupcija-savet.org.rs) by the Anticorruption Council against 17 individuals (led by Predrag Bubalo and Milan Beko) regarding the shares of The Belgrade Port. At least several interrogations would have been held and things would have started moving. However, there is no information than anyone was subpoenaed or answered a subpoena, nor that any arrests were made. If anyone had been remanded in custody, we would have known. Despite the fact that the Anticorruption Council is an advisory body of the Government, and cannot be faulted for lack of either legal or political will to request investigation into matters for which reasonable suspicion of corruption has been established. However, in a country without the rule of law, our prosecution very much cares about who the bearer of political will is, how this political will is expressed and who it belongs to.
“Nobody is protected” is the phrase constantly repeated by our politicians. Dinkic has taken this even a step further: “Everyone must be questioned if the people have suspicions”(Kaziprst, B92, 17.12.2012). One cannot but remember the hunger and thirst strike of the current President, and his statements regarding the visit of one of the leading figures in the criminal charges filed by the Anticorruption Council (Beko): “He does not have to be part of the government, he should only try to convince people he does business around the world with that Serbia is a country worth investing in. I would consider this sufficient support”, Nikolic had stated at the time. He also pointed out that he would not invite Beko to take part in the government just because he was, at the time, in a conflict with the authorities. Furthermore, when asked whether Milan Beko would have preferential treatment if SNS came to power, because he was one of the few people who visited Nikolic while he was in hospital during his strike, the (then) leader of SNS said that Beko already had preferential treatment in the past. (B92, Politika, Press, 24.07.2011). Whether someone is (or used to be) privileged in Nikolic’s opinion, is not the point – the point is that he or she remains privileged in the practice of law enforcement forces. As long as specific political will does not come up.
The arrest of Miskovic, despite the generally accepted presumption of heroism, does not carry a significant political risk by itself. All things considered, he was so strongly politically affiliated with everyone, that he became politically affiliated with no one. And here I arrive to the essence of the criminal investigation of Miskovic and his associates. This arrest will become a political risk only when/if a connection with state bodies, or more precisely, politicians and government officials who held, or currently hold political functions, is established. As much as I could discern from legally not completely clear statement made by the Prosecutor for organized crime, Miljko Radisavljevic, and from several serious articles in the press, which did not only follow the “arrest of the century”, but also the criminal acts Miskovic and his associates are charged with (Danas, 14.12.2012), these criminal acts are indirectly connected with the process of privatization. We should mention that the privatization of road construction companies was not processed by the Anticorruption Council, nor is it on the list of problematic privatizations submitted by the EU. Relying on the data provided by Danas (quoting the official report of the Privatization Agency), it is questionable whether monitoring which falls under the jurisdiction of the Agency is not connected with the criminal acts Miskovic and his associates are being charged with. Maybe the police and prosecution could create a road map similar to this one:
(Data on the directors of the Privatization Agency can be found in the article by CINS – Center for investigative journalism of The Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia, www.nuns.rs. This data cannot be found on the Agency’s website, despite all claims of transparency.)
What is missing in the “Miskovic case” is the interrogation of representatives of the state. Namely, the broadly accepted definition by the World Bank defines corruption as the abuse of public resources for personal gain. The acts of systemic corruption are unavoidably connected with the state, as the bearer of public interest, i.e. with the competent bodies. In our country, corruption in the process of privatization is necessarily connected with the Privatization Agency. Same as other agencies, this one failed to be “separated from political parties”.
Amongst the numerous directors, Mirko Cvetkovic, at the time he held the position, was not a member of a party, but later become one – member of the Democratic Party, and the previous Prime Minister. Miodrag Djordjevic is considered to be a cadre of the Democratic Party of Serbia. He was removed from the position of director, and, at the time, Aleksandar Vucic announced: “When someone is being deposed two-three months before elections, then this person was either neck deep involved in crime or wanted to prevent serious theft of public property. Since there are no criminal charges filed against Djordjevic, it is probably the latter, and those in power are deposing this man because he would not allow for Robne kuce “Beograd”(Shopping Malls Belgrade) to be looted – this company will be sold for pennies to the Italian Benetton, but with big commissions; same goes for NIS, for which British EFT is interested” (article by CINS, www.nuns.rs). (By the way, this was a prediction which turned to be wrong – NIS was actually given for free to Russian Gazprom). About the director who came next, Vladimir Galic: “According to the information gathered by Blic, the fact that Galic is from Kikinda and a member of the Democratic Party of Serbia, points out to Predrag Bubalo, also a citizen of Kikinda, exerting influence to appoint Galic to the position of the head of the Agency. The then already former director of the Privatization Agency Miodrag Djordjevic resigned on October 6, the day the deadline for collecting tender documentation for the purchase of the mining and smelting complex RTB Bor expired (article by CINS, www.nuns.rs). Galic changed parties, and is now a member of SNS and a party Board member in Novi Sad. The next director Vesna Dzinic was a close associate of Mladjan Dinkic (article by CINS, www.nuns.rs). None of the directors of the Privatization Agency has (yet) been interrogated in the “Miskovic case”, and they would have something to say about mortgages on purchased road construction companies, in particular about tolerating those mortgages, which were placed without Privatization Agency’s approval, as well as about the behaviour of construction companies when they were warned to remove the mortgages, and finally about monitoring how contracts on privatization were respected in general.
Although the criminal charges against Miskovic and his associates so far pertain to the criminal act of the misuse of official position (which, paradoxically, stops being that in the case of non-state legal entities, if we are to believe the newest amendments to the Penal Code), crimes they are charged with could lead to another criminal act – provoking bankruptcy. For the misuse of official position and provoking bankruptcy, it is necessary to prove that, for example Miskovic, in addition to being the owner, also had management authority; this was clearly pointed out by the head of police task force for combating corruption (Utisak nedelje, B92, 16.12.2012). At the same time, this fact will be one of the elements of the defense strategy (Utisak nedelje, B92, 16.12.2012).
Jelisaveta Vasilic from the Anticorruption Council cleverly noted and pointed out: “Every buyer has his seller”. In addition to the tycoons (buyers), the Serbian public should get well acquainted with the public servants (sellers). Then we will be able to speak about unbiased and comprehensive fight against corruption from the legal point of view. And this is only one of the aspects of this fight, which is difficult on all fronts, while the results remain uncertain.
The political will now expects Miskovic to name politicians he gave money to. On the subject of the responsibility of political parties which received money – political will seems to deflate. When asked: “For the time being, the public officially knows only what President Nikolic announced in 2008, that, during the campaign that year, Miskovic and Beko financed one TV show and one vehicle rent for SNS”, Aleksandar Vucic answers: “Even back then, Tomislav Nikolic showed that he is an honest man, unlike many others who based their campaigns on criticizing Miskovic, only to become the biggest defenders of his work later on.” (Politika, 16.12.2012). In a country with the rule of law, criminal investigation would not stop with the individual politicians who received bribes. The investigation would insist on finding out which political parties received money from rich people (we should only remember Helmut Kohl – Angela Merkel owes her stable position as head of CDU to Kohl accepting money for his political party). Paying a political party cannot be considered patronage. Miskovic behaved as a true political patron, not the one who only awards money, but the one who expects a certain amount of gratitude in return. What kind of gratitude – it would be visible from the amounts on the banking accounts, which apparently are not in this country. And in Serbia, it appears that it is sufficient to admit that money was given to a political party to receive a charter of honesty.
These are some of the things which differentiate particracy from democracy and a country with the rule of law from a country ruled by political will.
Translated by Bojana Obradovic