I'm an arrogant bastard, photo: Pescanik
I’m an arrogant bastard, photo: Pescanik

The institutions are still silent about the case of the nominally two (but actually at least seven) female deputy prosecutors in the High Public Prosecutor’s Office who complained that they were removed from their departments and personally harassed by the High Public Prosecutor in Belgrade, Nenad Stefanovic. It has been exactly one month since the case of JP Elektroprivreda Srbije was taken away in the middle of the workday from the hands of prosecutors Bojana Savovic, and then Jasmina Paunovic. Three weeks have passed since Savovic and Paunovic gave oral, and then written, statements about this case to the Commissioner for Independence of the State Council of Prosecutors. Although this call for statements was made by the Commissioner himself – to this day he has not informed the SCP if he has determined the facts of the case and has not proposed scheduling a session of the SCP to discuss the Commissioner’s proposal on the (non)existence of undue influence which was exerted on the prosecutors.

According to the official information, the last meeting of the SCP was held on January 23rd – that is, long before the case in question here occurred. The State Council of Prosecutors seems to be in deep sleep, even though its basic constitutional task is to protect the independence of the public prosecutor’s office and its prosecutors.

Milan Tkalac, the Commissioner and a member of the State Council of Prosecutors, is now neck deep in this unfortunate situation. However, no matter how good of a swimmer he is, time is running out, and the public’s patience is wearing thin.

Mr. Tkalac and his boss, Ms. Dolovac, are facing an inconvenient obstacle. Namely, the Rules of Procedure of the SCP provide for a precise procedure that must be implemented in the event that the public prosecutor or the deputy public prosecutor reports improper influence. What the writers of these provisions did not expect was that they would actually have to implement them one day. They believed that the prosecutor’s omertà would not be violated during their tenure.

And yet, the impossible has happened, and the procedure must be applied.

Articles 21v-21g of the SCP Rules of Procedure authorize the Commissioner to collect all evidence, information, or statements that provide sufficient grounds to decide on the existence of undue influence. When he does that – and in this particular case it was done three weeks ago – the Commissioner is obliged to submit to the President of the Council, in our case Zagorka Dolovac, a reasoned proposal for convening an extraordinary session of the Council to decide on the existence of undue influence. The President of the Council is obliged to call such an extraordinary session without delay.

As an auxiliary tool in evaluating the current (non)action of the SCP, we can use three randomly selected cases in which the Commissioner for Independence decided at the end of 2022. Quite by chance, in two out of the three decisions (December 1st and 5th, 2022, respectively) the Commissioner acted according to requests sent to him by Senior Public Prosecutor Nenad Stefanovic. In both cases, Tkalac published press releases responding to Stefanovic’s requests within three days of his first address to the SCP. When it comes to the third case, which concerns possible illegitimate influence on the Deputy High Public Prosecutor in Novi Pazar, the Commissioner made a statement in a similar time frame – within only five days.

With all this in mind, it seems a legitimate question to ask: what went wrong this time? What is the reason for these many days of indecisiveness? Especially if we bear in mind that the SCP’s drawer contains not only the requests of prosecutors Savovic and Paunovic, but also several disciplinary reports against the Senior Public Prosecutor in Belgrade and his close associates, initiatives for Stefanovic’s dismissal, as well as petitions from the deputy public prosecutors who are, in accordance with the Constitution, demanding that the SCP answer whether they are doing something within their constitutional and legal jurisdiction to protect public prosecutors from undue influence.

So, after more than a month of waiting, it seems to us that the public has a right to receive an answer to a very specific question: when will the session of the State Council of Prosecutors be held to discuss all these issues? Furthermore, has Mr. Tkalac requested this session? If he has not, he is obliged to give the public a reason why. If he has requested the meeting, Zagorka Dolovac must explain to us why she has not scheduled the meeting without delay, in accordance with the Rules of Procedure.

Finally, but extremely important – the Association of Judges and Prosecutors, presided by Senior Public Prosecutor Nenad Stefanovic, is still harassing his colleagues, including sending them threats on Twitter. In them, he said that the Association will soon “publish a report on the work of Bojana Savovic.” As the evaluation of the work of the deputy public prosecutor can only be initiated by the State Council of Prosecutors, perhaps they could also tell us if they decided to implement an extraordinary work evaluation of the deputy prosecutors instead of deciding on the undue influence exerted over them? If this is not the case, it would be good for the SCP to inform the Senior Public Prosecutor that he has thoroughly confused the actions of his professional association with the actions of the State Council of Prosecutors, which is not only dangerous, but also punishable.

It is also worth noting that Minister Ivica Dacic bitterly complained that US Ambassador Christopher Hill, by giving support to deputy prosecutors Savovic and Paunovic, “grossly interfered in the internal affairs of Serbia.” The US Embassy tweet which bothered Dacic stated:

“An independent judiciary and the fight against corruption are key to Serbia’s progress, especially its membership in the EU. The United States fully supports Serbia in this effort and appreciates the partnership of professionals in the Prosecutor’s Office who are aware of this, such as Bojana Savovic and Jasmina Paunovic.”

Dacic’s protest was accompanied by a disciplinary report of the relevant pro-government association against Savovic and Paunovic. This report claims that, by attending a meeting with the ambassador, the plaintiffs have shown that they are “partners of a foreign state,” and that it is necessary to prove that they did not disclose information from the investigations they conducted. In other words, according to the complaint, the plaintiffs have apparently begun a career in espionage.

Let’s look at two more facts before we give another thought to Dacic and his NGO partners and their grievances about Hill’s supposed interference. The first takes us directly to the website of the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the section Recommended, which gives us reports from two meetings between Zagorka Dolovac and the American ambassador. The first meeting was arranged due to the donation of vehicles to the anti-corruption departments in Novi Sad, Kraljevo and Nis, when it was concluded that the US Embassy “supports the work of the public prosecution of the Republic of Serbia and emphasizes the importance of the fight against corruption.” The second meeting was of a similar nature, with the same actors and conclusions, only on this occasion the US embassy donated 110,000 dollars to the anti-corruption departments to improve their technical capacities. That was not a problem back then, it seems, but an example of good international cooperation.

Why did Minister Dacic and his satellites not mind the support and donations of the US embassy then, but it bothers him now? The question is rhetorical. Why is the US embassy interested in the work of a department in which it has obviously invested money, technology, and training? Probably because they want to ensure that their investment is used to fight corruption, and not to further inflame it.

Here I want to remind you of the words of Dacic’s coalition partner, Aleksandar Vucic, who, in 2017, placed organized crime, corruption, and money laundering in a transnational context in an exposition in the National Assembly. Even if Vucic had not done that, it would have been clear to us that these were international phenomena, and not of an “internal character,” as Dacic now suddenly suggests.

Interestingly, in 2017, Vucic said that “corruption has destroyed our society” and that its elimination will require reform of the prosecution and the criminal justice system. Perhaps we will finally find out what kind of reform the erstwhile prime minister had in mind six years later. That is why we will carefully monitor the session of the State Council of Prosecutors, and representatives of foreign countries in Serbia will obviously do the same, whether certain people like it or not. Therefore, it would be good to convene the session soon and voluntarily, in accordance with the regulations, so that we are not forced to once again take our demands to the only functional Serbian institution – the street.

Translated by Marijana Simic

Peščanik.net, 04.04.2023.

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Sofija Mandić je rođena 1986. u Novom Sadu. Diplomirana je pravnica, posrednica u mirnom rešavanju sporova i aktivistkinja za ljudska prava. Radi u Centru za pravosudna istraživanja (CEPRIS), a prethodno je bila angažovana u Beogradskom centru za bezbednosnu politiku i Nacionalnom demokratskom institutu. Generalna je sekretarka Peščanika, sa kojim sarađuje od 2007, kao učesnica u radijskim emisijama, a zatim i kao autorka tekstova. Autorka, koautorka i urednica je brojnih analiza o vladavini prava, stanju ljudskih prava u Srbiji i njihovoj perspektivi. Neke od skorašnjih su: Izbori pred Upravnim sudom 2022 – pregled postupanja i odluka (ur. CEPRIS, 2022), Izveštaj o javnosti rada Visokog saveta sudstva i Državnog veća tužilaca (CEPRIS, 2022), Sloboda izražavanja pred sudom (ur. SĆF, 2021-2022), Rad sudova tokom epidemije zarazne bolesti COVID-19 (OEBS, 2021), Ljudska prava u Srbiji (BCLJP, 2018-2023), Naša urušena prava (FES, 2019), Uslovi za izbor i napredovanje sudija i tužilaca u pravnom obrazovanju (CEPRIS, 2018), Skorašnji Ustav Srbije – rodna perspektiva (ŽPRS, 2017). Kao predstavnica civilnog društva učestvovala je u procesu izrade komentara i mišljenja na izmene Ustava iz 2022, kao i zakona koji proizlaze iz ovih promena. Autorka je knjige „U krugu negacije, godine parlamentarnog (ne)suočavanja sa lošom prošlošću u Srbiji“ (2023).

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