Photo: Ivana Tutunovic Karic
Photo: Ivana Tutunovic Karic

Don’t tell me that you thought that the verdict against Miskovic for assisting in tax evasion would end the fight against corruption in Serbia? Believe it or not, Miskovic’s place was taken by an even more powerful person who had been acting secretly for years, preventing double-digit economic growth, discouraging investors, tripping up our athletes, and causing droughts and floods. But once again, it turned out that no is beyond the reach of the law, and the powerful businesswoman was exposed and arrested in an urgent action by the Ministry of the Interior. However, if you search the lists of the “100 most powerful,” you won’t find her. She was hiding under the mask of a grocery store worker in Kraljevo.

Sound strange? In such an illusory state, held together by propaganda machinery and a thin layer of facsimile, can anything really sound strange?

Let’s cut to the chase, I’m talking about an employee of a local supermarket chain in Kraljevo being suspected of stealing goods worth 2,500 euros. More precisely, 321,098 dinars. Well, you may be wondering, what does that have to do with corruption, powerful businessmen, urgent actions? What are you talking about, Minic? Did they slip you some bad mushrooms in the supermarket?

For starters, it has a lot to do with the fight against corruption. On the occasion of this arrest, the Ministry of the Interior announced that the Anti-Corruption Department, in cooperation with the Special Department for Suppression of Corruption of the Higher Public Prosecutor’s Office in Kraljevo, arrested the mentioned worker, suspected of “the criminal act of embezzlement.” The title of the statement was: “Suspected of embezzlement.”

When the news reached Beta News Agency, it was slightly debureaucratized, descriptively titled “She appropriated goods worth around 320,000 dinars from the store of the company she worked for,” while Tanjug went a step further in creativity, relieved the first paragraph of the names of state institutions and simplified the headline to: “Kraljevo woman arrested for embezzlement.”

What should one do with such news? Who is interested in the arrest of a cashier or storekeeper suspected of stealing 1,600 chocolate bars or 21,000 chocolate bananas (calculated in accordance with special sale prices listed on the website of the supermarket chain in question)?

But if you title the story “Emergency action of the Ministry of the Interior: powerful businesswoman brought low,” it is bound to tickle the imagination. Who wouldn’t click to find out what kind of crime is in question, to see if the amount is sufficient to launch said businesswoman to the 1st place on the list currently led by Kokeza with 640 million euros, ahead of Djilas with 619.

And when we start reading, and see that the story involved cooperation (albeit without a signed memorandum of cooperation) between the Anti-Corruption Department and the Special Department for the Suppression of Corruption of the Higher Public Prosecutor’s Office in Kraljevo, we gobble up the article to find how much was embezzled, now many kilometers of highways, how many hospitals, kindergartens, airports… and then shock, disbelief. We count the zeros. At least three, if not six, are surely missing, we think! And it’s not even in euros, although that would also be a fairly modest sum. 321,098 dinars, or 2,731 euros at this morning’s exchange rate.

The article on the website of the propaganda newspaper Alo is decorated with photos of the gendarmerie in action, labeled “Gendarmerie, police, court, arrest. Photo credits: Alo.“ It does not say that it is an illustration. Now we are confused, was all this force brought to bear against an employee of a private company suspected of stealing goods worth 321,098 dinars? Did someone maybe hack Alo’s website?

However, the “powerful businesswoman” also appeared on the websites of Alo’s fellow propaganda outlets, its comrades in the fight against reason and journalism – Objektiv, Mondo, Novosti. On the Mondo website, under the headline “HUGE POLICE ACTION: powerful businesswoman brought low, seriously damaged the company,” there is a photo of a member of the Criminal Police Directorate in action. What happened? Has everyone been eating those mushrooms we mentioned earlier?

We have already confirmed that the source of this nonsense is not the “usual suspect,” Tanjug. And all these articles are unsigned. Which leads us to conclude that all of them were probably copied from the one who first thought to make clickbait out of this unworthy piece of “news” (and the order of publishing on the news aggregators indicates that the original post was probably the one on Alo). Another possibility, although it seems beyond the bounds of reason, is that they all have a standing order to hail the successes of the Ministry of the Interior under the leadership of the minister who follows the supreme commander and gives the police free reign to catch hardened criminals, like the cashier who criminally appropriated 321,098 dinars.

But, let’s forget about media illiteracy for a moment and go back to everything the state institutions are doing to fight the sinister employee of the Kraljevo supermarket.

This is a systemic anomaly which allows a statistics-based rebuttal to any objection to the effectiveness of, and the lack of real results in, the fight against corruption (by the European commission, European Parliament, international organizations, as well as national organizations and experts, media, and the president of the Supreme court himself).

And so, looking at the statistics, we see that these departments have already uncovered a whole lot of cases. And since the departments have “anti-corruption” in their names, surely there can be no doubt that all of those were cases of corruption, right? Well, not quite.

Because the Law on Organization and Competence of State Bodies in the Suppression of Organized Crime, Terrorism and Corruption prescribes the jurisdiction of individual institutions for criminal acts against the economy, for criminal acts against official duty, for murder of representatives of the highest state bodies, and for armed rebellion. Some of these are under the jurisdiction of the institutions in charge of suppression of organized crime, and some are under the jurisdiction of the institutions in charge of suppression of corruption.

So, if someone embezzles 200 million dinars or more, even if it is not state money and the perpetrator is not a public servant or an official, this crime will be under the jurisdiction of the Prosecutor’s Office for Organized Crime. If the same person embezzles less funds, for example 321,098 dinars, the case will be under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Interior’s Anti-Corruption Department and Special department for suppression of corruption of the Higher Public Prosecutor’s Office (in Belgrade, Nis, Kraljevo and Novi Sad). And they will be tried before special departments of higher courts.

Crime is crime, you may say. Clearly, I’m not saying that someone who stole 300,000 dinars shouldn’t be prosecuted. But prosecuting someone who is not a public sector employee and who is suspected of stealing 2,500 euros before special anti-corruption bodies seems like a systemic anomaly. Or a good way to cover for the lack of real results by artificially inflating statistics. And that, as I hope we all understand by now, is the modus operandi of the current regime.

Translated by Marijana Simic

Pešč, 17.04.2021.

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Zlatko Minić, novinar zarobljen u telu mašinskog inženjera. Novinarstvom počeo da se bavi na Radio Indexu, najduže se zadržao u Beti, gde je dužio resor borbe protiv korupcije. To ga je kao predstavnika novinarskih udruženja odvelo u Odbor Agencije za borbu protiv korupcije 2009, a potom u Transparentnost Srbija. Voli sve što vole mašinci koji se bave novinarstvom u organizacijama civilnog društva: javna preduzeća, izborne kampanje, posebno funkcionerske, transparentnost lokalne samouprave. Analizirao brojne propise i (loše) prakse, učestvovao u izradi više antikorupcijskih (loše primenjenih) akata, radio kao konsultant, trener. Koautor nekoliko knjiga i publikacija o temama koje su zanimljive samo grupi ljudi koje sve lično poznaje: „Rečnik korupcije“ (sa prof. Č. Čupićem), „Politički uticaj na javna preduzeća i medije“ (sa N. Nenadićem), „Funkcionerska kampanja kao vid zloupotrebe javnih resursa“ (sa N. Nenadićem) i „Pod lupom – prva petoletka“ (sa N. Nenadićem, izbor tekstova sa stranice Pod lupom na sajtu Transparentnost Srbija, čiji je urednik).

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