Index scandal - the picture of Serbian judiciary
Ten years since the arrests, nine since the raising of the indictment and a little more than seven since the start of the court proceedings in the Indeks scandal - the only outcome is that more than half of the accused will not be convicted because, due to the duration of the proceedings, their cases have either expired under the statute of limitations, or will do by the end of 2016.
The Indeks affair is just one in the series of major cases in which the accused will not be convicted because of the statute of limitations, due to the inefficiency of the judiciary.
The trial for the Indeks scandal began on December 1st, 2008. Still, there have been no verdicts to this day, even in the first instance.
Expiration for 44 accused
The trial started over in January 2010 because of the reform of the judiciary and the changing of the jury judges, and once again five years after that, when the High Judicial Council decided to appoint new jury judges in all courts.
The indictment was raised in August 2007, supplemented in March 2008, and it initially included 88 professors, students and middle men in the scam with the buying of university exams.
Until the start of the trial, one of the accused - Miroljub Simic - the former dean of the Faculty of Law on Nis, has died, while the proceedings against Oliver Antic, the then professor of the Faculty of Law in Belgrade and now the advisor to the Serbian president, have been separated and transferred to the Belgrade Prosecution, which later decided not to prosecute him.
"According to the analysis of Insajder.net, on the basis of the indictment presented by the Higher Court in Smederevo, the cases of more than half of the accused have expired or will expire soon. The Criminal Code, articles 103 and 104, regulate the statute of limitations."
Comparing the time of committing of the crime described in the indictment and the legally prescribed deadlines for prosecuting, one observes that the cases of 44 accused have expired.
The cases of two accused will expire in May this year and of 11 others – by the end of 2016. For another two, the cases expire at the start of 2017.
They are accused of crimes for which prison terms of up to five years are prescribed, for which the statute of limitations envisages expiration after ten years from the committing of the crime. Most of them are indicted for bribery, committed by 2006 and, in two cases, at the start of 2007.
For 28 accused, the cases will expire in 30 years. These people were university staff - professors who have sought or taken bribe. A prison term of up to ten years is envisaged for that.
Even the elements were the reason
Asked by Insajder.net about why the said criminal proceedings have not yet been finished, the Higher Court in Smederevo replied that “all proceedings depend on a series of circumstances which the court, i.e. the judges, cannot influence.”
Among the reasons for the lengthy proceedings, the Higher Court cited the large number of the accused and as many as 120 crimes they are charged with, which envisages the presentation of a lot of evidence.
The proceedings dragged on because the trial was restarted twice, because of the large number of requests for the exclusion of the presiding judge, the jury judges, the public prosecutor, and because of the lawyers’ strike. However, the level of absurdity of the excuses is demonstrated by the following explanation, sent by the court in Smederevo:
“The duration of all proceedings, including this one, is influenced by the fact that the majority of the accused reside away from the court, because of which it was difficult or impossible for them to show up (extreme weather, floods, roads blocked by snow…).”
Responsibility is nameless in the judiciary
According to figures of the Jurists Committee for Human Rights, 814 cases in Serbia expired in courts in 2013 alone, and 139 more in the investigation phase, which adds up to the total of 953.
From Pahomije to Milosevic
Seven days ago, the First Basic Court in Belgrade dismissed the charges against all the accused for helping the hiding of war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic in the period from 2002 to 2006, because of the expiration of the case.
The proceedings against Bishop Pahomije for the sexual abuse of four boys in Vranje were also stopped because of the expiration of the case. On April 17, 2007, the Supreme Court ordered a re-trial, but the case has expired.
Jezdimir Vasiljevic, the majority owner of the Jugoskandik bank, was accused for abuse of official position and thus obtaining, for himself and others, property greater than 60 million German marks. After more than ten years since the start of the trial and 20 years since the collapse of his pyramid savings bank, the case expired in 2013.
Other expired cases are those against the son and daughter of the former Serbian president, Slobodan Milosevic. Marko Milosevic was prosecuted for beating up a member of the Otpor movement in Pozarevac, and Marija Milosevic for possessing a firearm and causing danger to the public, because she fired that weapon during the arrest of her father, on April 1, 2001.
The case against the owner of the Invej Group, Predrag Rankovic Peconi, has also expired. Rankovic was indicted in 2004 for evading RSD2.6 million in taxes. Six judges have been changed until the expiration in 2012.
And while the current justice minister, Nikola Selakovic, once stated that the expiration of cases was often the consequence of “sloppy conducting of proceedings”, the names of the judges who are responsible for someone avoiding punishment because of the stalling of proceedings are seldom published.
Among the best known cases that expired in the recent period are those against the former chief of the Customs Authority, Mihalj Kertes, and businessman Stanko Subotic.
In February 2014, the court acquitted Kertes because of the expiration of the case, in which he was accused of abusing authority and of siphoning the state’s money out to Cyprus.
In December 2015, the special chamber for organized crime of the Appellate Court in Belgrade partly acquitted Stanko Subotic and the other accused because of the lack of evidence. In the other part of the ruling, the court dismissed the accusations over the expiration of the case, i.e., as the court decision reads, “because of the expiration of twice the time envisaged by the statute of limitations.”
In all those cases, the public was not informed about which judges or prosecutors were responsible for the expiration.
One of the rare cases where that did happen was the expiration of the indictment against Sreten Jocic, also known as Joca Amsterdam, who was charged for the illegal possession of a firearm. Because of this case, the High Judicial Council dismissed the judge of the Appellate Court, Slavka Mihajlovic, for stalling the proceedings.
However, according to the report of the Blic daily at that time, the decision on her dismissal was not official, because the judge had the right to appeal.
Jocic was sentenced to 10 months in prison in the first instance, for the pistol which he was found to possess in 2008, and the case expired after six years, in January 2014.
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