A year without answers about the night demolition in Hercegovacka Street

For a year now, Serbian citizens do not know who conducted the night demolition in Hercegovacka Street, where commercial and residential objects were demolished by a group of masked men. 

Srdjan Ilic: After the night demolition - Hercegovacka Street
Photo: Srdjan Ilic / After the night demolition - Hercegovacka Street

The authorities, Police and Prosecution, claim that, even a year after the incident, the investigation is still ongoing. Political leaders claim they do not know who stands behind the demolition, despite the fact that someone must have ordered the police not to respond to the calls of citizens for help.

In the night of Parliamentary elections held on 24 April 2016, a group of masked men demolished residential and commercial buildings in Hercegovacka Street without court order or decision. During the demolition, they restricted the freedom of movement to those who wanted to pass through Hercegovacka Street and took their mobile phones to prevent any recording of the event.

The Police and Prosecution still claim they do not know who is responsible for this event, or at least, they do not want the public to know.

Insajder journalists analyzed the contracts for Belgrade Waterfront. They determined that the buildings in question were scheduled for demolition. Otherwise, the City of Belgrade would pay penalties. The demolition in Hercegovacka Street was conducted to create more space for the development of Belgrade Waterfront project, even though the authorities claim the opposite.

According to the contract, the deadline for demolishing those buildings is 30 June 2016. However, the legal dispute between the object owners and the City was still ongoing, and it presented a legal obstacle for demolishing the buildings in due time to fulfill the contract.

From billions to suspicious millions

The contract for the project Belgrade Waterfront was based on a bilateral agreement between Serbia and the UAE and signed in 2013. It brought a huge debate in Serbian general and professional public.

According to the contract signed between the UAE company Eagle Hills and the state of Serbia, the company would invest 150 million euros and additional 150 million euros through a loan with interest.

Serbia, on the other side, would invest 100 hectares of land, with the obligation to clear the land and build the infrastructure. However, when the authorities were announcing the start of the Belgrade Waterfront project in 2013 and 2014, they claimed that the UAE company would invest billions of dollars in the capital city of Serbia.

A detailed financial analysis of the deal is not possible, since the investment of the UAE partner is still classified. The business plan is declared a “business secret” of the company Belgrade Waterfront, in which the UAE partner has 68 and the state of Serbia 32 percent of ownership.

According to Insajder’s findings, the contract allows Eagle Hills to take over and manage the buildings in the state’s ownership, which are located on the land where Belgrade Waterfront will rise. Commercial profit made from these buildings will also be split 68 to 32 percent in favor of Eagle Hills.

Who is stopping the investigation

Evidence that police did not reacted in accordance with the law was provided by the very Ministry of Internal Affairs. Two weeks after the demolition, the Serbian Ombudsman’s Office published a report on demolition.

It stated that citizens, in fact, called the police, but the police refused to react. The conversations between the police and the citizens were recorded, and handed over to the Ombudsman’s Office.

Even a year after the incident, the Police Sector of Internal Control has not notified the public on who ordered the police not to react in the night of the demolition. It is also unclear whether the Internal Control conducted any investigation at all.

The only official document so far is the report of the Ombudsman’s Office.

The transcript between citizens and the police on the night of the demolition:
Citizen: I was calling the Municipal Police, but they told me it is not under their jurisdiction and that I should address the Police.
Police operator: Chief, we have another call from Hercegovacka 4, this is something new. Someone is saying that his worker’s been tied up for an hour, the mobile phones have been taken away from citizens, and some objects are being demolished in Hercegovacka .
Chief (police): Where is that?
Police operator: Hercegovacka Street, number 4, Savski Venac. That is, you know, that Belgrade Waterfront project, Chief. Should I respond like to the previous one?
Chief (police): That is correct.
Police operator: Chief, it is Bilja, just one thing. That thing Ivana told me, the one ttied up (in Hercegovacka) … He is calling the Municipal Police, but they refused to respond. I should give him nothing, right?
Chief: Yes, nothing.

Meanwhile, the Public Prosecution stated that police are not giving them the information on investigation. Yet, they refused to answer the question of what the Prosecution has done to sanction the obstruction by the police.

When Insajder journalists filed a request based on the Freedom of Information Act to the Prosecution, their response stated that Insajder’s questions are not “in accordance with the Law”. Insajder journalists asked whether the police responded to the Prosecutor’s request to gather the information on Hercegovacka Street, and, if not, whether the Prosecution filed a complaint or started an investigation on obstruction of justice.

Insajder journalists also asked the Police Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic why the Police Internal Control failed to notify the Ombudsman’s Office about the results of investigation. Minister Stefanovic avoided answering this question on numerous occasions, claiming that “the institutions are doing their job” and he “would not intervene in the investigation.”

“We have a problematic situation here, since the Minister is actually authorized to give instructions to the Sector of Internal Affairs, according to law. Also, the Sector of Internal Control reports to the Minister,” Sasa Djordjevic from the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy told Insajder.

Djordjevic claims that the Minister should be well informed about the investigation and its course.

Former Chief of the Directorate of Criminal Police, Dragan Kecman, who was relieved of duty, insisted in an open letter on immediate investigation of the site of demolition. He also stated that his removal from the position had nothing to do with demolition in Hercegovacka.

Political responsibility for the demolition

In May 2016, the current Prime Minister and President-elect Aleksandar Vucic said the top City Officials are responsible for the night demolition. However, even after a year, no one was held accountable. PM Vucic, the leader of Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), promised that Public Prosecution will conduct the investigation about the demolition. In Belgrade, SNS also holds power in the City Parliament with their coalition partner.

The Mayor of Belgrade, Sinisa Mali, told Insajder that he does not know who ordered or carried out the demolition, despite his Party’s leader and PM claiming differently.

“PM said what he knew about the case, I did not talk to him about Hercegovacka. He also said that Police and Prosecution are doing their job. I would also like to know what happened there,” Mali told Insajder.

Mali opposed PM Vucic’s claim, stating that no City Official or Institution was involved in the night demolition.

“If you look at the analysis, the Republic of Serbia started a legal process against the owners of those 12 objects in 2010, which was before I became the Mayor and before Belgrade Waterfront project started,” said Mail.

“I am just saying, from those 12 legal processes, 11 were almost finished, so only one remained disputable. This means that, in the next of couple of months, weeks, whatever, those objects would be removed either way. Then, why would anyone from Belgrade Officials be involved in night demolition,” said the Mayor of Belgrade in September 2016, just before Insajder journalists discovered that, according to the contract with Eagle Hills, demolition had to be done.

Irena Stevic, Milivoje Pantovic

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