Two former Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH) prime ministers Nedžad Branković and Edhem Bičakčić are standing trial before the Municipal Court in Sarajevo on charges of abuse of office in the 2000 when they arranged for the purchase of a luxurious apartment for Branković. But the case has also revealed details about earlier Branković attempts to illegally solve his housing issues.
The court case argues that the two former officials paid 264,000 KM out of FBiH government and state company Energoinvests’ money to secure an apartment Branković chose for himself. An additional 26,400 KM of taxes were paid, while Branković bought the occupancy rights with certificates worth 900 KM.
Bičakčić, who was the prime minister at the time of the procurement, is charged with abuse of office while helping his party colleague get an apartment practically for free.
Between 1994 and 2000, the court case has disclosed, Branković unsuccessfully tried to get a different luxurious apartment for free.
In January 1994, when he was the director general of FBiH Railways – then known as BiH Railways – he moved into a vacated Sarajevo apartment that belonged to Hajrija Balorda, former governor of BiH National Bank. Before he left the railways job for another, Branković provided the permanent authorization to himself for the use of the contested apartment to which he had no legal right.
Balorda presented documents to the court testifying to a 6-year legal battle to get back her apartment at Mehremića Trg 7. Branković at the time was a young recruit of the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) attempting to flex his political muscle.
‘It’s all mine!’
Balorda inherited the apartment when her husband died in August 1991. When war broke out, she took refuge in Vienna where her daughter Vedrana lived. She gave power of attorney to her driver to care for her apartment, knowing how easily local authorities gave attractive empty apartments to loyal functionaries.
However, Esad Avdić was unable to prevent BiH Army General Munib Bisić from moving in. Then in January 1994 the city’s housing department allocated the apartment temporarily to Branković. He changed the locks and using his position and influence in the party, kept blocking the owner from returning home.
‘You’ve come now and do not ever attempt to pester us again’ said Branković when the owner asked to return to her apartment, Balorda testified in Sarajevo Basic Court.
‘He said that I will never be able to return the ownership of the apartment, because he received the apartment and the things and that this was all his now’ said Balorda, adding that she had written some 104 pages of appeals, complaints and requests to get her apartment back.
Her daughter, who now lives in Canada and goes by her husband’s name Ajvazović, had an unpleasant encounter with Branković in the spring of 1994. She was working at the time for Hope 87 in Vienna which cared for some 800 amputees from Sarajevo and she visited the besieged city six times between 1993 and 1994. During one of those visits, she stopped by her mother’s apartment where she, too, had lived before the war.
‘Take off your shoes!’ yelled Branković from the living room, Ajvazović recalled. She said that she started taking off her shoes, but then she realized it was her apartment and walked into the living room.
In a telephone interview with a reporter from the Center for Investigative Reporting in Sarajevo (CIN) Ajvazović said Branković laughed at her request to return to her apartment and at her offer that he could stay in the apartment with his family if he had no other place to go.
‘That’s out of the question. It’s all mine. There’s a list of things and that’s all mine’ she quoted Branković.
Branković did give her two photo albums, she said, but refused her request for a painting of the famous painter, Affan Ramić, which was a beloved gift.
War Rules and Laws
Property rights were among the most violated rights during and after the war in BiH.
In 1998 and 1999, the Office of the High Representative (OHR) changed a number of war and post-war laws on property and occupancy issues that had been used to legalize taking flats from legitimate owners. A Law on Empty Apartments had been the basis for the decision that Branković could temporarily move into the Balorda apartment.
Moving up the ladder with the party’s help
As war broke out Branković was working at the Institute for Traffic-IPSA together with SAD founder and president, Alija Izetbegović. Branković later became a career politician.
Until April 30, 1991, Branković was a tenant at Kasindolska 60, according to a decision by the Sarajevo Canton Housing Authority.
During the first months of the war he was a member of the newly formed BiH Army and helped build the tunnel under the airport that was the main supply pipeline during the siege. As a reward, the SDA appointed him the director general of the rail system in 1993, the youngest director general in the company’s history.
The apartment which the railway gave Maksimir Balorda and whose wife inherited the occupancy rights caught Branković’s attention. He obtained temporary occupancy rights to it Jan. 11, 1994. The decision was issued by the City Housing Department whose director was Branković’s party colleague Jusuf Zahiragić.
OHR sacked Zahiragić as Sarajevo Canton justice minister in 1999 because of charges of abuse of office for gain and obstructing implementation of the new housing laws. Zahiragić then got a job in Energoinvest, a public company where Branković was then Director General.
Renowned banker – potential terrorist
Even though Hajrija Balorda was governor of the BiH National Bank, and lived in Sarajevo before the war, the BiH embassy in Austria refused to reissue her passport in September of 1995.
Hadžo Efendić, another Branković’s party colleague, explained the refusal as part of efforts to prevent ‘terroristic and other activities intended to forcefully change the constitutionally established state and social order.’
Without a passport Balorda was unable to return to BiH and in February 1996, the Housing Department declared her apartment vacated. More than a year later following the FBiH Ombudsman’s intervention on her behalf, in August 1996, Balorda finally received a Traveling Document, a substitute for a passport, which she used to get to BiH where she eventually got a passport.
On July 11, 1997, Branković to permanent permission to stay in Balorda’s apartment. That permission came from the railways which he headed. The next month, he signed a contract for the place.
The OHR housing law changes in 1998 and 1999 undid his efforts. In accordance with these decisions, the newly formed Sarajevo Canton Housing Authority ordered Branković July 12, 2000, to leave the Balorda apartment within 15 days.
He next attempted to get an apartment nearby at Trg Mehremića 15 for free. The deal that got him this apartment led to political problems that resulted in the prime minister stepping down earlier this year. He now stands trial for that before the Municipal Court of Sarajevo with the next hearing scheduled Dec. 25.