“You will be the first young millionaire from Stari Grad, who is on the employment agency register (…). It’s best to be on the employment agency register”, advised Elmedin Karišik, the owner of Plaza Group, to Seid Hadžibajrić, the son of the mayor of Sarajevo’s Stari Grad Municipality.
This message was one in a series of exchanges via the encrypted Sky application during the period from 2020 to 2021. The European Police Agency, EUROPOL, decrypted these exchanges and handed them over to investigators in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH).
On one occasion, Karišik assured the Hadžibajrić Jr. not to worry about finances because they are backed by the “International Monetary Fund”.
The Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) revealed that, from January 2020 to March 2021, Karišik had control over 4.23 million BAM entrusted to him by Sani Al-Murdaa, the leader of an international cocaine smuggling group. According to prosecutors, this 38-year-old Sarajevan with various international addresses brought tens of millions of euros into BiH.
Karišik attempted to launder Al-Murdaa’s money through various businesses in Sarajevo, including those arranged with the Hadžibajrić family. Exchanges via the Sky application reveal how the Hadžibajrić family amassed wealth through municipal parking lots while assisting Karišik in laundering the illicit funds.
Former mayor Hadžibajrić, his son, Karišik, and some of their associates were arrested in May of this year at the request of the BiH Prosecutor’s Office and the Sarajevo Canton Prosecutor’s Office (KS), which conduct separate investigations into the abuse of public assets in the Municipality of Stari Grad and laundering money from cocaine trafficking. Al-Murdaa is not accessible to the BiH judiciary as he is allegedly outside the country.
Beg, Medo, Manila, RajvoSa, and the rest of the crew from Sky
CIN reporters have discovered that from 2017 to 2020, Hadžibajrić leased five car parks in the tourist core of the city to private individuals without the knowledge of the Municipal Council and without a tender that would determine the rental price and other criteria. The mayor selected tenants, often to the detriment of the local community.
The tourist season in Sarajevo lasts all year, and in the compact space of Sarajevo’s Baščaršija in the heart of the old town, parking spaces are paid dearly.
With no space available for new construction, citizens, and tourists have only a few hundred parking spaces at their disposal. Mayor Hadžibajrić leased the car parks controlled by the Municipality Stari Grad to his friends for a fee. Most of them went to Karišik, who coordinated the takeover of the car parks and later the distribution of profits through Sky with Seid Hadžibajrić.
Messages and photos he sent reveal that the mayor’s family was receiving income from at least three parking lots: eighty percent of the earnings from those near the Army Hall and in Bistrik, and half of the earnings from the Telali parking lot near the City Hall. The rest was shared among Karišik and his partners.
Seid Hadžibajrić regularly received reports on the income and profits that accrued to his family. Thus, they were informed that the car parks near Army Hall and Bistrik earned them 75,726 BAM from March 2020 to February 2021. Money also continued to arrive in monthly installments of around 8,500 BAM in the following two years.
Decrypted communications via Sky and police discoveries after searches of the Municipality Stari Grad and private properties of the Hadžibajrić and Karišik, show that the owner of Plaza Group safeguarded the money of the former mayor’s family earned in joint ventures.
Hadžibajrić invented a position for Karišik
Although Hadžibajrić sought to conceal his connection with Karišik, a document found by CIN reveals that due to their friendship, he was willing to certify a false document. In March 2020, Hadžibajrić issued Elmedin Karišik a 24-hour free movement permit during the coronavirus epidemic, presenting him as a member of the Civil Protection Staff of Stari Grad. Sadmir Husanović, the assistant mayor for civil protection of the Municipality Stari Grad claims that Karišik was not a member of the staff and could not have been appointed to that position: “No, never! There is no record [of that].”
“Do you want me to give you this in cash, or should I add it to your account? Check with the bey. However you want it, brother”, Karišik wrote in one of his messages to Hadžibajrić Jr.
Beg, Ibro, and Hadžija are nicknames by which friends and family members addressed the mayor of the Municipality Stari Grad, and they also used these names in the exchanges via the Sky application. Karišik, nicknamed Medo by friends, used the code names Laguna and Manila on Sky, while Hadžibajrić Jr. was registered under the nickname Rajvosa.
Indictments against Hadžibajrić and others have not yet been filed, and over the past six months, several detention hearings have been held during which lawyers challenged the validity of the prosecution’s evidence. Former Hadžibajrić’s lawyer, Asim Crnalić, asserted that the entire case relies on analyses of exchanges from the Sky application, which were not obtained under a court order and as such cannot be considered admissible.
“The prosecution indirectly draws conclusions about what my client is doing and thinking by analyzing the exchanges between Mr. Karišik and Hadžibajrić Jr,” said Crnalić at one of the hearings, adding that things said by others do not make Ibrahim Hadžibajrić criminally liable if he is not involved.
Contrary to the prosecution’s claims, he stated that Hadžibajrić was authorized by the Municipal Council to independently lease car parks without a tender and that no damage was incurred on the Municipality.
According to lawyers for Elmedin Karišik and Seid Hadžibajrić, they did not want to speak with CIN reporters. Indira Karahodžić, Ibrahim Hadžibajrić’s current lawyer, told us that her client agreed to an interview, but the Sarajevo Cantonal Court has not responded to CIN’s request to interview Hadžibajrić in the Zenica prison even after a month. According to the Court’s PR department, the judge who was supposed to consider the request is on sick leave.
Mayor Hadžibajrić feared that their joint ventures would be exposed. His son Seid and Karišik concluded that at the request of “Beg”, they must be less seen in public together and delete shared photos on social media to avoid being linked together.
Karišik also tried to conceal his connection to the companies managing the car parks. He engaged friends and employees of Plaza Group to form companies on his behalf and submit bids for parking rentals to the Municipality.
Karišik drafted the offers, and the nominal owners signed and submitted them to the municipal protocol to comply with the procedure. Shortly afterward, the Municipality invited them to conclude contracts signed by the Municipality Secretary, Alma Destanović at the behest of Mayor Hadžibajrić, at the prices and conditions they themselves determined.
According to the allegations of the Sarajevo Canton Prosecutor’s Office, by the spring of 2021, the Hadžibajrić family had misappropriated around 400,000 euros in earnings from public parking and other corrupt activities.
Months before their arrest, Hadžibajrić’s administration refused to provide contracts and reports on parking rentals to CIN by invoking the protection of personal data and the business interests of their tenants.
Tenants and Pals
In 2017, midway through his third term, the mayor took certain parking lots from existing tenants without notice and leased them to his friends at prices up to five times lower.
Sarajevo entrepreneur Zlatko Krainović claims Hadžibajrić took away his Mošćanica car park with 25 spaces near Sebilj and gave it to Mesud Abdagić, the son-in-law of Nervin Džombić, an employee of the Municipality Stari Grad.
Krainović owns a private car park connected to a portion of the public parking Mošćanica. The Cantonal Public Utility Company Rad (KJKP RAD) managed the car park until March 2016 when, having faced financial losses, they leased it to Krainović for a monthly rent of 5,500 BAM. The contract was valid until February 2018, but six months earlier, Abdagić and Džombić suddenly appeared at the car park, informing Krainović that the “park was now theirs.” The Municipality unilaterally took over the parking lot, deeming it unprofitable for KJKP RAD. The takeover agreement was never concluded.
The new tenants presented a contract Abdagić signed with Hadžibajrić as evidence that the parking lot now belonged to them.
“Some people just came in, threatening to throw bombs if we didn’t withdraw”, says Krainović. Džombić denies any threats but admits that the police intervened. In 2018, Krainović sued the Municipality, and the court issued a non-final judgment in his favor, but the process is still ongoing as the Municipality has lodged an appeal.
Hadžibajrić leased the car park to Abdagić for 1,170 BAM per month. Hourly parking fee was 2 BAM, which means that the lease money could be earned in five days if each space was occupied for only four hours a day. The revenue generated in the remaining 25 days remained with Abdagić.
However, two years later, Abdagić and his father-in-law Džombić faced the same fate. As the contract expiration approached, the Municipality informed Abdagić that the contract would not be extended.
“[No explanation] it is because you’re bald, or ugly, or you didn’t pay much; we’re looking for more, or you don’t behave properly, you make a mess … nothing (…) Ibro and I were as close as two coats of paint, I mean, I would [do] anything for him. Suddenly, the man goes crazy”, says Džombić.
As he told reporters, the mayor did not respond to his calls, even though he approached the Municipality Stari Grad five times, offering as much as 9,000 BAM per month for a parking lease.
It was to no avail: Hadžibajrić already had other arrangements. The parking lot was divided into two parts. In 2019, the Municipality leased around 15 car spaces to the nearby guesthouse “Stari Grad” for 5,500 BAM. The remaining ten car spaces were leased to Karišik’s Plaza Group. Later, Erduan Hadžihasanović from the guesthouse learned that Karišik paid a significantly lower price, but he says he had no choice as he needed the parking for the guesthouse.
Karišik gave a statement to the police claiming to have paid the Municipality a monthly fee of 1,000 BAM. The next year, they signed a new five-year contract at half the previous fee. Karišik claims the car park lot was in poor condition, and he had to spend twenty thousand BAM to renovate it.
“After that, the Municipality acknowledged my investment (…), and we concluded a new five-year contract. Under that contract, I pay the Municipality a monthly rent of 500 BAM with VAT”, said Karišik.
Campaign to take over the car park
In 2019, after handing over Mošćanica car park to the family friend Karišik, the then-mayor Hadžibajrić continued his parking business. He initiated a campaign to take over the three most attractive public car parks in the heart of the old town for which he selected tenants and arranged the profit distribution in advance.
According to documentation from the BiH Prosecutor’s Office, Hadžibajrić coordinated this with his son Seid and Karišik.
In late August 2019, the Municipality requested KJKP RAD to vacate car parks near the Army Hall and in Bistrik within eight days to take control of these public areas. It claimed that the land on which they are located belongs to the Municipality.
However, KJKP RAD was reluctant to relinquish the two most profitable car parks in Sarajevo, annually generating up to 580,000 BAM, so it directed the Municipality to the Ministry of Transport of the Sarajevo Canton. After months of negotiations, in early 2020, they eventually reached an agreement on the transfer of car parks, stipulating that the Municipality would determine the organization and payment collection service providers. The parking lots were handed over to the Municipality on February 2, 2020.
While the mayor negotiated the takeover of parking from the cantonal public company, Karišik engaged his partners and employees at Plaza Group to register companies on his behalf: EuroPark, Parking Tim, and Šemrani.
EuroPark was founded in early September 2019, and Karišik assigned the role of the nominal founder to Aida Topalović-Karić, the wife of Sengor Karić, an employee of Plaza Group. Sengor Karić met the Hadžibajrić family and Karišik in March 2018 during Umrah, a joint pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina. He served there as their guide, and upon returning to Sarajevo, he secured a job in Karišik’s company. Simultaneously, he acted as Hadžibajrić’s interpreter during visits by Arab delegations to the Municipality.
EuroPark is registered at the address of the business premises owned by Karišik’s father.
Karišik soon registered another company, Parking Tim. As a nominal founder of the company, he appointed Edin Međedović, an employee of Sparkasse Bank and co-owner of luxury apartments in the center of Sarajevo.
This connection was meant to be concealed. However, CIN reporters found a power of attorney whereby Međedović authorized Karišik and lawyer Aldina Pita to establish a company on his behalf and cover the costs.
Explaining his connection with Karišik, Međedović told the police in 2020 that he “sometimes had coffee with him” and rented cars from his agency.
Three years later, he admitted to prosecutors that he had registered Parking Tim on Karišik’s behalf.
Reporters found another piece of evidence indicating the connection between the two parking companies. In the registration application for Parking Tim, the name of the founder of EuroPark was not Međedović, but Aida Topalović-Karić. The error was corrected using correction fluid, and Međedović’s name was substituted for Topalović-Karić.
A few days after taking over the car parks, Hadžibajrić suggested to Sengor Karić, Aida’s husband, during a meeting at the Municipality to submit a bid for leasing car parks. Karić later told the police that Karišik helped him with this:
“I was typing, and he was helping me put together the bid.”
Smajkan on the parking, Smajkan off the parking
EuroPark submitted a bid for leasing parking lot in Bistrik at the end of January 2020, and on the same day, Međedović did the same on behalf of Parking Tim for car park near the Army Hall. He told the police that he submitted the bid as instructed by an unknown person from the Municipality.
Before submitting their bids, both companies registered their business units at the addresses of the parking lots and registered their employees on the same day. One of them, Almir Smajkan, was employed in both companies and before that, he had occasionally worked for Karišik’s Plaza Group, along with a group of other workers. Smajkan refused to make any comments.
Both companies prepared and submitted bids to the protocol at the same time, and five days later, the Municipality’s secretary, Alma Destanović, signed contracts with them.
In only 22 days, the Municipality completed all the administrative tasks from the agreement to take over the parking from the Canton to leasing the parking lots.
According to the contracts, EuroPark was supposed to pay 6,435 BAM for leasing 31 parking spaces in Bistrik, while Parking Tim was to pay 8,541 BAM per month for 35 spaces in front of the Army Hall.
Over the course of a year, the Municipality was expected to earn about 180,000 BAM, two and a half times less than the revenue generated a year earlier by KJKP RAD with the same number of parking spaces.
In 2020, the police summoned Karić and his wife Aida, the nominal owner of EuroPark, for questioning, and they immediately contacted Karišik, trying to find out why the police were calling them. Aida Topalović-Karić later claimed that she was ashamed of not knowing the names of the employees, so she asked Karišik to acquaint her with the details of the company’s operations.
Karišik visited them three days before they gave statements and instructed them for the police interview. He reassured them by saying that everything was regular, a sentiment echoed by Mayor Hadžibajrić during a meeting in his office. Encouraged by the support of the authorities, the Karić couple told the police that the company was theirs and that they had invested 50,000 BAM of savings in the business.
However, three years later, Topalović-Karić changed her statement and admitted that she was only nominally the director and received a salary of 430 BAM as a reward. She also admitted that Karišik managed the business based on the power of attorney she gave him before a notary.
The Karić couple declined to speak to CIN, and their lawyer, Alena Begović, said they were scapegoats.
When Šmrk phones
After seizing the car parks in Bistrik-Trg Austrija, Mošćanica, and the Army Hall, Hadžibajrić set off on a conquest of yet another highly profitable parking lot near the City Hall, in the heart of Baščaršija.
In early 2018, the municipality allocated this parking lot with 40 parking spaces to the public utility company Tržnice-Pijace Sarajevo for an indefinite period, with a monthly fee of around 1,900 BAM. In the same year, with Hadžibajrić’s approval, they leased it for a period of five years to the company T.C. Baščaršija Group for a monthly fee of about 5,050 BAM.
However, in March 2020, when the other parking lots were already under the control of his friends, and he was receiving a share of the profits, mayor Hadžibajrić changed his mind and terminated the agreement with Tržnice, stating that the law does not recognize leases for an indefinite period.
According to the Sarajevo Canton Prosecutor’s Office, the Hadžibajrić family had already made the arrangements with Karišik to take over this parking.
Two months later, Karišik registered the company Šemrani, with Senad Ferhatović nominally registered as the company founder. The company was registered at the address of Karišik’s Hostel Plaza and Plaza Group in the Sarajevo settlement Kovači.
“TC Baščaršija Group refused to hand over the parking lot, and they sued the Tržnice-Pijace. In May 2020, Director Milorad Rac called the police when construction machinery appeared on the parking lot for “space renovation”. The police report states that Karišik’s company had hired the machinery. Since there were no documents in support of the works, the machinery was withdrawn from the construction site.
In mid-February 2021, Šemrani submitted a request to the municipality to lease the parking lot near the City Hall. Earlier, Ferhatović had sold this company to Selma Maglić for one BAM. Selma is the wife of Adnan Maglić, aka. Magla, a friend of Admir Arnautović Šmrk, with whom he was sentenced to prison in 2014 for drug trafficking involving cocaine and heroin. Both were arrested again in the fall of 2022 on suspicion of drug trafficking.
Shortly after, Šemrani concluded a lease agreement with the Stari Grad Municipality for the parking at the rate of 5,265 BAM per month. But TC Baščaršija Group continued to resist. Director Rac informed the police that Admir Arnautović Šmrk had called him, stating that his company had leased the parking and that he should “vacate the area by March 1st”.
The announced takeover of the car park came true. On the night of March 1, 2021, around midnight, workers from Plaza Group arrived at Telali. Maglić called the police, identifying himself as the responsible person in the company Šemrani, and explaining that he had hired Plaza Group to place planters on the parking lot. Once again, they did not have permission for the works, so Maglić promised the police that he would present it subsequently.
Karišik, Maglić, and Šmrk managed this car park lot until June 2023 when it was handed over to the FBiH Seized Property Management Agency.