Earlier this year, the Sarajevo Municipal Court has deeded valuable land in the city center to the name of a company owned by banker Amer Bukvić, although the alienation was banned by a higher court ruling due to suspicion that its previous owners had acquired it illegally.
Already in 2019, the Sarajevo Canton Court banned the sale of the 14.6 dunams of land at Marijin Dvor. The ban was imposed after the Sarajevo Canton Prosecutor’s Office presented the evidence of alleged abuses by Daver Halilbegović and Armin Mulahusić, the owners of the Profin-Invest company to which the property was registered.
In May this year, the owners of “Profin-Invest” and 17 other private individuals and officials were accused of embezzling more than BAM 30 million in loans and credits from the Nova ljubljanska banka (NLB), a banking group from Slovenia, illegal stock trading, and money laundering. The indictment has been confirmed and the trial is pending. The prosecution eventually dropped the charges against “Profin-Invest” because the company no longer had assets.
The real estate in Marijin Dvor was blocked and entrusted to the FBiH Agency for the Management of Seized Assets. In case of a conviction, the land estimated to at least BAM 27.3 million would go to the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH). However, by a decision of the Municipal Court, it was retrieved from the Agency and awarded to Bukvić’s company.
The prosecution and some lawyers believe that the Municipal Court should not have overlooked the ban and rendered a decision to transfer ownership. Another, yet very similar case of attempted registration of deed over a blocked property was denied by the Supreme Court of the Federation of BiH.
Former judge of the Supreme Court of FBiH, today a notary, Vesna Softić, says that the transfer of ownership of the real estate should not have happened: “How would then one protect itself, i.e., how could one exercise certain rights if such measures, which are publicly acknowledged, are not respected, that is, if the court itself does not respect them.”
Benaris Ćosić, Assistant Director for Legal Affairs in the Agency for Management of Seized Assets, warns that the alienation of real estate undermines the criminal procedure in which the prohibitive measure has been imposed.
The Slovenians have been trying for eight years, and Bukvić did it in only two
The disputed real estate at Marijin Dvor was mortgaged by NLB and NLB Leasing, members of the NLB Group from Ljubljana. Mortgages were placed as a guarantee for the repayment of BAM 43 million in loans and credits approved to “Profin-Invest” in 2008 and 2009. According to the indictment, the loans were supposed to be used for the purchase and development of land at Marijin Dvor, and the development of plans for the construction of the NLB business center, but the project failed, and the money was mostly spent on undesignated purposes.
As a result of Profin-Invest” defaulting on the loans and credits, NLB Leasing took legal actions before the Sarajevo Municipal Court to recover the claim by selling the land. In late 2011, the Court issued a decision on the execution of the mortgage, but the land was not sold because “Profin-Invest” blocked the sale with a counter-claim.
Seven years later, “the property in Marijin Dvor caught the eye of “MDC nekretnine” company. This company was founded by “MDC” d.o.o., whose majority owner is Amer Bukvić, until recently the director of Bosnia Bank International.
Bukvić’s family initially acquired co-ownership of 14 residential and commercial buildings that were built on plots around the land at Marijin Dvor. The buildings with a total area of 525 square meters were estimated at almost two million BAM. These properties were registered in the name of companies “Propria BH and “Profin-Invest” co-owned by the Mulahusić and Halilbegović families. In late 2018, they ceded half of their share in the company “Propria BH” to Bukvić’s sister-in-law Dženana Isović without compensation. Having paid in capital of two thousand BAM at the beginning of 2019, Isović also became the owner of a fifty percent stake in “Profin-Invest”.
“MDC nekretnine” and members of the NLB Group also reached an agreement on taking over a large plot of 14.6 dunams of land at Marijin Dvor, but previously it was necessary to untangle the mutual relations between the Slovenians and “Profin-Invest”.
In January 2019, Bukvić’s company concluded agreements with members of the NLB Group on the assignment of claims from “Profin-Invest”. At the time of concluding the agreements, the debt of the Sarajevo company for the loans reached BAM 75.7 million due to interest.
With this agreement, “MDC nekretnine” committed to ensure that “Profin-Invest” withdraws all lawsuits against the members of the NLB Group, and thus unblock the transfer of ownership. By the middle of the same year, “Profin-Invest” honored its commitments.
The amount Bukvić’s company paid for the purchase of claims is a business secret. Bukvić and director of “MDC nekretnine” Edin Sefo did not want to speak to CIN reporters.
After Bukvić’s company became a mortgage creditor, the transfer of ownership proceedings before the Municipal Court, led by Judge Dženana Škaljić stepped up.
Blockade due to suspicion of a crime
However, the Sarajevo Canton Prosecutor’s Office learned that the Municipal Court was trying to sell the land of “Profin-Invest” and at the end of the summer of 2019 asked the Cantonal Court in Sarajevo to prevent the transfer of ownership over this piece of land. The Court shortly afterward decided to ban the alienation of the property. The decision is still in force, as can be verified in the land registry excerpt of the real estate at Marijin Dvor.
The Municipal Court briefly halted the sale. In the meantime, “Profin-Invest” and “MDC nekretnine” appealed to the FBiH Supreme Court, seeking to lift the sale ban. Although the Supreme Court is the only court competent to decide on this matter, the Municipal Court did not wait for its ruling.
The lawyers of “Profin-Invest” did not wait for the ruling of the Supreme Court of FBiH either, hence they directly addressed the judge of the Cantonal Court, Sanela Rondić, who imposed the ban. She soon replied with a letter stating that according to the Law on Confiscation of Criminal Assets of the FBiH, the ban does not stay the proceedings before the Municipal Court.
Judge Rondić did not want to comment on the decisions of other courts, but she stated that decisions in the enforcement procedures cannot be rendered based on letters but only based on the relevant legal regulations.
Nevertheless, judge Škaljić of the Municipal Court took this letter as an argument and proceeded with the process, which led to a transfer of ownership over the real estate.
Vinko Jakić, the director of the FBiH Agency for the Management of Seized Assets claims that the Municipal Court has made an illegal decision. Jakić explains that the Law on Confiscation of Criminal Assets prevails over other regulations governing the handling of confiscated property. Therefore, it was necessary to stop all other proceedings until the criminal proceedings is over, he says.
Guided by a letter from her colleague Rondić, in February 2020, judge Škaljić opened a public tender for the sale of the land in question, and “MDC nekretnine” responded as the only bidder. Their bid was BAM 9.1 million. Since “MDC nekretnine” was also a mortgage creditor, it did not pay the stated amount, instead the amount was reduced by the value of its claim against “Profin-Invest”.
A month later, judge Škaljić issued a decision awarding the land at Marijin Dvor to the company “MDC nekretnine”. After this company paid the real property transfer tax, the Land Registry Office registered the property in the name of the new owner.
By transferring the deed for the land at Marijin Dvor and buying shares in the companies “Propria BH” and “Profin-Invest”, Bukvić and his family became co-owners of at least 15 thousand square meters of construction land in one of the most attractive districts of Sarajevo. They could get much more than BAM 30 million for it because today in the center of Sarajevo there are almost no such large areas for construction, says the Agency for Management of Seized Assets of FBiH.
The Sarajevo Canton Prosecutor’s Office found out about the registration of the new owner in the Land Registry only after it was completed in January 2021, which is when they appealed to the Cantonal Court. The Prosecution warned the Land Registry Office that they have transferred the ownership over the real estate suspected of being obtained through the commission of a crime, despite a final court decision prohibiting its alienation. They requested the annulment of the registration of “MDC nekretnine” in the title deed of the land at Marijin Dvor. Their complaint has not yet been responded to.
The President of the Municipal Court, Janja Jovanović, did not allow judge Škaljić to talk to CIN reporters, and then she also denied access to the case file based on which the transfer was made.
The Jusufranićs in action
The land at Marijin Dvor was previously owned by “Unioninvest izgradnja objekata”, a subsidiary of the once large state enterprise “Unioninvest”. Their production facilities at Marijin Dvor were destroyed during the war, but valuable land remained, and was acquired by the workers when the company was privatized.
In early 2006, this property caught the eye of Ibrahim Jusufranić, who had just resigned from the position of director of KJKP GRAS under the pressure of a workers’ strike. According to the witness testimonies, Jusufranić was at first visiting the bare plots at Marijin Dvor and inquiring about the area of the land, the company’s core business, and the number of shareholders.
Shortly afterward, he began buying shares of “Unioninvest”, which he registered in the name of his son Jasmin, friends, and family members to conceal part of the ownership. By mid-2006, this family took over the company, and soon after, Ibrahim Jusufranić became the director of “Unioninvest izgradnja objekata”. He died in the meantime, and his son and wife Smiljka were accused of illegal trading in shares of the company, for cash and outside the stock exchange.
The Supreme Court ruled against the transfer of a blocked real estate in Bjelešnica
Six days before the land at Marijin Dvor has been registered in the name of the company of Amer Bukvić, the Supreme Court of the FBiH revoked the decision on the transfer of ownership over property under a ban of alienation in another, yet very similar case. In this case, it was a business space of about 200 square meters on Bjelašnica Mountain, which the accused in a criminal case bought in 2005. Having the accused defaulting on a loan, the Municipal Court in Sarajevo, after ten years, rendered a decision in the enforcement procedure on foreclosure sale to a company and registering the title in the land registry. In the same year, the Cantonal Court ordered a measure to secure the property. The FBiH Supreme Court ruled that the accused was still registered as the owner of the business premises and that the new owner thus could not be registered in the land register.
The former technical secretary of this company, Vasvija Kozić, stated before the Prosecutor’s Office that after the takeover of the company, the only business activity of Jusufranić was the sale of the land in Marijin Dvor.
At that time, the Jusufranićs learned that the Slovenian NLB Group was looking for a location to build its business facilities, hence they authorized the co-owner of “Profin-Invest”, Armin Mulahusić, to negotiate with the Slovenians on their behalf. The property met the criteria of the Slovenians, but instead of buying it directly, they entered into an agreement on business cooperation for the Marijin Dvor project with “Unioninvest izgradnja objekata” and “Profin-Invest”.
According to this agreement, NLB gave a loan of BAM 33 million to “Profin-Invest”, and subsequently approved two more loans of about ten million BAM. With the money of the Slovenian banking group, the Sarajevo company was supposed to buy the land from Unioninvest, prepare it for the construction and pay for the project. The plan was to build two multi-story buildings on this land and to repay the loan by selling real estate.
To secure their investments, the Slovenes incorporated a clause in the business cooperation agreement according to which they were to become the majority owners of “Profin-Invest”, but Halilbegović and Mulahusić never entered the requested changes in the court register of the company. NLB was thus left without real control over the cash flows in “Profin-Invest” and its real estate at Marijin Dvor.
Contrary to loan and credit agreements, the owners of “Profin-Invest” with the help of several private companies redirected part of the money of the Slovenian banking group for the purchase of shares from Jusufranić, and for the implementation of fake projects through which they embezzled several million BAM. According to the indictment, Mulahusić and Halilbegović made a wrongful gain of around BAM 3.4 million, while the bank suffered the damage of at least BAM 30 million.
CIN reporters were unable to contact Mulahusić, who is currently in custody, nor Halilbegović who is, according to his wife, in hospital.