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Karišik’s Nest in Hadžibajrić’s Markale Project

The business partner of former Municipality of Stari Grad mayor Ibrahim Hadžibajrić secretly furnished two luxury apartments in a new building near the Markale market, the final design of which was approved by the mayor’s closest associate, Alma Destanović. Hadžibajrić and Destanović are facing trial for illegally issuing a construction permit for the construction of this building.
Photo illustration: Željko Todorović (CIN)

The construction of the mixed-use building of Amko Komerc near the Markale market was still ongoing when Elmedin Karišik, self-appointed custodian of the property of then-Mayor of the Sarajevo Municipality of Stari Grad Ibrahim Hadžibajrić, decided to furnish two luxurious apartments on the top floor.

He approached the job discreetly, unwilling to share information about their future owners even with the architect he hired to plan the interiors of the apartments.

Zejd Kobilica, a young Sarajevo architect and owner of Studio Mrav, informed investigators from the Sarajevo Canton Prosecutor’s Office that Karišik had brought him to the Amko Komerc building to inspect two apartments on the fifth floor: “Those two apartments are adjacent to each other and, like the other apartments on that floor, have balconies overlooking the Markale market.”

During the apartment tour, Kobilica attempted to ascertain their owner’s identity, but neither Karišik nor the site manager Hamed Lošić, who showed him the apartments, provided him with that information.

“They said it wasn’t important”, said Kobilica.

In mid-2022, Karišik signed a preliminary purchase agreement for one of the two apartments with Muamer Aleta, the owner of Amko Komerc, the company that constructed the building. According to this document, Karišik was slated to receive a 94-square-meter shell-and-core apartment and a double parking space in the building for BAM 400,000. Senka Nožica, a legal representative of the company, informed the CIN journalist that Karišik had paid half of the amount but had not registered the apartment.

A few years earlier, in correspondence with an acquaintance via the mobile SKY application, Karišik revealed that he was safeguarding the property of the Hadžibajrić family by formally registering it under his name.

“Brother, I have a different kind of relationship with Ibrahim. Some of their properties are in my name. His [properties], and much more”, wrote Karišik.

Prosecutors suspect that one of the apartments was intended for Alma Destanović, a close associate of the mayor and secretary of the Municipality Administration, who signed the construction approval for this property. Kobilica revealed to investigators that it was Destanović who approved his ideas for designs, even though the job was paid for by Amko Komerc.

Aleta, Kobilica, and Lošić declined to speak with CIN journalists.

Trial proceedings against Hadžibajrić, his son Seid, Karišik, and Destanović began in June at the Municipal Court in Sarajevo, where they face charges of serious corruption. Two municipal officials are accused, among other charges, of facilitating unlawful benefits to the company Amko Komerc.

Former Sarajevo Mayor Ibrahim Hadžibajrić Faces Serious Corruption Charges
Ibrahim Hadžibajrić, the ex-mayor of Stari Grad Municipality, stands accused of allegedly conspiring with friends and relatives to form a criminal group. Among their alleged activities is the misuse of municipal car parks and other public spaces for personal gain, as previously reported by CIN.
Before his arrest, Elmedin Karišik managed to pay half of the price for an apartment and a parking space, valued at 400,000 BAM in shell-and-core condition, to Amko Komerc (Photo: Facebook)

The Chief’s Construction Debacle

The trading company Amko Komerc and the Municipality of Stari Grad jointly built a mixed-use building near the Sarajevo Cathedral by the Markale market. The company invested money, while the Municipality contributed part of the land on which the building was erected.

An investigation by the Prosecutor’s Office showed that from 2016 to 2020, during Hadžibajrić’s tenure as mayor, the Municipality of Stari Grad unlawfully transferred ownership of other peoples’ land to itself and issued permits for a building that was not included in the urban planning project.

Initially led by TD Markets, the project later fell under the ownership of Amko Komerc, the company which continued the work with the Municipality.

Initially, the plan looked different. In August 2016, the Municipality issued two urban planning consents — one for itself and one for TD Markets. Their plan was to construct two buildings connected by a basement.  However, construction never began, and after two years, investors developed a new conceptual project, this time for a single building.  Such a project was not originally included in the “Quadrant XII” Urban Project.  Although there were other issues delaying construction, Hadžibajrić’s administration resolved all obstacles within a few months.

Before entering into the joint project, the Municipality and the private company had not resolved the property rights issues on the construction parcels.  They had attempted to conceal this for a long time. In the land registers, the land was listed under the use of Vakuf Hadži Mustaf Bega Džerzića under the administration of the Islamic Community Council in Sarajevo, as well as Jewish families Salom, Kohen, Montiljo, and Rašel.

According to the Spatial Planning Law of the Sarajevo Canton (KS), the municipality and its private partner were required to invite land users to provide feedback on the conceptual design of the building. The Municipality also needed approval from the municipal Advocate General to proceed with the project.

Instead, in May 2018, the Hadžibajrić administration initiated a procedure to harmonize land registers, removing actual users and transferring their land ownership to the Municipality, and subsequently dividing the parcels as needed for the new project.

Shortly thereafter, Amko Komerc submitted a request for a new unified urban planning consent, joined by the Municipality. They justified the request by citing significant new changes in the project design documentation.

Following these changes, under the Sarajevo Canton Spatial Planning Law, the investors were required to amend the “Quadrant XII” Urban Project. Despite this not occurring, the Municipality issued a unified urban planning consent.

Mayor Hadžibajrić still needed to obtain approval for this project from the Municipal Advocate General and the Municipal Council.  However, this aspect of the plan was implemented in violation of laws and municipal procedures.

Call The Bey For Car Park
Former mayor of Sarajevo’s oldest municipality, Ibrahim Hadžibajrić, leased several public car parks in the tourist center of the city to his friends, striking deals that would render his son a millionaire.
Ibrahim Hadžibajrić, the mayor of Stari Grad Municipality, and his associate Alma Destanović supervised the construction of a mixed-use building in Markale, located in the center of Sarajevo, on behalf of Stari Grad Municipality (Photo: Stari Grad Municipality)

Dismissal of the Advocates General

Before the deadline for appealing the harmonization decision expired, the Municipality provided its Advocate General with land register extracts of the parcels to create the impression that it was the rightful owner.

The Advocate General’s opinion was necessary to convene a session of the Municipal Council, where the obligations and rights of partners in the building construction would be defined. So, on the desk of Advocate General Dženita Derviškadić, the chief’s decision to exchange properties with Amko Komerc landed. Initially, she intended to give a positive opinion but soon changed her mind.

Later, she informed the police that she had been provided with “clean” land register extracts of the parcels, based on which she decided to initially support the decision. However, she soon discovered from the Islamic Community and the lawyers representing Jewish families that the harmonization decision was not final, and they had filed an appeal. Upon learning this, she changed her stance and issued a negative opinion on the property exchange. Subsequently, Derviškadić was dismissed. Neither her successors Mirza Imamović, Rešad Jusupović, nor Abidin Hafizović approved the chief’s plan due to unresolved property issues.  All of them later departed from the Municipality.

Since Hadžibajrić couldn’t present himself before the Municipal Council without the Advocate General’s opinion, a session was convened in June 2019 to attempt to manufacture procedural legitimacy. Instead of making a decision, the Municipal Council adopted a conclusion consenting to the commencement of the construction project. However, since the conclusion lacked the authority of a formal decision, the continuation of work on the project was unlawful.

In late August 2019, Hadžibajrić and Amko Komerc finalized a notarized partnership agreement with the aim of constructing a mixed-use building.  Under the agreement, Hadžibajrić committed the municipality to contribute 607 square meters of land to the project, in exchange for 241 square meters of commercial space in the new building.  Amko Komerc contributed 716 square meters of land and funding for construction.

Subsequently, in October of the same year, Alma Destanović, the mayor’s associate, signed the construction permit, officially authorizing the commencement of construction. Two years later, nearing completion of construction, the investors opted to compensate the actual landowners. One heir from a Jewish family received 100,000 BAM in compensation, while the Islamic Community did not respond to CIN’s request regarding compensation. Other heirs of Jewish families have not been located.

By Karišik’s order, the architect designed the interiors of two adjacent apartments on the top floor of a five-story building (Photo: Dženat Dreković / CIN)

Apartment to Alma Destanović’s Taste

Construction of the mixed-use building was completed in 2023.  The ground floor accommodates commercial spaces, while the upper floors feature apartments of various sizes.  The most attractive units are located on the fifth floor, offering balconies with views of Trebević Mountain.

Zejd Kobilica, the architect responsible for the apartment designs, informed investigators from the Sarajevo Canton Prosecutor’s Office that Alma Destanović, the secretary of the Municipality of Stari Grad Administration, summoned him to her office one day to review the conceptual design of an apartment.

“Generally, she liked the apartment or rather the project. She had minor suggestions regarding the interior”, said Kobilica, adding that he subsequently visited the apartments three times: once to deliver the conceptual design and twice to meet with the contractors.

Kobilica is not the only one who testified to Destanović’s interest in an apartment in the Amko Komerc building. Suad Ćatović, former driver and security guard for Hadžibajrić, witnessed a meeting between representatives of the company and Hadžibajrić and Destanović in the Municipality’s offices.

He told investigators that on one occasion, Destanović came out of the meeting room to see off the guests and, upon parting, remarked, “I hope I’ll get a small apartment in that building too”.

“I heard clearly what she said because I was stationed as security outside the cabinet and meeting room 109 in the Municipality building”, Ćatović recounted.

Senka Nožica, the lawyer for Amko Komerc, denied that the apartments were intended for municipal officials, claiming it was insinuation.  She confirmed that only one apartment was in the process of being sold to Karišik and it wasn’t completed, while the other was furnished for rental purposes.

“Some apartments are for sale, and some for rent because they presumably assessed that renting in Sarajevo is very profitable”, said Nožica.

After the indictment, Nožica declined to answer additional questions from CIN. Mayor Hadžibajrić has been in custody since May 2023, while Destanović was placed under house arrest after a few months.  Karišik and Hadžibajrić Jr. were released with movement restrictions last year but were re-arrested in March this year on suspicion of committing new criminal acts in the meantime.

Five Properties in BiH and Croatia Blocked

The Canton Court in Sarajevo has temporarily blocked five properties owned by Hadžibajrić, his business partner Elmedin Karišik, and related companies.  The Sarajevo Canton Prosecutor’s Office suspects that certain properties acquired from 2021 to 2023 are the property of Hadžibajrić, even though they are not registered in his name.

These include a building with four apartments near Sarajevo’s Hastahana Park valued at one million BAM.  Despite being registered under a company managed by Karišik, there are suspicions that the building is actually owned by Hadžibajrić. In a message via the SKY application, Karišik revealed that this property is intended for Hadžibajrić’s retirement.

The court in Croatia, at the request of the Sarajevo Canton Prosecutor’s Office, has frozen Hadžibajrić’s 44-square-meter apartment in Krvavica near Makarska.  He purchased it in March 2022 for 160,000 BAM, borrowing the money from a relative to whom the Municipality had previously sold land in Stari Grad.

A month earlier, in March, the court also prohibited the disposal of an 80-square-meter apartment purchased by Karišik, owner of Plaza Group, on behalf of his company for 280,000 BAM.  Karišik purchased the property in the city center in 2022, at the time when he and Hadžibajrić became suspects in criminal offenses investigated by the Sarajevo Canton Prosecutor’s Office.

Subsequently, the apartment was listed on the accommodation rental platform Booking. The property is not listed in the assets of Karišik’s company, leading the Prosecutor’s Office to suspect it was intended for Hadžibajrić.

Finally, in April 2024, Hadžibajrić’s apartment of 85 square meters and garage in a new neighborhood near Skenderija were seized. The former mayor purchased these properties in 2021 for 244,000 BAM.

The properties in Sarajevo have since been placed under the administration of the FBiH Seized Property Management Agency.

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The former mayor of the Stari Grad Municipality in Sarajevo began investing in real estate in Bosnia and Croatia after leasing public parking lots to his friend Elmedin Karišik. Correspondence on the Sky app reveals that Karišik looked after Hadžibajrić’s properties, his money, and luxury cars.

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