Millions Through A Power Of Attorney

Emina Begić, a lawyer from Bugojno, is accused of abusing clients’ trust, embezzling their money, and forging documents. Although the Bar Association can suspend her until the trial is over, she is still working.

When Amira Mačak signed a power of attorney to authorize lawyer Emina Begić from Bugojno to represent her in the sale of real estate, she had no idea that it would come at such a high cost. She claims the lawyer has caused her damage of more than a million marks, which is why she reported her to the Cantonal Prosecutor’s Office of Central Bosnia Canton.

In 2019, Begić was accused of abusing the trust of at least three clients, embezzling around 1.4 million of their money, and forging documents. Her brother Adnan Hozić, a municipal councilor of Bugojno, was also charged on suspicion of helping her.

The injured parties are legally illiterate and elderly people who hired her to help them with their real estate business. Today, a four-member legal team – which claims that she was wronged by the indictment – defends her against them.

Although the Bar Association could have suspended her until the end of the criminal proceedings, it has not happened. Begić continues to work and currently represents at least 40 cases in courts across the country.

In such cases, there is no legal requirement to inform the clients about the pending proceedings against their lawyers.

Lawyer Emina Begić was accused of criminal offenses punishable by imprisonment for a term of three months to five years. (Photo: CIN)

Gameplaying with a client

In 2017, Amira Mačak waited in vain for the payment of money from the sale of family real estate in Jajce she inherited after her husband’s death. Early that year, she and her children sold the property to the London company “Steelmin Limited” for BAM 2.2 million. Their representative in this transaction was lawyer Emina Begić. Begić had previously collaborated with Amira’s husband, so she seemed to be the logical choice for continued collaboration.

It has been agreed that Steelmin Limited should pay the money to the account of a notary who rendered the sales contract, and who would pay it to the family following the registration of the title deed in the name of the buyer.   

However, according to Amira, shortly after signing the contract, the lawyer amended the sales contract without her knowledge or consent, adding an annex to the contract and redirecting the payment of most of the money to her own account: “She had the power of attorney authorizing her to sign the main contract. Based on that power of attorney, she also signed the annex”, Amira Mačak testified in court.

Complying with the payment instruction, Steelmin paid BAM 1.58 million to the accounts of lawyer Begić by October 2017, as demonstrated by the court expert findings presented during the trial.

As the payments came in, Begić emptied her accounts. Cash withdrawals ranging from BAM 400 to BAM 100,000 were made on her behest. Trainees also withdrew cash and testified to this in court.

She gave about BAM 70,000 as a loan to her father Nedžad Hozić, and BAM 40,000 to her maid of honor Selma Rustempašić Hozić, also a lawyer, who claimed in court that it was a loan that she had not yet returned.

Begić spent about 97 thousand BAM to build a 317.5 m2 house with a fitness room and a swimming pool in the settlement called Gaj, but the construction works were stopped by the police. The house was built on the land of her mother-in-law Dunka Begić, a former cantonal judge from Novi Travnik. She says that she happily gave the land to her daughter-in-law and son Aner, the advisor to the FBiH Trade Minister.

Amira Mačak is awaiting the verdict in the proceedings against her lawyer Emina Begić, who is accused of withholding 1.2 million BAM from the Mačak family (Photo: CIN)

All this time, Amira Mačak was waiting for her money: “The whole this time, I didn’t know that “Steelmin” was paying money because I been told that there is no money, i.e., that they have not paid.”

However, in contact with the lawyer representing the buyer of the real estate, Mačak discovered that the money was going to the account of lawyer Begić, contrary to the contract.

She said she tried to solve the problem amicably, but she only got about three hundred thousand BAM from the lawyer, not the other 1.2 million that she thinks the lawyer owes her. In addition to reporting the lawyer to the prosecutor’s office, she also brought a civil case against her, claiming damages.

The investigation confirmed Amira Mačak’s allegations but also revealed new details of the case.

During the search of the office of lawyer Begić, the investigators found an affidavit, which was allegedly signed by Amira Mačak, certified in the Municipality of Bugojno at the end of October 2017 – just before the criminal complaint was submitted to the Prosecutor’s Office. The Affidavit says that the lawyer handed over the money she as a proxy received based on the sales contract to her. The Affidavit contains the number of the sales contract with Steelmin, but does not specify the name of the customer and the amount of money received. 

Mačak claims she did not even know that such an affidavit existed and that she did not sign it:

“I was speechless! In a word, speechless. When someone tells you that you were somewhere and signed something, but you weren’t. I mean, what can I say to that”, said Mačak for CIN.

The investigation showed that the document was signed without her presence in the Municipality of Bugojno and was certified by the official named Ibrahim Mašić, who admitted his fault.

He said in the investigation that the statement was first brought to him by Begić’s intern and that he refused to certify it because Mačak was not present. Shortly after that, Begić’s brother, municipal councilor Adnan Hozić showed up in the municipality building, and Begić herself phoned Mašić shouting at him, claiming that she had Amira’s power of attorney. Faced with pressure from more prominent people in the small local community, Mašić relented and certified the document, and Hozić signed the register on behalf of Amira Mačak.

At the end of 2019, Mašić was sentenced to a suspended sentence with the obligation to testify in the proceedings against Begić and Hozić, but he passed away the following year. Amira Mačak does not hold him responsible: “To me, he is a victim.”

The trial is still ongoing so the defense advised Emina Begić and Adnan Hozić not to talk to journalists while the trial is in progress. They have not yet examined their witnesses, and in the defense so far they have questioned the credibility of the prosecution’s witnesses and the legality of the search.

Money for fictitious sales

While Amira Mačak was knocking on the door of the prosecutor’s office in Travnik, Esad Kero learned some rather surprising and concerning information in the Municipal Court in Bugojno. Although his lawyer claimed that he had bought the house in the enforcement proceedings, the clerks in the Court proved to him that this was not true.

Having completed his working career in Austria, he returned to Bugojno, and in the spring of 2015, he decided to buy a house there. He learned through an acquaintance, Džula Dadić, that there was a house for sale through the court. She took him to lawyer Begić, who will represent him in the purchase. Not being conversant with what needs to be done, this almost 70-year-old man with poor sight put his faith in lawyer Begić.

Esad Kero gave money to lawyer Begić to buy a house in Bugojno. He never became the owner of the house, and today a building is being built on that spot (Photo: CIN)

In his testimony he indicated that he paid her BAM 1,000 for her services, BAM 9,000 as a “deposit for participation in the enforcement procedure” and BAM 74,000 to pay the price of the real estate.  In return, he received from her a receipt for the payment of attorney’s fees and a signed and verified Conclusion of the Bugojno Municipal Court, indicating that he was the buyer of the real estate and that he has paid the price for the house.

Convinced that he had closed the deal, Kero spent almost the whole year asking Begić to go to the notary and the court to register his ownership title over the real estate. 

“She kept promising ‘we’ll go to the notary, we’ll go to the notary.’ But we never left”, says Kero.

So in 2017, he went to court himself, where unpleasant news awaited him. Judge Janja Pilić, whose signature was on the Conclusion, and court president Randžana Hadžibegović-Haračić immediately established that there is no original Court Conclusion on Kero’s purchase or other evidence proving his ownership in the court files.

Court president Hadžibegović-Haračić noticed that the Conclusion was forged, hence she filed a criminal report: “It was, I’d say, a piece of paper with the Bugojno Municipal Court letterhead”, she later testified in court.

During the investigation, a pre-contract for the purchase of real estate was found that Kero signed with Dadić. The document did not contain a description of the property, but Kero was indicated as the Buyer, and Dadić as the Seller. In addition to their signatures, the paper also contained the stamp of the production service company TERR-A, which was founded in 1998 by Emina’s father, Nedžad Hozić.

Kero explained in court that it was Begić who drew up and certified the pre-contract. “I cannot interfere in her affairs and stamps,” said Kero.

TERR-A is registered at the address of Emina Begić’s office, and the stamp was found there during the search, together with the forged Conclusion. According to Begić’s lawyers, Kero was not her client but he worked with her father’s company.

Nedžad Hozić upheld this claim in court, although in another court case held against him due to outstanding taxes he said that he has not worked for that company since June 2010, after which the company’s only account was blocked.

Hozić also told CIN that his daughter had no connection with the company TERR-A and that Džula Dadić was his real estate business associate.

“He’s lying, I swear to God”, says Dadić, claiming that she did not work for Hozić or TERRA, but instead she was bringing clients to Begić, as she still does today for lawyers in Bugojno.

“I wish I never entered there and brought that man. I am so sorry. I feel bad for being a naive fool,” says Dadić.

Džula Dadić connected at least two people who needed legal help in buying and selling real estate with lawyer Begić (Photo: CIN)

A house paid for by the life

Munira Džonlić also testified against lawyer Begić. She and her husband, Mehmed, hired her as a legal representative in an attempt to save their home, but according to Munira’s testimony, she was not working in their best interest.

The Džonlić couple had a nice house in Bugojno, which they planned to sell in 2009. Their neighbor Jasmin Plavac talked them into a plan that led them to agony from which they never recovered. They naively agreed to put their house as collateral for a loan that will be taken by the company “S&S Agrar”, registered at the address of his family house, in return for 300 thousand BAM that they would receive once the loan is disbursed.

The contract was drawn up, and the loan was disbursed, but the couple never received the promised money. Time passed and the company was in default on its loan, so in 2011 NLB Leasing started a loan enforcement procedure through the sale of the real estate, thus becoming the owner of the house which the Džonlić couple were supposed to leave.

The Džonlić couple contested the sale in court, claiming that the house was mortgaged in a fraudulent manner, that they never received any money from the loan for the house, and that they filed a criminal report based on which the SBK Prosecutor’s Office filed an indictment and initiated criminal proceedings against Plavac for fraud. The case is still pending, and Plavac is on the run. None of this was enough for the Municipal Court in Bugojno to stop the enforcement procedure against the real estate. The eviction was prolonged, but the sale was not stopped.

Mehmed wrote to the court explaining that he fell ill and was under the treatment and that without any income he has no place to go with his wife and three children.

However, he did not live long enough to see either help or justice. He committed suicide in September 2015.

“They pushed him to rags and he hanged himself,” said Munira at the trial against Begić.

Before his death, in a desperate attempt to save what could be saved, the Džonlić couple hired lawyer Emina Begić to help them keep the house. She wrote appeals to the court about the enforcement and requests to postpone the eviction, and Munira also told the court that in the days after her husband’s death, Emina visited her with her father Nedžad.

“He repeatedly attacked me verbally for letting (potential buyers, author’s note) into the house, claiming that I must not do so without their consent, i.e., Emina’s or Nedžad’s. In the office, he was yelling at me, eventually making me cry.”

Džonlić knew that NLB Leasing intended to sell their house, so in an attempt to organize the purchase, she tried in vain to find out the price from lawyer Begić: “On one occasion, I asked for the number of the bank director and nobody wanted to give it to me, and Emina said I didn’t need it,” Munira recalls.

While hired to help the Džonlić couple to keep their home, lawyer Begić was actually negotiating the sale of their house with the buyer Marko Ljubas. 

Although he knew that NLB Leasing was selling the house for BAM 100,000, Ljubas claims the father and the daughter were convincing him otherwise:

 “On one occasion, he (Nedžad Hozić, author’s note) entered the office and told Emina that the house cannot be sold for less than BAM 150,000. No less than that.  He said that he was responsible for that house and the house will not be sold”, Ljubac testified under oath. He did not want to talk to CIN about this because he thinks this matter is a thing of the past.

He paid as much as they asked him, and he explained in court that he gave 30 thousand BAM in advance, while he paid 100 thousand BAM to the representative of NLB Leasing who came to sign the purchase agreement. The rest of the money remained in the briefcase of the lawyer’s father, Nedžad Hozić.

Today, in the examination of witnesses, Emina Begić’s lawyers are trying to imply that the house was offered for sale through Hozić’s blocked company TERR-A and that he only charged a commission.

Adnan Hozić is accused of helping his sister commit a criminal offense, while their father Nedžad Hozić appears as a witness on trial (Photo: CIN)

In the fall of 2016, Munira had no place in her own home anymore. Begić told Munira to pack her personal belongings and leave the house: “I was in such a shock that I did not know where to go” Munira recalled during her testimony.

The state of shock did not leave her for years. Humiliated, she often cannot get through the day without tranquilizers. She has not spoken to journalists about this topic, and she also told the prosecutor that she can no longer bear with it.

 “Please do not! I can’t take it mentally, please let me be. May God judge her”.

Despite the accusations which landed her in custody for a month and which the legal profession calls unworthy of practicing law, Begić continues to work. In addition, her clients were not notified of the indictment against their legal representative, nor does the Bar Association have rules regarding similar situations. “We do not inform anyone about disciplinary proceedings, nor are we allowed to do so because that would be a violation of the presumption of innocence,” says the disciplinary counsel of the FBiH Bar Association, Jasmina Cero. She explained, however, that before hiring a lawyer, every citizen has the right to check with the Bar Association whether a disciplinary procedure is being conducted against a certain lawyer.

After the indictment against Begić was confirmed in 2019, Cero asked the Bar Association to suspend her until the end of the trial. The proposal was accepted, but Begić filed an appeal. The appeal was accepted, so the request for suspension had to be reconsidered, but this has not happened yet because the hearings were postponed due to the pandemic, holidays, and the medical opinion suggesting that Begić must rest.

“And she walks, we all know that,” says Cero.

While we worked on this story, the lawyers of Emina Begić tried to prevent CIN journalists from collecting and verifying information on their client. They asked the President of the Municipal Court in Travnik and the case judge to forbid the journalists from following the trial, claiming that their conversations with witnesses were interfering with the criminal proceedings. The court did not succumb to the pressure.
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