“Brother, I have a different kind of relationship with Ibrahim. Some of their properties are under my name. His [properties], and much more, not to bore you.” Elmedin Karišik, the owner of the company Plaza Group, sent this message via the encrypted Sky app to his acquaintance, revealing that he was entrusted with the role of guarding the secret wealth of the former mayor of the Stari Grad Municipality in Sarajevo, Ibrahim Hadžibajrić.
According to the investigations of the Office of BiH Prosecutor (BIH PO) and the Office of Sarajevo Canton Prosecutor (SC PO), from 2019 to mid-2023, Hadžibajrić leased, without public competition, four public car parks and street advertising spaces to companies connected with Karišik. He also facilitated procedures for obtaining building permits for Karišik, and in return, he received money for the election campaign, real estate, and up to 80 percent of the profit from car park rentals.
Protected communication via the Sky app, decrypted by EUROPOL and shared with the investigators in BiH, reveals that in 2021, Karišik bought a three-story building for Hadžibajrić near the Hastahana Park in the center of Sarajevo through his company. During the pretrial detention hearing, Hadžibajrić’s defense argued that the Prosecutor’s Office had no evidence of his hidden property.
The former mayor avoided frequent communication with Karišik, and the contact was mostly maintained with Hadžibajrić’s son, Seid.
Karišik, Ibrahim, and Seid Hadžibajrić were arrested in May 2023 on suspicion of organizing a group with associates and friends that used public goods of the Stari Grad Municipality for personal enrichment. According to their lawyers, Elmedin Karišik and Seid Hadžibajrić did not wish to speak with CIN reporters. Indira Karahodžić, the defense lawyer for Ibrahim Hadžibajrić, said that her client agreed to an interview, but it has been a month since the Sarajevo Cantonal Court has not responded to CIN’s request to interview Hadžibajrić in the Zenica prison. According to the Court’s PR department, the judge who was supposed to consider the request is on sick leave.
Two Hundred Thousand Marks For Hadžibajrić’s Campaign
Individuals seeking full protection of their conversations, most often members of criminal groups worldwide, for years have used the Sky mobile phone application. While they were convinced of its security, international police agencies managed to break the encryption code and send users’ conversations from their respective countries to local police.
Thus, thanks to the Sky app, prosecutors in BiH learned that the Hadžibajrić family entrusted their secret wealth to a family friend, Elmedin Karišik, who provided them with money for the election campaign and the purchase of cars.
Around 400,000 euros in cash were kept in his safes and other secret places, to which Hadžibajrić had an entitlement, has been stated in Sarajevo Canton Prosecutor’s Office document.
The family insured themselves against unplanned events with a promissory note in which Karišik guarantees the recovery of the value. According to this document, Seid Hadžibajrić is authorized to collect up to three million marks of claims from Plaza Group at any time.
It stems from the Sky exchange between Seid Hadžibajrić and Karišik that the owner of Plaza Group also donated one hundred thousand euros for the mayor’s election campaign in 2020.
“No one has invested as much as you have enabled with your connections. The donation for these packages alone and the help, oh brother. I keep mentioning it to him, 100 K euros, it’s not 10 thousand”, wrote Hadžibajrić Jr. to Karišik.
According to the Office of the State Prosecutor, which conducts a separate investigation into money laundering in Sarajevo, Karišik received this money from Sarajevan Sani Al-Murda, the leader of the group of international cocaine smugglers.
Sky correspondence reveals that Karišik bought expensive cars, Audi and VW Tiguan, for Hadžibajrić through his company, paying for it with a share of the money that belonged to the mayor’s family from the parking business.
The State Prosecutor’s investigation showed that Karišik invested Al-Murda’s money in the construction and purchase of residential buildings, the purchase of cryptocurrency mining machines, the procurement of protective masks they sold during the coronavirus, the purchase of cars and expensive watches, while part of it was spent on everyday needs.
The motion for Hadžibajrić’s detention says that Hadžibajrić spent the donated money on the election campaign for the purchase and distribution of aid packages to the residents of Stari Grad. Ibrahim Hadžibajrić has been in custody since May 2023, while Karišik and Seid Hadžibajrić were released from custody after six months. A warrant has been issued for the arrest of Al-Murda.
Million-Euro Property for Bey’s Retirement
Soon after Karišik took over the car parks in Stari Grad and started charging fees in 2020, Hadžibajrić began acquiring new properties. In court, during the pretrial detention hearing, he claimed to have made the purchases by income from the sale of other properties or borrowings from his relatives.
The mayor and his daughter Amila sold two apartments for 307,000 BAM at the end of that year. At a hearing in May this year, Hadžibajrić explained that in early 2021 he bought a new 85-square-meter apartment and a garage near Skenderija in Sarajevo for 244,000 BAM with this money. The following year, he bought another garage in the same neighborhood for 25,000 BAM. He reported these properties in the Registry of Assets of Public Office Holders in Sarajevo Canton.
According to the Prosecutor’s Office, the Hadžibajrić family also invested money in a three-story building near Hastahana Park in the center of Sarajevo. In one of the intercepted exchanges via the Sky app, Karišik informed Hadžibajrić Jr. that this building was intended for the Bey’s retirement”. Bey (Bosnian: beg) is one of the nicknames of Ibrahim Hadžibajrić, used in communication through this encrypted application. Hadžibajrić’s defense claims that it is a nickname he does not usually use.
This building was owned by Senad Muslim, who sold it to EuroPark, a company managed by Elmedin Karišik, in February 2021. To conceal ownership of the company, Karišik registered Aida Topalović-Karić, the wife of Sengor Karić, an employee of Karišik’s Plaza Group, as the founder.
A year earlier, EuroPark was granted by the Stari Grad Municipality an extremely profitable car park in the tourist core of the city – in Bistrik – without a public call. After taking over the car park, Topalović-Karić empowered Karišik to manage the company. In 2023, she admitted to the police that, as the owner and director, she received a salary of 430 BAM and was not familiar with the operations of EuroPark. She did not want to talk to CIN reporters.
According to the sales contract, EuroPark was supposed to pay Muslim 300,000 BAM. He told the reporters that he managed to collect 250,000 BAM, and Karišik still owed him the difference and an additional 28,000 BAM, which he spent on legalizing the facility. Due to the debt, Muslim did not allow the building to be deeded to EuroPark.
After the purchase, Karišik and Seid Hadžibajrić began a thorough renovation of the building. They entrusted the job to the Sarajevo builder Rahman Jahić, who told CIN that Karišik had previously hired him for some smaller jobs. At the request of Hadžibajrić Jr., he painted apartments in Skenderija and above Baščaršija.
“Only when we started working on this building did I find who Seid was, i.e., that he was the mayor’s son. He’s a nice guy, honestly, a sweet-talking chap.”
Jahić was under the impression that Seid Hadžibajrić and Karišik intended to renovate the building to rent out the four 50-square-meter apartments. As he claims, the money was mostly paid from the EuroPark’s account, while Seid brought him cash several times – totaling about 2-3 thousand BAM.
The Sarajevo Canton Prosecutor’s Office claims that Seid was giving the money they earned from car parks. According to available information, the building is worth about a million marks, and after renovation, it would be worth even more.
By the decision of the Sarajevo Canton Court, the building was temporarily seized from EuroPark and handed over to the FBiH Seized Property Management Agency.
During the pretrial detention hearing, Hadžibajrić’s defense argued that the correspondence via the Sky application could not be evidence against him because he was not a participant in those conversations.
“The prosecution indirectly draws conclusions about what my client is doing and thinking by analyzing the exchanges between Mr. Karišik and Hadžibajrić Jr., said defense attorney Asim Crnalić, adding that this leads to abuses.
Interest-Free Loan For An Apartment By The Sea
The Sarajevo Canton Prosecutor’s Office has also requested the restraint of Hadžibajrić’s apartment in Krvavica near Makarska, Croatia. He purchased this 43-square-meter property in March 2022 for 80,000 euros.
It became the subject of interest for the Sarajevo Canton Prosecutor’s Office when it was disclosed that it was bought with money from the mayor’s relative, Fahrudin Novalija.
At an auction in July 2021, Novalija purchased from the Municipality a nearly 200-square-meter parcel in Alifakovac, the heart of Sarajevo’s old town, for 137,500 BAM. The parcel was part of the scope of the future national monument site “Historical Urban Landscape of Sarajevo”, which was under the temporary sales restraint regime.
In 2019, the Commission for the Protection of National Monuments in Bosnia and Herzegovina informed the Stari Grad Municipality that it initiated proceedings to declare this part of the old town as a national monument. Despite this, the municipality parcelled the land the following year, and in June 2021, it announced the sale of a part thereof. A month later, the Commission called on Hadžibajrić to halt the auction, but he ignored the call, and three days later, the land was sold to Novalija.
In late February of the following year, Novalija entered into an interest-free loan agreement with Seid Hadžibajrić for 145,000 BAM over ten years. Hadžibajrić Jr. added 13,000 BAM to this sum and transferred 158,000 BAM to his father’s account for the purchase of the apartment.
Hadžibajrić’s defense denies the prosecutor’s claim that the loan was, in fact, a bribe, arguing that it wouldn’t make sense for Novalija, who had already paid for the land to the municipality. The 77-year-old Novalija also denies it, saying that he borrowed the money solely because they are relatives. He already owned an apartment in the same building in Krvavica and offered Seid to lend him money to buy one that was for sale.
In May 2023, Ibrahim Hadžibajrić stated in court that after buying the apartment in Skenderija, he had 101,000 BAM left in his account and he took a loan of 50,000 BAM. He did not report the amount he had in his account in the Asset declaration for 2022.
“I can pay Mr. Fahrudin Novalija tomorrow, so he doesn’t have to wait for these 145,000 for ten years… I will quickly return that money, God willing”, said the former mayor during the court hearing.