An office building worth nearly six million Euros stands in the street of Mihailo Pupin at the number 117 in New Belgrade. Its ownership is contested between Šipad Komerc from Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and Melanesia from Serbia. The Belgrade Comercial Court is set to decide who is right.
According to an investigation by the reporters from the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIN) in Sarajevo and The Center for Investigative Reporting in Belgrade (CINS), the problem with the building arose after Šipad director Hamza Kazazić signed a renovation contract with a German businessman Bernd Schmitz 13 years ago. The contract is related to reconstruction and construction of the premises, but Schmitz has used it as a bill of sale.
Šipad Komerc, a Bosnian wood processing and trading company, had 52 offices in Serbia before the war. Showrooms, warehouses for building materials and furniture and office space of nearly 50,000 square meters were worth around 87.2 million KM.
Kazazić said that the value of real property has been declining for years because Šipad could neither use them nor take care of them during the 1990’s wars. He told reporters that he tried to stop the decaying of the buildings, so in Sept. 2000, he signed a Contract on the Joint Construction and Renovation of the Facilities. He said that he signed the contract with Schmitz via a go-between Kabaš Krasnići, a BiH businessman of Kosovo decent.
According to the contract, Schmitz was supposed to invest money into the renovation of the facilities and get 80 percent ownership in exchange. The investment would allow Schmitz to sell the properties, but 20 percent of the money would go to Šipad’s account.
Kazazić said that Schmitz had no right to sell the properties because he has invested nothing in the renovation. “He has done nothing. If he whitewashed at least “, he said.
Meanwhile, The Agreement on Succession Issues —which went into effect in 2004 and was signed by the countries emerging from the break-up of former Yugoslavia—has recognized the individuals and the firms’ right to property which they owned before the war in other Former Yugoslavian countries. The law also defined that all contracts on the transfer of ownership signed after Dec. 31, 1990 will have become null and void.
However, Schmitz sold one of the most valuable properties that needed renovation in Nov. 2007—the business premises in New Belgrade. He sold it to a firm whose director is Andrija Mišković, while its true owner is reportedly Philip Zepter. Melanesia has now the ownership title for the building while Schmitz has paid taxes for it.
After Kazazić found out that Schmitz has passed the renovation contract as a bill of sale, and that Melanesia was in the process of taking over the title, he warned them that they had no right to do that.
In Dec. 2010, Šipad filed a lawsuit with the Belgrade Commercial Court in order to stop all actions regarding the property and declare the contract they had with Schmitz null and void. Currently, the court has temporary prohibited the disposal of the property until the validity of the contract between Schmitz and Šipad was established.
Debts in Exchange for Premises
Branko Pavlović, Šipad’s legal representative in Serbia, explained that the contract was not the bill of sale, but only allowed for taking care of the property. He said that Melanesia’s buy-out of the property from Schmitz was not an issue, but rather the fact that Schmitz was not the owner of the property. “It is not ours to worry that they did not have good lawyers who would say: ‘Boss, this is not clean!’”.
He said that Melanesia tried to get Šipad to leave the premises, but did not succeed because of the court’s order to freeze all activities related to the premises.
“And now Zepter sits and watches and sees that nothing will come from their attempt to throw us out. And now it is creating a totally fictional thing,” said Pavlović.
A €3 million debt came into play, he explained, which Melanesia reportedly owned to Jekomir Limited—another Zepter firm registered at Cypress. Jekomir tried to collect the debt in a courtroom.
Pavlović told CIN/CINS reporters that he did not understand why there has been a court claim to repay debts because Jekomir is 99 percent owner of Melanesia. “What enforcement of judgment is going on here on behalf of someone who owns the debtor,” he wondered.
He explained that Melanesia offered the office building instead of money. The building was auctioned and the buyer was Zepter’s third company–Barmer investment–which has also been incorporated at Cypress.
Pavlović said that the auction notice was only published on the bulletin board of the Belgrade Commercial Court and that Zepter’s firm was the sole bidder. Because of the auction, Šipad had to leave its premises on Aug. 15 of this year.
On the same day, Pavlović filed a criminal complaint against Zepter, Mišković and four other persons including Dragana Stojkov, a court trustee who allowed the auction to proceed even though there was a court prohibition on the disposal of the assets.
Irsan Lekić, Šipad Komerc’s financial director, told reporters that Zepter sent a delegation of his lawyers to Sarajevo in 2012 trying to come to a settlement for the building. “They wanted us to give it to them underpriced. We refused it.”
Zepter refused to comment, while Mišković said that he was not aware of the complaint, but he said that he bought the building based on the bill of sale and that he paid the agreed price.
Schmitz refused to talk with reporters but used a go-between to send a letter in which he said—among other things—that he was the legal owner of the contested property.
Incorporation of New Firms
Kazazić said that Šipad Komerc had incorporated two companies in Serbia in Dec. 2007-Šipad Komerc Furniture in which they had incorporated assets including the contested building in New Belgrade borough, and Šipad Novi Kolektiv Belgrade.
He said that they have done this because of the Serbian government’s ordinance on the protection of the properties owned by the companies whose HQ’s are based in one of the Former Yugoslavia’s countries. The ordinance stated that these parts of the company had to be incorporated into a publicly-owned company or merged with another company. Otherwise, the Serbian authorities were going to decide on the firms’ property and equipment.
Kazazić said that the BiH authorities have not done anything to protect the property which is located at the territory of other countries and that they had to do that on their own.
Sarajevo Canton Privatization Agency is in charge of Šipad Komerc’s property in Serbia. However, the agency officials say that they don’t have enough information about this. The Agency’s director Sead Kamarašević said that returning property from other countries was not easy since there was no list that covered all the property.
Asked by reporters if they knew about the sale of Šipad’s property, Kamarašević said: “When it comes to Šipad, there’s talk of some German, then Kabaš Krasnići, of people who are not here. (…) We don’t even know which offices were sold, we have to find that out“.
Kazazić said that he did not see Schmitz at the time of contract signing and that he had come to terms directly with Krasnići. However, Krasnići is nowhere mentioned in the paperwork. The contract reads that Schmitz can give power of attorney to someone else to sell properties in his name, which is why Kazazić suspects that Krasnići is behind the sale of offices in Serbia.
Krasnići has been unavailable to reporters. According to the records that CIN/CINS got hold of, Germany filed an arrest warrant after Krasnići for fraud in 2002.
History of Šipad
Šipad Komerc was established in 1976 as a part of the Šipad Group, a trading company for the countrywide trade in wood products. Following the first ownership transformation in 1991, Šipad Komerc was incorporated as a joint stock company. The firm was privatized via the public sale of shares in 2001. Apart from its real properties in New Belgrade, there have been pending litigations for other properties that Šipad has in Serbia.