Workers Demand Bankruptcy in Bijeljina Sugar Factory

Having received no salary for more than a year, the workers of Bijeljina sugar factory decided to file for a new bankruptcy. The factory bank accounts have been frozen since April last year on suspicion that Darko Šarić, the runaway Serbian Montenegrin drug kingpin, invested dirty money into the factory.

Since the factory’s majority owner Zoran Ćopić has been in jail under money laundering charges, the workers had to hire a lawyer in order to reclaim debts.

Their lawyer Faik Muhić said that the factory’s debts at the moment amounted to over 12 million KM. Workers claim around 1.5 million KM.

“Clearly, they can get their money only by starting a new bankruptcy or following the sale of the factory’s equity,” said Muhić adding that the factory that has no turnaround and no liquid funds could not pay out its workers otherwise.

He also said that bankruptcy can often be an ideal way for a factory’s recovery.

Meho Fafulić, director for production and one of the factory’s original employees said that the situation has not changed in the past year.

He said that the employees planned to set up a small shareholders’ assembly which, together with other creditors, would request freezing of the factory’s accounts. In this way they intended to jolt the investors into paying their debts to suppliers and workers.

“We received promises from the minister of agriculture who would to give us money for the Factory’s conservation, but this has not yet happened,” said Fafulić.

Miroslav Milovanović, Republika Srpska minister of agriculture, waterworks and forestry, could not be reached for comment.

Ćopić’s firm Agrocoop export-import Banja Luka bought the majority share in the factory. He was arrested in April 2011 on money laundering charges. The Center for Investigative Reporting in Sarajevo published a series of stories about Ćopić’s business dealings, including an investigation into the privatization of the factory. Until the privatization, the factory was not operating. Ćopić invested 12.77 million KM into it.

After Ćopić’s arrest, the district court of Banja Luka froze in BiH all of his firms, money and an airplane, under suspicion that he had laundered 14 million KM of Šarić’s money before investing it into the factory. Ćopić was charged with the same crime in Serbia too.