Court: Serbian Minister Must Return Illegally Acquired Land
The Appellate Court in Belgrade upheld a verdict ordering former mayor and current Minister of Finance Sinisa Mali to return illegally acquired land back to the government, KRIK reported Thursday.
In 2017, a commercial court ruled that the contract under which Mali acquired the land through the company Compost Group was null and obliged him to return the property. The companies named in the suit, Compost Group and Alpha Protein appealed the decision, which was upheld on July 5th by the appellate court.
The land is located outside of Vrsac, a town known for its viticulture, close to the Romanian border.
Reporters from KRIK uncovered last year that the contract between the two companies was made while Mali worked in the Ministry of Economy on privatization. Alpha Protein, run by a family friend of Mali was privatized in this period. Two years later, Alpha Protein gifted the Mali family-owned Compost Group the 10-hectare plot by making a commercial sale contract that was never paid out.
The owner of Alpha Protein was found legally responsible and received a suspended sentence. The Mali family however, was never even investigated in the case despite having benefited from the illegal transfer of land.
The state began the case against Alpha Protein and Compost Group in 2007, only to drop it and pick it up again in 2015 after KRIK reporters published a story on the Mali family’s illegal land holdings.
The Appellate Court decision seems like a win, but it is a small concession considering the history of the case and the companies involved.
In 2009, Mali’s father transferred a holding company, Ferdi Genetics, owned by Compost Group to Sinisa Mali. Ten days later, Mali sold Ferdi Genetics to his offshore company Alessio Investment Limited for €525,000, effectively bringing money into Serbia whose origins are unknown. A report by the country’s anti-corruption body states that the bank used by Mali flagged the transaction as a possible money laundering operation.
The report by the agency was given to the High Court in Belgrade, but no criminal case against Sinisa Mali was ever made.
This is one of many similar incidents regarding Sinisa Mali that have been uncovered and reported on by the Crime and Corruption Reporting Network (KRIK) and OCCRP. Incidents of potential money laundering, Mali’s role in the illegal demolition of the Savamala neighborhood, and his blossoming political career despite all of this have been reported on for years, with little to no response from the judiciary or the ruling government in Serbia.