Nobody has, as yet, revealed what exactly the Serbian government purchased during the coronavirus pandemic, from whom and for how much money. However, the Centre for Investigative Journalism of Serbia (CINS) came into possession of one of the government contracts worth 64 million euros, which shows how the pandemic-related deals were concluded and how the Government bypassed the Law on Public Procurement.
At the press conference held on March 15, 2020, the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, announced that a state of emergency had been declared in the country. He described the fight against coronavirus, which was gaining momentum at the time, as “a war against an invisible enemy that our country must defeat.”
While the lives of the citizens radically changed, the state was in a hurry to acquire as much medical equipment as possible, so the State Health Insurance Fund (RFZO) launched two public procurements for the purchase of masks, gloves and disinfectants worth more than 1.4 billion dinars.
The decision on which company would get the job was made at meetings held at the RFZO. CINS has learned from several unofficial sources that companies that had or could deliver some of the much-needed products were invited to attend the meetings. The state promised them an advance payment and help with transportation. Sources with whom CINS spoke said that representatives of the Security and Information Agency (BIA) were also present at the meetings.
A representative of the Sinofarm Company was at one of those meetings too. Although the company has the same name as the Chinese company that produces vaccines, it is actually a family-run business based in Belgrade that was founded thirty years ago.
However, the RFZO suspended the aforementioned procurements on March 16, 2020, and then decided to purchase all medical equipment and products in secrecy, away from the public eye. CINS, however, got hold of one of the strictly confidential contracts, worth more than 64 million euros, which the RFZO concluded with the Belgrade company.
Just one day after the state of emergency was declared, Sinofarm concluded a contract with the RFZO worth 7.6 billion dinars, i.e. just over 64 million euros (including VAT). For this money, they sold to the RFZO over 700,000 masks, almost 1.5 million overalls, about 2 million medical coats and 13 million medical aprons to the state. The RFZO paid for the goods completely in advance.
The contract between RFZO and Sinofarm, obtained by CINS, signals that the Government overstepped the Law on Public Procurement in this acquisition.
Nemanja Nenadić from Transparency Serbia explains that the then Law on Public Procurement allowed for the most urgent procurements to be made without launching a public tender in cases such as an epidemic, but underlines that that did not imply secrecy.
The Serbian government, RFZO and the owner of Sinofarm, Nikola Sinobad, refused to comment on CINS’ claims.
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