How millions of state’s euros for the vulnerable groups ended up in private pockets

Only two years ago, a former postal worker, now struggling to find employment, Stanko Milivojević, gave lectures to hundreds of students in Temerin and Despotovac.

He taught them about the importance of violence prevention, online etiquette, the dangers of human trafficking and the importance of reproductive health. At the same time, he also trained future hospice workers in Leskovac.

On paper, that was a good year for him as he was paid over 110,000 euros via his agency Vibzie for these training sessions.

But, his memory is rather scattered, as he could not say with precisions which lectures exactly he held and whether he was paid for it and how much. However, he promised to send the evidence (that is “photos and recordings”) to the BIRN journalist, which he never did.

Getting the money from the government’s ministry for this was easy. The modus operandi was the following – an organization would send its submission following the launch of a public tender, receive money and then transfer it to private agencies and send fake, i.e. fictitious, reports on activities and spending.

In this way, at least 5 million euros were received from the Ministry of Family Care and Demography in 2021.

Based on documents from the Ministry, which the organization called Citizen Initiatives analyzed in detail, and several hundred documents from the Treasury, the Business Register Agency, local self-government competitions and conversations with people involved, BIRN’s research showed that the majority of training sessions and lectures that the Ministry paid for never took place and those that did take place were organized by the schools themselves and local youth offices – free of charge.

Instead of supporting young people and women and working on violence prevention, millions of euros were poured into the accounts of family members, neighbours, friends and acquaintances of people from this network, through agencies that were established solely for that purpose.

By compiling fictitious reports, this organized group additionally involved a whole series of legal entities and people who were astonished when journalists told them that they and their companies “participated” in various training sessions for young people or unemployed persons and that for this they “received” several tens of thousands of euros each.

BIRN’s research shows that Aleksandra Čamagić participated in the allocation of public money to this network for years – for the first time in 2016 and 2017, when these organizations received money from the Novi Beograd municipality.

Čamagić is a long-time collaborator of the outgoing Belgrade mayor, Aleksandar Šapić, and today she heads the Secretariat for Education and Child Protection in the Belgrade government. Previously, in 2021, she worked at the Ministry of Family Care and Demography, where she was at the helm of a commission that decided on the allocation of the Ministry’s funds.

Ratko Dmitrović, then Minister for Family Care and Demography, told BIRN that he knew nothing about these competitions and allocations and that he did not deal with them due to his illness, but did confirm that Aleksandra Čamagić was in charge of the whole matter.

That year, the biggest amount of 5 million euros, was awarded to a network of 23 fictitious organizations gathered around Tatjana Borojević, a representative of the Panacea organization, and the members of the competition commissions that decided who would be awarded the money, which, apart from Aleksandra Čamagić, consisted of two other associates of Aleksandar Šapić – Bisera Pejčić and Kristina Glišić.

Out of a total of 59 projects for which Civic Initiatives received documentation, reports say that 42 lectures were focused on peer violence and reproductive health. They were apparently held in 70 schools across Serbia, with around 14,000 young people participating.

According to reports submitted to the Ministry, 125 agencies and associations were paid for these training sessions. Everything went according to plan, i.e. all lectures/training sessions were successfully conducted and the projects accomplished the set goals.

In reality, almost none of this is actually true.

Analysis of the report showed a number of serious abuses – fraudulent payments, fictitious financial statements and false activity data – in the spending of budget money intended to support vulnerable groups.

Instead of a large number of lectures on the prevention of peer and digital violence and reproductive health, some schools held partial lectures/training sessions and these were organized by local youth offices and school teachers who received no money for that.

BIRN contacted by phone and email all 68 schools where the training sessions were allegedly held. 43 schools replied and out of that number, 23 schools confirmed that no training sessions were held during 2021.

“I checked our documentation, talked to the previous principal, and looked for data in the official Report on the implementation of the Annual Work Plan for the 2020/2021 school year. I did not find a single piece of information about the realized workshops that you mentioned,” Zorica Damnjanović, the principal of the high school in Varvarin confirmed.

All six contacted schools told BIRN that such training sessions were never held.

The money went to the Development Initiative for Social Inclusion and its representative Dejan Tasić. This organization did not respond to BIRN’s questions.

A similar response was received from the remaining 20 schools – a smaller number of training sessions were held, mostly one at a time, and were organized by local youth offices.

The same can be said for schools in Čačak.

The organization called Initiative for Social Empowerment Belgrade, represented by Ana Žigić, reported that it organized two cycles of training sessions in five schools, which were attended by 2,000 young people. The organization was paid EUR 160,000 for these activities.

In reality, the two schools where the lectures were allegedly held don’t even exist.

A Hospitality School in Čačak, which is one of the three schools listed in the report, says that they have records of only one lecture, which was held by the local Youth Office free of charge.

“As far as financial resources are concerned, our Youth Office did not receive financial support for the implementation of the activities,” the Youth Office confirmed after BIRN’s inquiry.

And the list goes on…

Social welfare centres that never got promised financial aid

Close to 410,000 euros should have been directed to help the social welfare centres in Vranje, Leskovac and Kikinda. However, BIRN’s research shows that those projects were not implemented, but were presented as implemented in the reports submitted to the Ministry.

So, for example, the Selo NGO received more than 80,000 euros for the training of 60 new hospice workers during 10 days, between June and August in Vranje in cooperation with the Centre for the Development of Social Services Vranje. However, the Centre’s report for 2021 does not mention these training sessions, nor the Selo NGO.

Two of the five agencies and organizations allegedly paid to hold these training sessions have neither engaged in such activities, nor have received any money. They first heard about these projects, in which they allegedly participated, from BIRN journalists.

Vladimir Savić, a legal representative of the Selo NGO, said in a short telephone conversation with BIRN journalists that he did not remember what he was doing in 2021, because he was doing all kinds of things and hung up the phone. He did not respond to BIRN’s detailed questions.

The network of these phantom organizations began to take shape in 2013, documents from the APR show.

Twelve of these organizations were founded in 2013 and 2014. Their representatives were members of each other’s founding assemblies and managing boards, but three times constantly pop up – Tatjana Borojević, her sister Biljana Ratković and associate Biljana Čakovan.

Less than a year later, Borojević was named as a person of interest in a 2014 scandal which involved the Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs. The Ministry’s competition was suspended due to allegations of abuse, as it turned out that the advisor in the Ministry was also employed by Panacea, Tatjana Borojević’s organization, to which a substantial amount of money was supposed to be allocated.

Over the last ten years, this phantom network has expanded. The same group of people founded new organizations with new collaborators. For most of them, Biljana Čakovan had the power of attorney to collect relevant documentation from APR.

BIRN already wrote about Biljana Čakovan in 2021, when it was first discovered that the organizations her husband, herself and their first neighbour founded together, received almost half a million euros following a competition launched by the Ministry of Family Care and Demography.

In 2023, the network of these phantom organizations “moved” from funds of the government ministry to Belgrade’s budget.

From the relevant city secretariat, which is helmed by Aleksandra Čamagić, 21 organizations from this network received money at the competition related to provision of social protection services in July 2023. A total of 66 projects were financially supported by the Belgrade budget, but data about how much money the aforementioned organization have received in the meantime is not available to the public. Čamagić claims that “everything was done in line with the law”.

Before Čamagić became the head of the Secretariat, none of these 21 phantom organizations received money in the competitions in 2020, 2021 and 2022.

Civic Initiatives and JUKOM submitted a criminal complaint to the Prosecutor’s Office for Organized Crime against representatives of phantom organizations that received money at the Ministry’s tenders in 2022, as well as against relevant persons from the Ministry itself. The Prosecutor’s Office did not respond to BIRN’s questions about whether the Office acted upon the criminal complaint.

The State Audit Institution has never audited the Ministry of Family Care and Demography.

(BIRN, 27.11.2023)

This post is also available in: Italiano

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