BIRN has published the first exclusive interview with Krusik whistleblower, Aleksandar Obradovic, who was just released from prison and sentenced to house arrest in Valjevo.
“I told the Public Prosecutor everything. I have nothing to hide. I didn’t lie, I didn’t steal anything. I just wanted to find out the truth about Krusik’s activities,” Aleksandar Obradovic told BIRN in his first interview after leaving central prison.
On September 18, 2019, Obradovic was arrested at his workplace at the Krusik factory in Valjevo on charges of disclosing a business secret, after he gave journalists documents showing that the GIM Company, represented by the father of the current Interior Minister, Branko Stefanovic, was buying weapons from Krusik at preferential prices.
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The public was not informed of the case until the weekly NIN published the first unofficial information on October 10, 2019.
Although Aleksandar Obradovic admits what he did, he says he did not commit any crime.
“I have not lied or falsified anything. These are the facts about the affairs of Krusik. The money allocated to Krusik by the state has been systematically withdrawn from the company’s accounts. I was only interested in documents related to corruption,” says Obradovic.
BIA, agents, SUVs, media
He remembers that Wednesday, September 18, when at 15:30h, a dozen police officers arrived to arrest him.
“They came to my workplace. They were people from the BIA, a group I didn’t know what to expect from. They thought I was working for someone, that I was taking money. It was the first time I had to deal with the police, it was a shock,” explains Obradovic.
The members of the BIA were a little rough in the first 15-20 minutes, until he was taken in by high-tech crime officials.
“They arrested me and I stayed with them until they took me to the police station in Belgrade. I can’t really say one bad thing about these people,” Obradovic says and adds that he had a fair treatment by the prison guards and the police in general.
“I have nothing bad to say about the police officers arrested, except for that slightly rough treatment I got in the beginning. They came to get me in two SUVs and two Audis – four cars in total. Maybe that was too much. Who knows who they had expected to find when they got here,” Obradovic adds.
The struggle continues
Continuing his story about everything that has happened in the last month, Obradovic says that what has emerged is just a chapter in the events associated with Krusik and there is much more to say.
“I stand by my words that there is no society in this world where GIM would be able to defend itself. They are now trying to change the cards on the table but in vain. I’ve been very interested in the subject in the last few years, I’m good at economics and mathematics, so there’s no way for them to defend themselves from being given a lower (preferential) price or deny that they had a special treatment price-wise,” Obradovic says.
He explains that there are calculations made by professionals based on the material and labour costs and the profit margin. On the basis of this calculation, the sales department submitted formal offers to GIM, as well as to other companies and subsequently, the contract had to be concluded in line with that price offer. However, Krusik concluded a contract with GIM and the stated prices were lower than in the initial offer.
In addition to privileged customers, there are also privileged suppliers. “This goes against new companies that are a part of the supply chain as well as local suppliers,” Obradovic claims.
“What’s happening in Krusik is happening in other defence industry factories in the country. I don’t know if anyone has the courage and the desire to denounce it,” he warns.
He thinks that Krusik is a one-of-a-kind example because the problems in the company started when Mladen Petkovic, now the former General Manager of the factory, was appointed to that position.
“Since the appointment of Mladen Petkovic, a party- sponsored head of the factory, there has been a systematic withdrawal of money from Krusik’s accounts. I don’t even know how the company manages to survive. Even today, Mladen Petkovic has this backdoor influence through the appointment of executive directors, and this is no secret,” says Obradovic, who reported this systematic theft of public money to the Public Prosecutor.
“There are many new companies close to the ruling party that have destroyed Krusik. And this is quite visible despite clever attempts to hide it,” he warns.
Before deciding to turn to the press, Obradovic tried to inform the company’s Supervisory Board and trade unions of suspicious affairs but added that he did not trust the state authorities.
“It is a pity that in this country we have more confidence in investigative journalists than in investigative bodies. I tried to inform the unions. However, all these unions have received privileges from the administration by employing their wives, family members, mistresses and whatnot, hence they are not too concerned with what is happening. The institution of military secrecy doesn’t exist in Krusik. There are documents approved by the Supervisory Board and marked as strictly confidential. I was not interested in them. I was only interested in documents relating to corruption,” Obradovic underlines.
He adds that one of these documents, marked as strictly confidential, relating to corruption, says Mladen Petkovic has approved funds, a total of 110.000 euro, aimed at solving the housing problem of a person who did not even work for Krusik.
Before addressing the press, Obradovic wrote to the former chairman of the Supervisory Board for the first time.
“I also tried to attract the attention of our local websites. But Krusik rented the banners on all three independent web portals in Valjevo which made it impossible for them to publish my story.”
“I saved the messages. I didn’t want to delete any of them. I told the Public Prosecutor everything. I sent the first message to Slobodan Georgiev, Dragan Peć and Vladimir Radomirović. I have nothing to hide, I was not lying, I did not steal anything. I just wanted the truth about the activities of Krusik Holding Corporation to come to light.”
He denies the accusations of the pro-government media which reported that Obradovic did everything out of revenge since his mother had been fired from Krusik and that he was not an informer but a spy because he had been collecting secret state and military documents for years.
“If I had asked my mother and if she had known, I wouldn’t have done it; it’s stupid,” says Obradovic, confirming that it’s true that his mother was a director in Krusik for 15-20 years: “But I repeat, my only reason was to find out the truth about corruption and nothing else.”
Chronology of events
The first information about the arms trafficking activities of Branko Stefanovic, father of the Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic, appeared last year. The NIN weekly wrote about it and in November 2018, BIRN reported that the father of the Interior Minister, representing the GIM Company based in Belgrade, was the mediator between Krusik and arms buyers from Saudi Arabia.
The story was published by a specialized international web portal, Arms Watch, which wrote on September 15, that GIM was buying weapons at preferential prices compared to SDPR (the Serbian state company engaged in import and export of defence equipment).
Krusik’s executives denied the charges. They, however, deliberately kept quiet about the key data of other contracts with GIM and SDPR which showed a completely different picture.
On September 19, BIRN published an article showing data from three other contracts which revealed that Krusik had manipulated the prices of different types of mines to support the claim that GIM was not in a privileged position at the time of purchase, while the company, effectively linked to the father of the Interior Minister, had purchased mines at lower prices than the competition.
The very next day, Krusik employee Aleksandar Obradovic was arrested.
After NIN published the news about his arrest on October 10, according to which Obradovic had been in custody for three weeks, and following strong public reactions to the arrest, the relevant institutions responded.
In just one day, two judicial decisions were made, transferring Aleksandar Obradovic from Belgrade Central Prison to house arrest.
What prosecutors say?
Today, almost a month after Obradovic’s arrest, the high-tech crime prosecutor’s office has said that pre-trial and criminal proceedings have been conducted “in full compliance with the Law on Criminal Procedure by the competent state bodies that deal with the security of the Republic of Serbia, and not in secret”. The prosecutor’s office also added that the laws governing the protection of secret data, informer and personal data, as well as other laws related to the conduct of this procedure, have been fully complied with.
The statement confirms previous findings that Obradovic is suspected on the crime of revealing a business secret.
“The investigation at this point is directed towards the actions taken by the suspect from 2014 until the day of initiation of the proceedings; the subject, for reasons of a personal nature, in violation of the laws and without complying with the provisions of the law, has obtained unauthorized information of varying degrees of secrecy on the activity of this military defence firm in relation to different military production programme. The purpose was to hand them over to an unknown person, and through computer communication with a foreign citizen, in order for that foreign citizen, without ascertaining the truth of the information obtained, to publish some of the received information online”, said the Prosecutor’s letter, adding that “the prosecution will continue to conduct criminal proceedings on this case to determine the full facts”.
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