Database of Assets of Serbian Politicians

Database of Assets of Serbian Politicians

Organisation: Crime and Corruption Reporting Network – KRIK (Serbia)

Publication Date: 04/05/2017

Size of team/newsroom:small

Description

KRIK created the most comprehensive online database of assets of Serbian politicians, which currently consists of property cards of all ministers of Serbian government and all Serbian presidential candidates running in 2017 Elections. The database was launched to help Serbian citizens to better understand who are the people running their country and promote greater transparency. Each profile (property card) contains information about apartments, houses, cars and companies of current ministers and presidential candidates, and details about how they came to possess them. The database provides information on which of these politicians had been building without permits or own illegal buildings. There’s also data about their credit, leases, and about people with whom they’ve collaborated and committed offenses. The information within the profiles are based on official documents, collected from official registries from around the world and those documents are now available for KRIK’s readers as free downloadable scans. To appraise the mentioned real estate, KRIK has hired a certified real estate agency, which calculated the market values of every flat, house or piece of land owned by these politicians. Eight out of twenty ministers had agreed to speak to KRIK journalists regarding our findings from this database and also eight of eleven presidential candidates had spoken to us. Their responses are included in the database. Here are is a sample of our findings from this database that led to stories we published: - Aleksandar Vucic, the Prime Minister and presidential candidate, has reported to the Anti-Corruption Agency that there is only one apartment in his possession, 30-square-meter studio flat and no other property. However, while working on this database KRIK reporters discovered that Vucic and his family own seven properties worth more than 1.1 million $ in Belgrade. - In addition to publishing Energy Minister Aleksandar Antic's entire assets and income, KRIK found Antic's connection to a criminal group. In fact, the minister's sister married a drug lord and she was the owner of a company used for manufacturing drugs. KRIK revealed that there are two ongoing misdemeanor proceedings against minister Antic for abuse of the state budget. - The database emphasized some of our earlier findings - that Ivica Dacic, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Zlatibor Loncar, Minister of Health, both have close links with the mafia. - Zoran Djordjevic, Minister of Defense, is director and owner of an offshore company, which was in business with large state-owned company. - Minister of Police Nebojsa Stefanovic’s father has founded the company together with well-known arms dealer. KRIK revealed that municipal police had filed 27 charges against Stefanovic for multiple violations during the 2012 election campaign. Proceedings against him were later suspended.

What makes this project innovative? What was its impact?

The Online Database of Assets of Serbian Politicians attracted a lot of public attention. No one else in the Serbian media ever investigated this subject in such an in-depth way as KRIK. The database is comprehensive and offers information about Serbian politicians in one place, making it unique in our country. It has advanced browsing options, searches can be done by different criteria which makes it practical and easy to use. Each 'property card' can be shared shared via social networks contributing to the rapid spread of information from the database. Revelations on properties of ministers and presidential candidates have made front page news on several national and regional newspapers and fueled online debates on social media. On KRIK's website alone million readers have seen our database so far according to our online statistics. After we published this database, the Serbian Anti-Corruption Agency told KRIK it would launch its own investigation of several ministers during 2017 on the basis of what the database revealed. This database has contributed to higher government transparency and now, Serbian citizens are familiar with information that politicians were otherwise trying to hide from them or was not easily available to them. While working on this project KRIK reporters were exposed to pressure and sabotage. Some state institutions violated the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance and refused to provide us with data. Our journalists were monitored and recorded on mobile phones by different unknown persons. KRIK has been the target of several media attacks by the pro-government tabloids and other media close to the government and criminal circles. Smear campaigns were launched prior to publication of the database. We will be expanding the database with new profiles of ruling and opposition politicians. This database will continue contributing to transparency, public accountability and the fight against corruption in Serbia.

Technologies used for this project:

We used different online sources and were searching in different databases such as: Orbis and Lexis containing millions of entries of companies worldwide but also containing shareholders, directors and subsidiaries of companies. We also searched different local business registries online in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Czech Republic and others; local land registries in some countries: Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia and others. We also searched social networks and used tools to find more information on them, we used Facebook Graph; searched for historic information through online web archives and finding some crucial documents unavailable on Google. The research was complex and comprehensive. The first part of this project alone ('Assets of Ministers') included investigations into more than one hundred people (politicians and their family members), around ninety companies, more than hundred court cases, and more than two hundred real estate records. We also backed our findings with data by verification through human source work: during this project we spoke to ex political and business partners of the politicians we investigated, their neighbors, real estate experts and employees from private companies. They pointed us to new leads in finding politicians family members, hidden assets, and older court cases. However, it was very risky to talk to people because we are under surveillance, there is a huge pressure on us and our sources. Despite the fact that the government is doing everything to prevent people to talk to us, deliver us tips on different ways.
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