Agricultural cooperative Aladža, with full responsibility of Foča municipality, was established with the intention of helping returnees to Foča. They received money from different institutions politically close to the founders, however instead of improving returnees’ lives the cooperative has a negative balance, accounts are blocked, and founders are blaming each other for improper spending…
Written by: Slađan Tomić
Photo: Foča Municipality
The cooperative was established in 2017 and from the initial BAM 500 donation from the Public Enterprise “Bosansko-podrinjske šume d.o.o.” Goražde, which has not sent any answers about spending of the funds, Aladža generated as much as BAM 113.050 in revenue next year. The Ministry for Social Policy, Health, Displaced Persons and Refugees of Goražde Canton had transferred BAM 23.000 from the budget to the Cooperative. The funds were approved for the sustainable return project. The fact that there are even fewer returnees in Foča five years after the project speaks volumes about how it was implemented.
Even the Federation Ministry for Issues of the Veterans and Disabled Veterans of the Defensive-Liberation War has recognized “potential” of Aladža cooperative. Although the cooperative did not have any successful project or achieved results in the past it did not prevent the ministry of awarding tens of thousands of marks to the newly established cooperative. They transferred BAM 45.000 to the Cooperative though the Current transfer to the individuals – Transfer for assistance to the employment of veteran categories through veterans’ cooperatives in 2018 for employment of veteran categories. The cooperative did not employee anyone that year or the next year.
SDA ministers distributed money for SDA returnees
The founders of the cooperative are spouses from Mostar, Mustafa Pendić and Maja Pendić, spouses Šerif Halilović and Sabiha Halilović, and Mustafa Obradović.
It is quite curious that at that time one of the cooperative’s founders, its current director, Šerif Halilović, was SDA’s councilor in the Municipal Assembly of Foča. Main donors to his cooperative were actually the ministers from SDA or the ministers of the coalition. The Goražde canton government at that time was headed by SDA cadre Emir Oković. During the “most fruitful” year for the Cooperative the FBiH Government was headed by the SDA prime minister Fadil Novalić, and the line ministry was led by late Salko Bukvarević, who was also SDA cadre.
Before becoming the councilor, and later the director of a returnee cooperative, Halilović himself was a beneficiary of the donations. He got raspberry seedlings for 18 dunams of land from the FBiH Ministry for refugees and displaced persons and the UNDP in 2015. The total value of the donation was BAM 100.000 and it was distributed as 60.000 seedlings for total of 50 dunams of land. Out of 13 beneficiary families Halilović had thus received the most seedlings.
It is interesting that the procurement was managed by an informal coordination body led by Izet Spahić, Halilović’s party colleague and later on his colleague from the assembly.
Halilović also received agricultural machinery worth BAM 8.000 in 2016 from another SDA official, Nermin Mandra, mayor of Kakanj.
Šerif Halilović had been obviously collecting acquaintances, using them later as the director of Cooperative that continued to receive donations.
Officer for reconstruction, return and social housing in the municipality of Foča, Amir Čaušević, told Spin info that Halilović was living in Sarajevo at that time.
“Many who were living in Foča at that time could not get even one single dunam, let alone 18. That raspberry plantation fell through, and it had all needed equipment, but three years ago it fell through, became overgrown. Nobody was held accountable for that,” said Čaušević.
When it comes to the agricultural cooperative itself, he underlines that none of the returnees was subcontractor of the cooperative, although it is called “returnee” nor did they receive any assistance or done any business with that cooperative.
“There are people working in raspberry growing, fruit-growing, gathering of wild growing non-wood products, milk production. Literally no one did do anything with them. It is a pretty tight relation; it was an integral part of the government at that time i.e. of the SDA municipal board Foča, there is no other explanation. Not only them, but also other organizations as well, that it is why an informal coordination “Our Foča” was established, where all of their functions in the party, associations and even within the Islamic community were intertwined”, said for SPIN info Čaušević, adding that he never got any information he had asked the cooperative’s director to provide.
“Whoever stood against them was labelled as a traitor”, concluded Čaušević.
In additional to financial donations the cooperative also received donations of agricultural machinery.
“I know that they received a tractor whose value is at least BAM 80.000. Also, none of the returnees knows that someone was helped with that tractor. They also received a van and the following was written on its door: Purchased with the help of the Federation Ministry of Displaced Persons and Refugees. That van was driven by Šerif Halilović and the van disappeared two years ago. It is not in Foča, according to some information it is in Sarajevo, in Osijek. The fact is that it is not in Foča”, claims Čaušević.
The loss of funds/donations of agricultural cooperative Aladža coincides with the SDA’s loss of power in that part of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Agricultural Cooperative operated with a loss of as much as BAM 37.451 in 2020, whereafter it ended its business due to numerous frauds. The account of the cooperative has been blocked for a long time.
Founders: Rejection of responsibility and mutual accusations
The fact that the agriculture cooperative Aladža did not spent the money on things that it should have spent it on was also established by the Audit office of the institutions of FBiH. Aladža has made a partial refund in the amount of BAM 30.000, but the competent ministry did not provide the information if the additional BAM 15.500 was refunded, while the current cooperative’s director Šerif Halilović says that the money was refunded although they did not have any money in the account at that time.
“I do not understand, the refunded funds were not spent”, said Halilović.
Spin info: Have all the funds been refunded?
Spin info: All?
Halilović: I think that BAM 2.000 have not been refunded.
Spin info: According to the audit report a total of BAM 15.000 hasn’t been refunded for just one project.
Halilović: It is not true.
Halilović did not to further comment abuses and possible improper spending of funds.
“That was happening during the time of former director, he was removed and everything was reported to the police,” said Halilović.
And former director Mustafa Pendić, who claims not knowing he was reported to the police, said for SPIN info that he was dismissed shortly after his appointment, but that he had left money in the account. But, Pendić was director at the crucial moment of cooperative’s business operations.
“I don’t know how much money was in the account, but there was some. It is possible that the current director has refunded the money, but I do not know that. I do not have this information,” said Pendić.
When asked how it happened that a Mostar resident leads a returnee cooperative in Foča, Pendić first said that it was a private matter, but did provide an answer after we explained that some returnees are protesting that they are represented by people from other cities without a returnee status.
“I came to my wife’s family estate, and worked on growing raspberries, fruits and vegetables so I joined the locals,” said Pendić.
Visible disagreements among the directors with regards to the distribution of funds. Although Halilović says that all donations have been returned, Pendić claims that the money was still spent on the purchase of machinery.
“As far as I know the funds were spent in line with project requirements. I do not have any reports, but I think that tax administration or whoever is responsible for that has them. I do not know that they were any donations beyond the project. I had left a solid amount of money in the account, around 30 to 40 thousand, and a lot of assets. I had personally written a project worth BAM 300.000 that was approved and I then left. I don’t know how much was implemented, because I don’t revisit a closed chapter. I am hearing about blockage of the account for the first time. Those were all long-term projects. Business could have been run for many years”, wrote Pendić to us.
In addition to the director, the ownership structure of the cooperative also changed. The ex-wife of Šerif Halilović, Sabiha Halilović, told Spin info that she left the cooperative right at the beginning.
When asked to comment on the fact that money was poured into the cooperative’s account, but was not spent on returnees’ projects, the former owner said she does not have any information about that.
“I can tell you honestly that I have ended my marriage for these and other reasons”, said Sabina Halilović for Spin adding that she cannot say if Aladža was used to extract public funds, but that she was angry about it all.
Halilović brought his sister Fatima Halilović in place of his wife.
District prosecutor’s office in Trebinje sees no criminal offence in business operations of Aladža.
On November 24, 2020 the police administration Foča submitted to the District prosecutor’s office in Trebinje a report of committed crime against P.M. (Pendić Mustafa) from Mostar due existence of grounds for suspicion that he committed crime “Improper use of budget funds” from Article 324 of the RS Criminal Code.
“The person P.M is suspected of having, as a responsible person in the returnee agricultural cooperative “Aladža”, in the period from November 2018 to July 2019, misused part of the budget funds that the cooperative received on the basis of the Agreement concluded with the Federation Ministry for Issues of the Veterans and Disabled Veterans of the Defensive-Liberation War, by using part of the funds to pay for and purchase items that were not provided for in the projects for which he received the funds”, confirmed Velimir Kostović, chief of Police Administration Foča, for Spin info.
There was no investigation. The prosecutor of the District prosecutor’s office in Trebinje closed the case with the opinion that no crime has been committed.
“Following receipt of the report , the acting prosecutor took measures and actions within his jurisdiction in order to verify the allegations from the report, as well as the accompanying documentation, whereafter he had on September 1, 2022 issued an Order that the investigation will not be conducted as it is obvious that the reported offence is not a criminal offence,” said Srđan Vukanović, PR officer of the District prosecutor’s office Trebinje, for Spin info.
While hundreds of thousands of marks are pouring into associations and business entities like agriculture cooperative Aladža, returnees in BiH are waiting for a roof over their heads. Many are still living in the social housing facilities, and some have never received a single donation. The money is obviously there, it just ends up in the wrong accounts. Neither the audit reports, nor the suspicions of the police about misuse of funds, nor the obvious evidence of this cooperative’s operations are enough to hold anyone accountable for spending hundreds of thousands of marks of the BiH citizen’s money.