Despite the fact that the Sarajevo debt collection agency “Eos matrix” is linked to hundreds of lawsuits due to the collection of dubious loans or those that have long expired, as well as relentless pressure on citizens even if they do not owe anything, still, not a single one has appeared the state institution responsible for controlling the legality of their work.
We came to this conclusion after trying for a long time from various institutions and agencies to find out who controls them and whether anyone has ever inspected their business books and checked whether their operations are in accordance with the laws.
The agency that was most “famous” for the ruthless collection of loans it bought from the Sinergija Microcredit Company and the Prizma Microcredit Foundation, both in bankruptcy, did not give up illegal collection even after numerous court rulings. Because of this, citizens banded together and filed collective lawsuits, in order to free themselves from the obligation, which, they claim, they mostly didn’t even know about until the suspension came. Despite everything, the institutional reaction was completely absent.
We, therefore, asked the inspectorates of both entities, as well as the Banking Agency of the FBiH and Republika Srpska, but we did not receive an answer from anyone to the question of whether anyone and who is the one who has the right and authority to look into the books of this company and check, when are they in charge of collection, are these collections in accordance with the laws and do they pay taxes and obligations on everything properly?
However, during the inspections, they did not have answers for us because they are not competent to control their work, and they do not even have reports from citizens who were in their “crosshairs”.
“If any of the citizens feel that they have been harmed or believe that this agency is working illegally, it would be best to report it, so that the inspectors go to the field. We don’t have any reports”, the Federal Inspectorate told us.
We heard the same in the Inspectorate of Republika Srpska.
A somewhat more complex situation occurred with the Banking Agency of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, from which we could not get answers to questions for days. Then they even asked for a power of attorney to represent our journalist, in order to confirm that he really works for this company and establish the entity, referring to the Law on Freedom of Access to Information, even though they were the ones who violated that law, which we pointed out to them in our answer. We remind you that according to the Law on Freedom of Access to Information, institutions are obliged to answer the questions of every citizen of this country, not just journalists. In the end, they still answered, but that the control of the company that deals with the collection of loans and overdue claims is not within their jurisdiction.
“The Banking Agency of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina does not have the requested data, because ‘Eos matrix’ Sarajevo is not a subject of the banking system and does not operate under the supervision of the Agency. Therefore, within the framework of its jurisdiction, the Agency does not have the requested information, especially bearing in mind that it is not competent to supervise buyers of bank placements, and does not have data on how many legal entities are registered in the territory of the Federation for the performance of debt collection and collection-credit operations”, the Agency said.
Banja Luka lawyer Din Tešić, who represents several hundreds of parties in the proceedings against “Eos matrix” and who on their behalf freed several of them from illegally imposed payment obligations, says that, contrary to all legal provisions, this company’s outdated claims of MKD Sinergija plus and MF Prizma enforces using psychological pressure on debtors who are not obliged to repay the debt.
“The increasing number of withdrawn lawsuits in cases in which we represent the defendants speaks of the fact that they are aware that they are claiming outdated obligations. Our clients lost their jobs because of the frequent calls from the ‘Eos Matrix’ workers, not to mention that some of them got seriously ill because of it. When the court makes a decision and confirms that the claims do not exist, they continue to call our clients and try to collect the loan on their own. We are currently considering the legal rights of our clients to seek compensation from the company ‘Eos Matrix’ for the non-material damages they suffered due to harassment by phone calls and frequent threats of confiscation of property. We will file lawsuits in a certain number of cases, probably already this month”, says Tešić.
One of our interlocutors says that she is one of those who took out a loan at Sinergija, but that she regretted it bitterly.
“First, they persuaded me to withdraw far more than the planned amount, even if my salary was not high enough for that amount. I don’t even know how I agreed. Trust me, they are very convincing. I don’t know how, but instead of 15,000 KM as I had planned, I left Sinergia in charge of 24,000 KM. The workers of Sinergia even helped me find another guarantor. They stated in the contract that the loan was intended for the purchase of land, although this was not true”, she points out.
She says that she paid in instalments of 600 KM “as much as she could”, but then a problem arose.
“I tried to arrange to pay in two instalments. So far I have repaid about 20,000 KM. That’s when they started threatening me and harassing me mentally and pressuring me to take the reprogram. They also involved other members of my family and suddenly I and my father became in debt, although he did not see a single KM from that loan. Then they also charged us some interest, which we did not understand at all. In the end, we ended up owing 60,000 KM. “Eos matrix” added some more interest to us, so that on the raised 24,000 KM, which I took and paid back at the beginning, this company is asking me for a little more than 50,000 KM”, says our interlocutor.
Unfortunately, although we sent questions to “Eos matrix” several times, this company never answered them, so we were deprived of their side of the story this time as well.
At the end of last year, before the courts of RS, there was a disputed legal issue related to the application of Articles 372 and 373 of the Law on Obligations of Republika Srpska, which determined the statute of limitations for annuities and the right to claim from a credit agreement. A certain number of judges stated in their decisions that it was a ten-year limitation period, not a three- and five-year period, and thus incorrectly applied substantive law.
At the end of last year, the Supreme Court of Republika Srpska took a position regarding the multi-decade problem of thousands of citizens regarding the claim of unpaid annuities (instalments) from the loan agreement. The court then decided that these claims expire not only while the contract is still in effect, but also in the case when the term has expired and it has not been terminated.
This term is five years for unbroken contracts, and ten years for those that have been terminated. In the event that the loan agreement is terminated due to non-payment and irregular payment of instalments, the creditor’s claim, which refers to the entire return of the debt, expires within ten years. Payment of part of the debt after the termination of the credit agreement does not interrupt the statute of limitations for the remaining unpaid debt.
When the plaintiff submitted a proposal for execution based on a promissory note for the payment of claims, and the court subsequently ruled that the proposal would be considered a lawsuit, there was no modification of the lawsuit if, in the civil proceedings, the plaintiff did not demand payment of the debt based on the promissory note, but based on the contract of credit. In this case, the limitation period of the claim is interrupted by the submission of a proposal for enforcement.
The Supreme Court of Republika Srpska, at its session on September 23 last year, clearly took the legal view that these are outdated obligations for which “Eos Matrix” is claiming monetary amounts. This legal understanding adopted by the Supreme Court of Republika Srpska is also binding in all other cases related to credit agreements when the same has not been terminated, which was the case with Sinergija and Prizma, as well as with certain banks.
Earlier it was announced that even the Central Bank of Bosnia and Herzegovina does not have the authority to supervise the work of debt collection agencies and does not have information on which legal provisions regulate the work of these agencies.
What the Central Bank of Bosnia and Herzegovina knows for sure is that debt collection agencies have so far reported to the Central Credit Register (CRK) the purchase of bank and micro-loans of business entities with a total value of over 778 million KM. Of the mentioned figure, 47 million are debts, 531 million are due unpaid principal and 161 million KM are due unpaid interest. Loans of natural persons were also reported, with a total value of over 178 million KM, with a remaining debt of almost 117 million, due unpaid principal of 136 million and due unpaid interest of 14 million KM.
“Eos matrix” allegedly bought claims in Bosnia and Herzegovina with a total nominal value of 216 million KM, mostly bank and microcredits, 60 per cent of which relate to natural persons, the media reported earlier.
The microcredit foundation “Prizma” and the microcredit company “Sinergija plus” fraudulently lured thousands of citizens into debt that they did not know existed. The workers of these organizations consciously chose citizens of mostly poor financial status, oppressed by poverty and problems in underdeveloped rural areas. They assured them that these were donations specifically for these categories, and handed them smaller sums of money.
Months, even years later, they received lawsuits demanding the repayment of much larger amounts with associated interest. Small credits and loans taken out by citizens turned into huge sums or were “pushed” into illegal reprograms in which they were only told the amounts owed, without even seeing the additional money. Very often, it happened that the amount of reprogramming or interest far exceeded the original amount. This is confirmed by numerous verdicts against them, while the verdicts in several hundreds of individual and collective lawsuits on the same grounds are eagerly awaited. It is estimated that MKF “Prizma” has defrauded at least 3,000 citizens in this way, and there is not even an assessment of the status of MKD “Sinergija plus” yet.
Although these frauds were committed more than ten years ago and hundreds of lawsuits were filed, and in recent years the story has been repeated in the public space, it remains unclear why prosecutors are not more involved in the investigation of such a large fraud, and why the courts do not agree to consolidate lawsuits of injured citizens.
It is encouraging that in the middle of last year the courts started ruling in favour of injured citizens. In these judgments, the first among dozens of lawsuits that have been filed, it is stated that the request of “Eos matrix” is unfounded and that the defendants will not have to settle the alleged debts, as well as that they must be paid court costs.
The District Public Prosecutor’s Office of Banjaluka investigated several cases against reported workers in the Microcredit organization “Prizma”, some of which ended with the filing of indictments.
“On December 25, 2018, OJT Banja Luka filed an indictment against Dragana Balać from Šipovo, for abuse of official position or authority with the extended criminal offence of falsifying or destroying an official document and the extended criminal offence of fraud. The indictment was also brought against Radosava Savić, for abuse of official position or authority in conjunction with the extended criminal offence of falsifying or destroying an official document. On November 16, 2021, the prosecution filed an indictment against Goran Čikić for abuse of official position or authority. The work includes three more items related to the Microcredit organization ‘Prizma’. The cases were opened on the basis of criminal complaints by citizens. Also, the Prosecution is proceeding in three cases against the reported legal entity “Eos matrix”, related to the criminal offence of persecution”, said the OJT Banjaluka.
The District Public Prosecutor’s Office in Istočno Sarajevo filed an indictment against Milenko Ponjarc, a former employee of Prizma, which was confirmed in the Basic Court in Sokolac.
So far, it has been established that several investigations and criminal proceedings are being conducted against employees of “Prizma” for concluding fictitious loan contracts. The employees of “Prizma” did not only cheat citizens on loans.
As they themselves said, they cheated even those who really had loans. To those who borrowed several thousand KM in loans and had problems with repayment, they offered new loan contracts with larger amounts, in order to return the original loans. It was a matter of deception, because someone who took out a loan of one thousand KM could still get that much interest, and by law, it cannot exceed the principal amount and incur a debt of more than two thousand.
However, officials would tell ignorant people that it is better to cover the old debt with a new loan of two thousand KM, and at the same time get additional time to secure the money. Of course, then the interest could go twice as much, so they became indebted to 4,000 KM, when they were offered new contracts and the debt later grew to 8,000 KM, and so on. Some even reached a debt of 20,000 KM.
The worst thing is that the debtors, drawn into a vicious circle, became credit incompetent, and then involved their family members or friends in everything, so that they would take out new loans and return the old ones. Thanks to that, today we have young people aged 25 and 30, who are probably credit unfit for the rest of their lives.
When the organization went bankrupt, the said loans were kept in strict secrecy and it is unknown where they ended up. It is an open secret that Prizma’s funds were used for financing and buying votes, both in the territory of the RS and FBiH, immediately before the elections were held. Workers often complained about mobbing, especially those who worked outside the headquarters in Sarajevo.
It is interesting that the trading of receivables is persistently left in the so-called grey zone. Data show that banks and microcredit organizations “got rid” of bad loans with a total value of over 950 million KM, selling them to lesser-known and almost mysterious agencies that no one controls.
In October last year, two judgments were passed in favour of injured citizens who were illegally involved in loans by “Prizma”, and “Eos matrix” tried to collect certain amounts.
The basic court in Banja Luka ruled in favour of Radovan Kešin and his wife Ljubljanka from Laktaš and released them from a debt of almost 14,000 KM to “Eos”. The mentioned company must pay compensation for the costs of the procedure. Almost at the same time, the same court ruled in favour of Steve Boroje from Mrkonjić Grad, from whom “Eos matrix” claimed over 9,500 KM.
Writes: Andrijana Pisarević/eTrafika