New Belgrade Municipality building inspector was taken in while trying to establish who is carrying out illegal works outside the house in which Minister of Interior lives and why.
By Jelena Veljković (BIRN) / Photo: Google Street View (Printscreen)
On August 16, 2016, New Belgrade Municipality building inspector Dragomir Jovanović went on-site to investigate the claims in a complaint filed the day before via phone that illegal construction works were being carried out in a street in Bežanijska Kosa.
“His attempt to perform his duty, take photos of the building and write up an inspection report was prevented by, as it was said, members of the Serbian Interior Minister’s security“, reads a letter, signed by head of the New Belgrade municipality Inspection Department Tatjana Đukić, sent to BIRN in reply to its Request for access to information of public importance.
Tatjana Đukić’s reply further reads:
“The building inspector properly identified himself to the person in uniform and explained that his on-site inspection was based on a complaint that had been received“, however, in spite of this, “without an explanation he was taken in to the New Belgrade police station and detained for a few hours“.
Đukić further wrote that, when ID’ing him, the police repeatedly asked him if he knew who lived at the address next door.
Tatjana Đukić was also taken in because she was the one who received the call for an on-site inspection. She too gave a statement regarding the whole event, that is, regarding “the regular inspection procedure”.
In her letter to BIRN she also said that, when inspector Jovanović was questioned, the police took the memory card from the department camera that he had with him.
„As it was not possible to write up an inspection report on the spot and the photos taken were seized, the Department did not have the elements to open an inspection control case and to institute administrative proceedings in this administrative matter.”
In the opinion of Milan Antonijević of the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights, this event constitutes a serious violation of the law and strongly resembles some other cases of absence of the rule of law and inappropriate police reaction.
„This is serious arbitrariness, demonstration of force, and if you have the support of those who should be preventing force, then the whole thing is becoming extremely serious. This calls for serious responsibility of the people involved in the event,” says Antonijević, adding that this points to the crime of abuse of official position.
Who is Calling Inspectors?
According to cadastre data, the reported address in Bežanijska Kosa, where construction works were allegedly being carried out without prior approval, is also the address of Interior Minister Nebojša Stefanović’s house. (BIRN will not reveal the address so not to violate the right to privacy or jeopardize the safety of residents on that street)
Since we did not get in writing answers about the kind of works carried out, we also asked Đukić to give us these answers over the phone. She said that owing to the circumstances explained in the letter, she had no precise information but added that, according to the inspector, the works probably included the tiling of a part of the street outside several houses and of accesses to these houses. The police minister’s house is also located there.
BIRN managed to obtain file notes taken during the police questioning of the two inspectors which reveal some more details about this case.
The report on the questioning of inspector Dragomir Jovanović reads that, when he went to the site, he saw construction works, that is, machines and builders, next to the house in which, according to the complaint, illegal works were being carried out. According to the address in the report, builders and machines were outside the street number where the police minister’s house is located.
According to the inspector’s claims contained in the official report, when he went on-site in an attempt to do his job, while he was taking photos of the works outside the building, standing on a part of a green area between the road and the pavement, he was approached by a man in civilian clothes who “swiftly took our his official ID”. With great difficulty the inspector managed to read “Gendarmerie” on the ID.
The civilian asked the building inspector to identify himself and the inspector explained why he was there and showed him his official ID. However, the Gendarmerie member asked the inspector to show him his personal ID, to cease all his activities and to cross to the other side of the street. The inspector did as he was told but refused to show his personal ID because, as he explained, an authorized officer performing his duty proves this by showing his official ID, which he had already done.
According to Jovanović, when he crossed to the other side of the street, another man came up to him and introduced himself as “an authorized officer” but did not show his ID and he too asked the building inspector for his ID. He also told Jovanović that he was to stay put “for a while” and that he was not allowed to leave.
According to the police report, Jovanović was kept there for 15 minutes while the builders carrying out the works (outside the minister’s house and without a permit) continued to work, despite the fact that the building inspector “had given them a verbal warning and ordered them” to stop the works until they present the required documentation.
After a 15-minute wait a police patrol showed up which also asked Jovanović to show them his ID, and then they took him to the New Belgrade police station, where he spent half an hour giving his statement.
However, judging by all, it seems that Jovanović spent much longer at the police station since Tatjana Đukić said that, when he was giving his statement, Inspector Jovanović called her at 10 o’clock that day to tell her that he had been taken in to the police because of taking photos of the works that were being carried out at the disputed location in Bežanijska Kosa.
BIRN learns that, during questioning, the police were interested in learning who had reported the illegal works to the inspection department, while the police official notes read that both Jovanović and Đukić were questioned on the basis of Article 286, paragraph 2, in connection with Article 288, paragraph 1 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
Along with an official note, Jovanović has also issued a certificate of the temporary seizure of a Canon camera. The police seized the camera citing Article 147 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
These articles stipulate that the police may summon citizens for the purpose of collecting information “where there are grounds for suspicion that a criminal offense has been committed prosecutable ex officio”, and that the summons must clearly contain the reason for summoning. The law also stipulates that objects “which may serve as evidence in criminal proceedings” can be temporarily seized.
On Whose Orders Do the Police Work?
Acting on a note in the police document from the questioning of inspector Jovanović that “the official note was taken in consultation with the public prosecutor of the Third Basic Public Prosecutor’s Office in Belgrade, Boris Pavlović”, BIRN turned to the prosecutor’s office asking whether there had been any communication between the police and the prosecutor’s office in connection with this case, what kind of orders the prosecutor gave the police and whether he ordered the seizure of the building inspector’s camera.
However, we did not get answers to the questions addressed to the Third Basic Prosecutor’s Office. We were told that the prosecutor was out, but we did not get the information when he would be there or whether and when we could expect answers.
In the aforementioned letter we asked prosecutor Pavlović whether, following the questioning of inspectors Dragomir Jovanović and Tatjana Đukić, the Prosecutor’s Office received a written report on police activities and what action the Prosecutor’s Office took on the basis of this report. We were also interested in learning whether Pavlović had been consulted about the questioning of Đukić since the official note from that hearing does not say that measures were taken based on consultations with the Prosecutor’s Office.
Milan Antonijević believes that there must have been a decision of the Prosecutor’ Office behind the measures taken by the police. If not, many rights were violated, in this case, rights of authorized officers who were prevented from performing their duty – ranging from illegal detention to seizure of property.
He says another thing to be looked into is whether the police in the field was acting on someone’s orders: “whether there was any communication between those acting in the field and superiors and, if yes, it must be established based on what they passed a decision on detaining a person,” said Antonijević.
A prosecutor, who insisted on anonymity, told BIRN that, based on the available information, the police obviously has sufficient information to know that the person in question was an authorised officer, a building inspector who had presented his ID, but that, in spite of this, he was taken in to the police where they seized his camera which, as written in the notes, proved to be a camera of the Inspection Department. It’s a big question as to whether they could have gotten such orders from the prosecutor, says our interviewee:
„If I were the prosecutor with whom they had consulted I believe that I would not have issued such an order if I had been fully informed about all the facts contained in the official note”. However, it’s a big question what the prosecutor really said, explains BIRN’s source.
Verbal consultations between the police and the prosecutor’s office are frequent and legal, adds this prosecutor, but notes that following the measures were taken, the police had to submit to the prosecutor a written report on the event, on the basis of which the prosecutor then takes further action.
He stresses that the prosecutor had to order the Serbian Interior Ministry Internal Control to investigate the case and establish whether the police officers, in this case, had taken measures that are not in line with the law, which is what the available information points to.
BIRN addressed questions to Interior Minister Nebojša Stefanović via the Serbian Interior Ministry Communications Office. One of the things we asked him was on what grounds members of his security prevented the building inspector of the New Belgrade Municipality Inspection Department in performing his duty, on the basis of what Jovanović and Đukić were taken in, that is, whether there were grounds for suspicion that they had committed a criminal offense and, if so, what criminal offense.
BIRN also asked if there were grounds for suspicion that a crime had been committed by using the camera and, if so, what crime? Another question was on what grounds the police tried to learn from the interrogated inspectors the name of the person who had filed a complaint reporting the disputed works to the inspection department.
Finally, we also asked who was the contractor performing the illegal works that were also carried out outside the house of the Interior Minister of the Republic of Serbia.
BIRN sent the questions by email on June 15, 2017, and we have not managed to get any response from the Communications Office in connection with this email.