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Shaping up the judiciary system: Riders of the Courts

29 March 1997 "It is pure coincidence that the Belgrade Economic court was inspected by judges of the Superior Economic court, the Supreme court, the Justice Ministry the Ministry of Finance and the budget inspector," says Jezdimir Mitrovic, the chairman of the Superior Economic court. He should be trusted, for such coincidences do not happen every day. In fact, something like that happened for the first time in the history of the Yugoslav judiciary system on March 24.

"Those people from the Superior Economic court usually come once in three years and stay for about five minutes," a source of the Vreme weekly said. The final blow to a young science called probability was dealt the day after the Economic court reversed a decision of the post and telecommunications service (PTT) to shut down BK television transmitters on the Mt. Avala - Mt. Jastrebac relay, which covered 60 percent of Serbia's territory. As GSS leader Vesna Pesic said, just when the television started broadcasting news. Another hot dispute is current: the Kikinda municipality has sued the Serbian state television (RTS) for seizing a local media called Komuna. The Economic Court returned the Kragujevac television to the city authorities back in January.

"The latter is only one of the possible reasons for the inspection," says Radoslav Nedic, chairman of the Serbian lawyers' chamber. "The other reason is the work of the Belgrade election committee, chaired by Economic court chairman Radomir Lazarevic," says Nedic. Members of the city election committee are regularly recruited among judges of the Economic court, which is why judges Ristivojevic and Kljaevic were members of the committee. It is well known how much effort the election committee has invested to reverse judicial decisions that original elections results should be verified.

According to Zoran Ivosevic, a Supreme Court judge, another detail could have drawn the attention of the "Court riders". The Economic Court has nullified a number of social capital evaluations based on a 1990 law adopted by the then-Prime Minister Ante Markovic. Although the competent agency which conducted the evaluation was only entitled to re-evaluate the determined amount of capital, it evaluated the capital to its liking at the shareholders' expense. Around 100 decisions have been nullified and another 400 were still to be reviewed. However, the Superior Court has reversed all decisions made by the Economic Court, quoting article 117 of the Yugoslav constitution which, according to the Constitutional Court, allows retroactive evaluations if "public interest is at stake".

However, that's not where the list of "sins" committed by judges of the Belgrade Economic Court ends. The convention of all Serbian courts was called and presided on January 27 by the Serbian Justice minister, Arandjel Markicevic. The minister was sharply criticized by Radomir Lazarevic for allowing a poor living standard of the clerks and political pressure to be exerted on the judges during the election crisis. Not even the 35 signatories of an appeal to the authorities resulted in a positive reaction, for the regime only paid attention to appeals for dialogue with the opposition and getting the police off the streets.

Bearing in mind how many separate inspecting bodies visited the court, its judges are probably in a lot of trouble. They made the regime very unhappy. "You can hardly find faultless organization here nowadays, but they found nothing. The court employees attribute this to the fact that it is the best organized and most efficient judicial body in the country. Even if it was the first, a few inspectors could hardly determine so unless they are capable of inspecting several hundred thousand documents in a day," says Jezdimir Mitrovic.

"The Economic Court is full of irregularities," says Milenko Radic, a lawyer rather surprised by the events. The court has four departments: registry, mortgage, law suit and executive. "There are problems in each of these departments. A lot is being done hastily because people pull a few strings and manage to skip the regular procedure," says Radoslav Nedic. Most of the lawyers complain about the registry and mortgage departments. "I found out for myself that lawyers assure their clients that changing a registry can be done in a matter of days, whereas a regular procedure actually takes several months," Nedic said. Last summer, the court was rocked by a scandal in which false verifications were issued on the registry numbers of firms which had gone bankrupt. "These verifications played a key role in the smuggling of oil and cigarettes. The court is assuring us that only one lawyer with a stolen seal was involved and that an end has been put to this," Nedic says.

Milenko Radic brings up cases of illegal change of ownership in the Politika transformation process and the seizure of the daily Borba by the state. Representatives of the Economic Court, on the other hand, say that registries are made on the basis of given documents, whose credibility they are not entitled to question. They add that anyone who doubts this is free to take a look at the documents.

"When a company goes bankrupt, it often happens that those in charge of the process dish out what's left of its property at to friends and family at incredibly low prices, meaning that nothing is left for the creditors," Radoslav Nedic explained about the procedure. He quotes the liquidation of the PKB bank as an example, as he is representing the bank. The bank went bankrupt because it failed to meet the daily liquidity requirements, and its account was blocked because of unpaid debts. "They liquidated a bank for political reasons and left 280 people without a job," says Nedic.

So something would have been found if the inspectors had looked hard enough. But if looking for irregularities wasn't the inspectors' objective, what was ? "They want to scare us. Our judges were the first to stand up against the regime with their activities in the city election committee. Membership in the newly formed Association of Judges is growing on a daily basis, and Milenko Ristivojevic is a presidency member," say the employees of the Economic Court. Beside, the court is consistent in its anti-regime position in the battle for the media. But how can inspectors scare them if everything is as wonderful and regular as they say ?

Radoslav Nedic sees things in a rather different way: "It is the new and most recent quality of this court. The same court and the same judges had been adopting adverse decisions until recently. Remember the case of Studio B television ? Besides, I get the impression that the city election committee has bought time with its alleged resistance to the regime during the election crisis."

Judging by what both sides have said, it seems that Markicevic's inspection corps had enough firepower to seal Radomir Lazarevic's fate and career. But was that its task ? How can a regime so aware of the significance of controlling the media be so unaware that an alleged inspection of an opposed institution, which fails to bring results, results only in bad publicity ?

Maybe the problem is Arandjel Markicevic's sincere contribution to the BK television campaign. That's nothing to be surprised about, the television known as the "eyes of Serbia" was also supported by Rade Brajovic (Vecernje Novosti) and Zeljko Raznatovic Arkan.
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