by Emir SULJAGIC
In early August 1990, a year before the ten-day-long independence war, all the cash from the Ljubljanska Bank Sarajevo office was shipped to the National Bank of Slovenia. According to the document from the National Bank of Yugoslavia, the amount sent to Slovenia was "1,940,470,185 dinars, which, based on the then exchange rate of 700,000 dinars per 1 German mark, corresponded to 276,330,846 German Marks" [roughly $138 million]. However, the New Ljubljanska Bank continues to refuse to return the deposit of its customers from Bosnia-Hercegovina.
Secret of 11 Titova Street: The money of Bosnian customers was not pulled out of Sarajevo in one go; according to the records from the Sarajevo airport, shipments of bills, packed in bags weighing between 5 and over 20 kilograms [roughly 10 to 40 pounds], were sent to Slovenia between October 1984 and November 1990. The operation was shrouded in secrecy. Only three employees were involved in the transfer of money: Ljubisa Trbic, Amira Beciragic and Branislav Novakovic. They were not aware of the true intentions of their employer - to definitively pull foreign currency cash reserves out of Bosnia-Hercegovina and steal them from Bosnian customers. All the shipments had one more thing in common: the destination; all of them were sent to the treasury of the National Bank of Slovenia, in 11 Titova Street in Ljubljana. But, the theft organized by the Slovenian state was finished only a few years later with the enactment of a constitutional law [two-thirds majority needed to annul it; cannot be annulled by courts] in the Slovenian Parliament, which had only two articles. The first one abolished the Ljubljanska Bank, the second one founded the New Ljubljanska Bank. [The old bank kept all the debts]. The new bank took over all the property and all the financial assets of the old bank. The new bank kept the same phone numbers, the same building, even the same accounts. No attempt was made to hide this obvious swindle.
Since the war, the issue of savings deposits in the Ljubljanska Bank has become a key issue in the relations between Slovenia and other countries created after the break-up of Yugoslavia. By postponing the solution of this issue, Slovenian authorities waited for the conclusion of the negotiations about succession. As the basis for division of the Yugoslav assets was participation of states in the Yugoslav GNP, the Slovene delegation decided to include into its contribution $125 million that belong to Bosnian citizens. Immediately afterwards negotiations about pre-war savings between Bosnia-Hercegovina and Slovenia started at the International Clearance Bank in Basel; the ICB was a mediator in the negotiations and proposed the solution according to which half of the sum is to be paid by Slovenia and the other half by Bosnian authorities. The BH delegation, led by Kemal Kozaric and Jure Pelivan, rejected that proposal, while the Slovenian government denies that any negotiations did take place; namely, in their view, admitting that negotiations took place would be the same as admitting that a problem exists. And, as far as they are concerned, there is no problem. In a recent visit to Sarajevo, president of Slovenia Milan Kucan said that the issue should be resolved in negotiations between two governments, and that citizens should not be concerned about it. However, before Kucan's plane landed in Ljubljana on his return from Sarajevo, Slovenian government had already condemned his statement.
"This problem is being solved on three levels. One level are negotiations in Basel, which miserably failed on July 5; the other level takes place in Strasbourg, since this issue was raised at the Legal Issues Committee of the Council of Europe, and finally, there are bilateral negotiations," Sejfudin Tokic, deputy president of the Chamber of Nations of the Parliament of Bosnia-Hercegovina said. According to Tokic, if there is no solution by the end of the year, Bosnia-Hercegovina will file a suit against Slovenia at the International Court of Justice in the Hague.
In the meantime, while 165,000 Bosnian citizens, those who had savings in the Ljubljanska Bank, waited for their money, the management of the new Ljubljanska Bank, with enthusiastic assistance from the former authorities, attempted to push to the ball into the Bosnian court. Namely, in June 1993, the government of the then Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina allowed the Ljubljanska bank office in Sarajevo to register as a separate, independent bank; according to the Slovenian interpretation of this document, thereby all obligations of the Ljubljanska Bank were transferred to Bosnia-Hercegovina.
As this decision was made at the time when the country was literally on fire, this document could not have in any way "stimulated entrepreneurial atmosphere"; the circumstances in which the decision was made are also unclear. Namely, the then nominal prime minister, Mile Akmadzic, was not even in Sarajevo; one deputy prime minister, Zlatko Lagumdzija, had been wounded by shrapnel a month before, while the other deputy prime minister was SDA's "don't ask me anything" Hadzo Efendic. Whatever the case, the new bank was set up.
Robbed Citizens: Some twenty days later, on July 1, efficient Slovenians registered (Higher Court decision number UF-I-748/93) Ljubljanska Bank ltd. Sarajevo as an independent bank. "Since then the court hasn't received any requests in connection with modification of the registration of the mentioned bank," says the written statement sent by the president of the Cantonal Court Amir Jaganjac, even though, according to the deputy Federation BH finance minister Sefika Hafizovic, the Federation BH government has annulled the decision and consequently the registration of the Ljubljanska Bank Sarajevo. Furthermore, according to Ms Hafizovic, the Federation BH government has authorized the Federation BH Prime Minister to investigate the legality of that registration, while the Federation BH Ministry of Justice was instructed to urgently prepare modifications of the Law About Registration of Legal Entities. "The goal is to increase the deadline for investigation of the registration procedure from two to twelve years," says Sefika Hafizovic, "so that we can check whether some of them could harm Bosnia-Hercegovina."
That decision was made at the same session at which the Federation BH government warned about dangerously high deficit of Bosnia-Hercegovina in trade with Slovenia; the Federation BH government advised the Council of Ministers to "apply economic measures to reduce this deficit" and provoked, to say the least, inappropriate comment of the Slovenian ambassador in Sarajevo Tadej Labernik. He said that the policies of the government of the larger Bosnian entity remind him of Milosevic's pre-war policies. "I doubt that he would have survived as an ambassador had he said that in Croatia," Sefika Hafizovic commented on Labernik's statement. Federation BH Prime Minister Alija Behmen says: "I proposed that measure, since we live under the currency board system and trade deficit endangers the stability of the local currency." Commenting on the ambassador's criticism, Behmen said: "I informed the Minister of Foreign Affairs, who phoned the ambassador and warned him about civility." By the closing of this issue of Dani, the Slovenian ambassador has refused to respond to our numerous requests for an interview.
"Slovenia has robbed Bosnian citizens. We don't ask from Kucan to open new Slovenian departments stores in Bosnia-Hercegovina, but to open Slovenian treasury and give us back our money," says Ale Lizalovic president of the Association for Protection of Foreign Currency Savings. The Association, the only group in Bosnia-Hercegovina that has kept this issue alive over all these years, is getting ready to file a lawsuit at the Human Rights Court in Strasbourg if the bilateral negotiations do not succeed. Even though the Slovenian government has publicly rejected negotiations, as Dani has learned from a high state official, negotiations are going on in secret. As far as Slovenian authorities are concerned, the stakes are clear. Ljubljanska Bank's obligations to customers in Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina add up to $600 million! The expenditure needed to maintain the front of the old Ljubljanska Bank is below $750,000 annually. In the meantime the New Ljubljanska bank has become a respectable bank that has been showing interest in the expansion in the market of the former Yugoslavia; two years ago it showed interest in acquiring the stumbling Istarska Bank, but the Croatian government decided that Slovenians would not return to the Croatian market until the debts to customers from Croatia are resolved. Moreover, the National Bank of Croatia rescinded Ljubljanska Bank's license, making government's attitude clear. On the other hand, a court in Trieste rejected the request of a group of 176 customers of the Ljubljanska Bank from Croatia to freeze 1.65 million of Euros in the office of the New Ljubljanska Bank in Trieste.
Foreign Investment With Stolen Bosnian Money: As far as Bosnia-Hercegovina is concerned the situation is significantly different. Since the end of the war, Slovenia has been one of the top five foreign investors in the country, while it also has a large stake in most of mutual funds. In the latter case, the extent of the robbery becomes painfully clear. Slovenian companies obtain loans from Slovenian banks for their business ventures in Bosnia-Hercegovina, while a good portion of those loans is based on money taken from Bosnian customers. On the other hand, the investments of Slovenian origin in Bosnia-Hercegovina are actually below the overall debt of the Ljubljanska Bank to customers in Bosnia-Hercegovina. On the other hand, the Slovenian market is most protected of all markets in the former Yugoslavia; our collocutor in the Ministry of Foreign Trade of Bosnia-Hercegovina said that while Slovenians export goods to our country without any obstacles, Sarajevo "Kiseljak" has to wait for as many as three months for a permit to export bottled water to Slovenia. The situation in other segments of trade between the two countries is similar. In 2000, thanks to a free trade agreement, Slovenia exported $427 million in goods to Bosnia-Hercegovina, while Bosnian exports to Slovenia were eight times lower; last year the ratio was $402 million versus $65 million for Slovenia. These are definitely not indicators of good faith in mutual relations, nor is the ceding of 800 German work permits allocated to Slovenia to Bosnian workers.
Moreover, the actual value of Slovenian investment in Bosnian economy is not known. While on the one hand Slovenian companies keep announcing future investments that by now probably amount to hundreds of millions of dollars, the Ministry of Foreign Trade has co far registered only $27 million in investments. For example, Mercator claims that they have invested $24 million in Bosnia-Hercegovina last year, while they have actually reported whopping $2.5 million to the Ministry; that is only one, most obvious, but not an isolated example. If the higher figure is the total value of the investment, while the lower figure is the amount of capital brought from Slovenia, it is clear which side is the looser in these transactions.