The results of the audit of the business dealings of the Hercegovacka Bank are expected by the public with a lot of interest, especially after several international community officials have announced that the audit would discover various criminal activities. Milan Sutalo, the spokesperson of the bank, however, disagrees. He was suspended together with other employees of the bank when the High Representative imposed an administrator earlier this year. It is interesting that Sutalo, a former editor of the news program on Erotel [Croat TV station banned by the Office of High Representative], has lost a job for the second time thanks to the decisions of the international community. In an interview for our magazine Sutalo explains his view of the raid of the Hercegovacka Bank. He and a group of other employees have for weeks been trying to convince the domestic and international public that the raid of the Hercegovacka Bank and the decision to impose a temporary administrator were illegal acts. They have set up a web site which is updated daily with fresh information, together with a selection of articles from the domestic and foreign press, including the recent interview of the American ambassador Thomas Miller for our magazine.
HRVATSKA RIJEC: In the last issue of our magazine High Representative of the International Community Wolfgang Petritsch said that the preliminary results of the investigation in the Hercegovacka Bank indicated that the situation had been even worse than expected? Would you care to comment and do you fear that the investigation will indeed prove that there were criminal activities in the bank?
SUTALO: With his statement Mr. Petritsch only demonstrates his consistency in trying to defame and slander the bank as in his unsuccessful attempt to destroy it by his statements for the media. When he and his collaborators failed in their attempt to undermine the bank in that manner, they used that campaign to win support in the public here and abroad, as well as the local and foreign political circles, for an illegal and violent act of breaking in, taking over by force, destroying and stealing information processing equipment, documentation and money from the Hercegovacka Bank.
I agree with Mr. Petritsch that there is a well-founded suspicion in the Hercegovacka Bank affair that a crime has been committed, the crime of bankocide, to my knowledge unprecedented in history of the human race. The situation is indeed worse than anyone could have expected. No one sane, including us in the bank, despite media speculations, expected that the OHR and Mr. Petritsch would take the course of action they took on April 6, and in the night between April 17 and 18, when the public both here and abroad could see for itself the horrific consequences of the tank audit of the Hercegovacka Bank.
Consequences of Petritsch's crime are felt today not only by the share holders and employees of the bank but also by 90,000 customers of the bank who have been denied access to their savings, their undeniable private property, by Petritsch. The consequences are also felt by thousands of companies that are on the verge of bankruptcy, as well as the Federation Bosnia-Hercegovina and Bosnia-Hercegovina herself.
Let me remind you that a month ago in an interview to Jutarnji List I stated that if the blockade of the Hercegovacka Bank was not lifted, the Federation Bosnia-Hercegovina would face bankruptcy. Today even the top officials, minister of finances Nikola Grabovac and member of BH Presidency Beriz Belkic, admit that.
However, the state is not facing bankruptcy because its money has been frozen in the Hercegovacka Bank but because Petritsch with his action had a catastrophic effect on the economy and thus did an extremely bad favor to the state.
Could you be more specific regarding whether the investigation will be able to prove that there were criminal activities in the bank?
We were not and are not afraid of any investigation or audit. If we were afraid we definitely would not have permitted the supervision of our business dealings by the Federation Bosnia-Hercegovina Banking Agency, whose auditors spent as many as 40 days in the bank, and after that visited bank to conduct post-audit controls. Ibrahim Polimac, the spokesperson of the Federation BH Banking Agency after the April 6 action clearly said on TV that all business dealings of the Hercegovacka Bank were legal, that not a single condition for the imposition of outside administration had been met, and that the Federation BH banking regulations and laws do not foresee a possibility that the OHR impose outside administration.
Therefore, when Mr. Petritsch says that the action was legal, he is again in direct collision with the law and the facts.
Let me remind you that the governor of the Central Bank of Bosnia-Hercegovina, Peter Nicol in his statement given to Jutarnje Novine said that the Hercegovacka Bank was an example of respect for the rules of internal monetary transfers, and the Federation Minister for Finance, Nikola Grabovac, confirmed that the Hercegovacka Bank had regularly met all its obligations with respect to the Federation BH budget.
Before April 6, the Hercegovacka Bank was also visited by special auditors of the OHR to whom, as well as to the OSCE mission, we gave all the requested data.
The Bank never refused to provide any auditor with any requested piece of information. Those who fear something try to avoid audits, and we publicly invited all the auditors, if they had any suspicions, to come to the bank. We expected auditors in business suits, and we got auditors in black balaclavas.
What is your interpretation of the reasons for the imposition of the temporary administration in the bank?
The goal of the operation was not an audit, but a blockade and destruction of the bank, and financial and economic punishment of the territories served by the bank, so that a particular political message and response to Croat inquiries into their rights in Bosnia-Hercegovina could be sent.
When force is illegally used or abused for such goals, the planners and organizers have no other recourse than to keep lying. Those who lie are prepared to do anything to hide the true goals and motivation for the action. After the analysis of Petritsch's statements one can easily identify the ideas behind the whole campaign against the bank.
You have frequently claimed so far that the action conducted by SFOR and the OHR could not be conducted anywhere in the west, since very weak evidence of alleged criminal activities was offered before the attack, and the Hercegovacka Bank is also a privately owned bank. However, the other side responded that activities such as redirection of 54 KM million of assistance sent from Croatia also would not be possible in the West, so that the appeals to legality are irrelevant?
If you give equal weight to facts and fabrications then that may be true. Mr. Petritsch, Mr. Racan and all the auditors who have spent time in the Hercegovacka Bank know very well that that infamous secret account does not exist. We do not have the so-called secret, i.e. code protected, accounts as all accounts in banks are secret and the banking business is based on that secrecy. Mr. Petritsch still claims that he has evidence about the existence of a secret HDZ account at which 54 KM million is deposited and another 50 secret sub-accounts used by the HVO. If that is true, why, for God's sake, does he not finally present that evidence to the public?! We would be overjoyed if some of our clients had so much cash on their accounts. We have about 90,000 individual account holders and also service accounts of 4,500 legal entities, such as companies and organizations, and our total deposits are at about 100KM million. You can imagine what we would do if we could get a client whose account would be equal to 50% of all other deposits.
We do not deny the need that even such an obvious fabrication be investigated, but question the manner in which all of that was done.
Namely, if there is a suspicion that a bank has violated any laws, then auditors and the financial police, normally people who do not carry weapons, come to the bank and request certain documentation and on the spot establish whether anyone of the bank's employees may have broken the law. If that is the case, then an investigation is initiated and it may result in indictments against one or more persons.
Another option is to approach the bank with a court warrant and demand access to the account of the client that is suspected of illegally acquiring the money on his account. The bank is obliged to provide access to that account and that is where its obligations end, as the investigation then continues against the client, rather than against the bank. Nowhere in the world can authorities impose outside administration that will conduct an audit, nor can an audit be conducted outside bank's premises and without involvement of the bank's employees and its management. The audit is always conducted in the bank and the auditor can only take from the bank's premises copies rather than original documents. If anyone takes original documentation from the bank, and every document is money, then audit is not your true goal. In that case, you have some other, hidden goals.
Why does eliminated management of the bank refuse to cooperate with temporary administrator Toby Robinson, which, according to her, is slowing down the return of money to clients?
Ms. Robinson is trying to place blame where there is none. First of all, she was illegally appointed for a temporary administrator. The decision of the High Representative suspended the management, shareholders and employees of the bank, and all our authority was conveyed to the temporary administrator. When I saw that decree I wondered how one person can replace 270 people, shareholders and management. That person must have supernatural powers. Secondly, how can we cooperate with her if we are suspended, without any reason thrown out on the street and left without right to work and existence? Without the withdrawal of the suspension we would be unable to cooperate with Ms. Robinson. However, there are also ethical reasons that, to me personally, do not allow to cooperate with the person who illegally usurped our rights, took over private property and conducted a tank audit of the bank. We never refused to cooperate with any audit, but we do not want to participate in the murder of our own bank.
Statements of Ms. Robinson that account holders are suffering because of our lack of cooperation are beyond fake concern and hypocrisy. I would like to remind her on this occasion that 90,000 customers did not open their accounts in the Hercegovacka Bank because of their trust in her, but because of their trust in us. All of them were able to withdraw their savings at any time, and that was the case until her boss, Mr. Petritsch, ordered the blockade of the bank. If it is true, as she claims, that only she can unblock the accounts, than what does she need us for? If her goal was to conduct an audit she would not have come to the bank with armed escort and take away computers and documentation.
One of the leading American information technology companies, whose experts were present during the first raid of the bank, was recruited for the analysis of the confiscated computers. What information do you have about the condition of the equipment after the raid, and what happened with the "lost" back-up tapes requested by temporary administrator Robinson?
We were a bank with the best information system and excellent information technology staff. That is one of the chief reasons for our success and our success in tenders for public revenue of the Federation BH, and the tender for the accounts servicing the treasury and other institutions of Bosnia-Hercegovina.
The equipment was in excellent condition and we serviced it properly. The participants in the OHR action destroyed and took away the back up computer, development computer, central computer, the computer of the Central bank of Bosnia-Hercegovina, which had been loaned, and we used it to conduct inter-bank transactions that must go through the Central Bank. 90 percent of desktop computers were also taken away. We do not know whether they did or did not lose those tapes. Essentially, we do not have the stuff they took away.
Even some western media (Newsweek, The Spectator, Sunday Telegraph and others) that criticized the raid on the bank stated in their articles that the Hercegovacka Bank was supposed to finance the Croatian autonomy and that that is the reason it was destroyed. What is your opinion about that?
Articles in those media helped us inform the world public about the facts and reveal the true goals of the action, one of which is the destruction of our bank. They tried to find any seemingly rational justification for that destructive operation and thus accepted something that appeared to make sense and was suggested in the statements and press releases of the international representatives in Bosnia-Hercegovina. However, that claim is nothing but a speculation regarding what would happen if something else happened first. It is the fact that the Croatian autonomy at the time of the raid did not exist as an institution. Therefore, it is impossible to finance something that does not exist. Secondly, one cannot accuse someone only on the basis of a guess that he may do something in the future.
Let us assume that the Croatian autonomy was established at some point. The Croatian autonomy would naturally have its institutions, laws and all legal entities and persons would have to decide whether they were willing to respect the regulations of the autonomy and fulfill their obligations with respect to the autonomy.
The regulations of the autonomy would apply to all the banks. In that case, all the banks would have to decide which set of regulations they were willing to disobey. In any case, they would violate either the regulations of the autonomy or the Federation BH. However, that would apply to all the banks. In that case the Hercegovacka Bank would have been forced to make its choice as well.
Secondly, any legal entity, even if it is a bank, cannot on its own finance an autonomy and its institutions. If we tried to do so we would have gone bankrupt in a few days. On the other hand, it cannot be denied that in our work we respected all the Federation regulations.
What are the former bank employees doing at this point? How many of them joined the recently formed trade union? What is going on with the Association of Shareholders? What have you done so far?
This interview, therefore a presentation of facts about the bank, is a part of our work outside the bank. We have been illegally, with weapons, evicted, thrown out on the street. We have been denied the right to work without any evidence of our culpability. We haven't been paid for more than two months and many of us are facing financial difficulties. We are trying to draw public attention through the work of our trade union. We gather daily, discuss our future actions and act independently of any institutions. Besides providing information for the local media and media abroad, we have established contacts with the most powerful international trade unions and are preparing a suit that we shall file with suitable international organizations. At the moment, our biggest problem is the lack of money, but we hope to get financial assistance as we have sent appeals for assistance to many addresses in the country and abroad.
A publication from Sarajevo has recently published data obviously provided by the Border Service or the customs about allegedly suspicious transfers of money from the Hercegovacka Bank to Croatia before the imposition of the temporary administration?
Yes, the daily Osloodjenje, which, unlike Dnevni Avaz and BHT, publishes our press releases and statements by the representatives of the bank, published the article under headline "They Transport Foreign Currency in Bags from Hercegovina Abroad". The goal of that propagandist article was to intimidate our customers and to urge them to hurry to withdraw their savings from the bank. That is one of the ways to destroy a bank. The result of such and similar articles, that have been published for months in many newspapers, was a significant outflow of money from our accounts. Despite that, we retained liquidity and stayed on our feet, thanks to skillful and professional management of our resources. When such and similar articles failed to produce the desired results, they reached for weapons. Then, the same article was used one more time, this time in the weekly Dani, in a somewhat longer version, as a justification for the raid of the bank.
However, the transfer of money is one of legal business transactions conducted by all banks, everywhere in the world. The money is transported to the bank's accounts abroad or sold as cash and all of this is perfectly legal, but the goal was to portray this as a robbery of the bank. Customs officers at the border who provided the data regarding when and which bank clerk transferred how much money at someone's request violated the law and should be prosecuted.
Banks everywhere in the world daily transport cash, not in bottles, but naturally in bags and if state officials were allowed to publish data about such transports in the media potential robbers would have an easy job. They would only need to read newspapers and they would know where to wait for the bank's vehicle, who would be in it and how much cash they could get in the robbery. The fact that we transported large amounts of cash for some of our customers is yet another proof that we were one of the most successful banks as far as the trade with cash was concerned. We managed to buy cheap and sell at pretty favorable prices. If what we did was a "heist of the century" then all the banks in the world are criminal organizations. In that case the Deutsche Bank is carrying out "the biggest heist in the last thousand years", while the banks in Bosnia-Hercegovina could be divided into those that are carrying out heists of the year, month, or a week. However, it is sad that some individuals, perhaps without realizing what they were doing, or for a hefty fee, violated their professional standards and agreed to become propagandists in service of the destruction of a bank. They thereby soiled the reputation of journalism and did themselves the worst possible service.
What about the call on the bank's debtors to keep paying their debts to the open account of the Hercegovacka Bank?
There can be no doubt that the individuals and institutions owing money to the bank should continue repaying their debts. However, if someone blocks their accounts and denies them access to their money, while at the same time demanding repayment of debts and threatening to use police on top of all that, that is pure sadism. That would be just like if we shut someone's nose and mouth and then demanded that he breathe, threatening to beat him if he does not.
Would you care to comment on Toby Robinson's statement that years will be needed to return deposited money to the bank's customers?
That is an obvious indication how much Ms. Robinson is concerned about the bank's customers. From her point of view, as she is paid thousands of dollars a month for what she does, or from the point of view of Mr. Petritsch, who is paid 50,000KM [about $25,000] a month for the damage he has caused by suspending the legal system in Bosnia-Hercegovina, violating human rights and freedoms, setting the economy of Bosnia-Hercegovina back for years and destroying economic and other perspectives of Bosnia-Hercegovina, the small account holders are ordinary numbers. From his point of view he cannot understand why someone would care about $50, $100, or $50,000. As far as he is concerned, these people are numbers, nothing else.