By Ana Curic and Milica Stojanovic
Less than a fifth of reported cases of money-laundering in Serbia end up in courts, with those convicted often handed a minor sentence of less than a year in prison or fines of fewer than 100 euros, a new analysis by BIRN of Serbia’s fight against money-laundering over the last decade shows.
The longest prison sentence handed down for money-laundering was three years, and the shortest was three months. Meanwhile, the smallest fine was 10,000 dinars (nearly 85 euros) and the largest was 5 million dinars (42,456 euros).
Miroslava Milenovic, a financial forensics expert from Belgrade, told BIRN that money laundering is a consequence of organised crime, because it is used to introduce money from the sale of narcotics, human trafficking or arms trading into legal financial flows.
Milenovic said the data shows what is happening in reality, and “why Serbia is poorly assessed in the fight against corruption, as only small cases are actually ending up in courts”.
BIRN collected data on the basis of the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance from all high prosecutor’s offices and courts in Serbia for the period from January 1, 2008 until December 31, 2017, and analysed how many criminal charges have been filed for money-laundering in the past decade, how many were dismissed, how many ended up in court, and what penalties were imposed on those found guilty.
During the decade-long period, 567 criminal reports were filed for money-laundering, with the prosecution rejecting 62 applications.
Only 15 per cent ended up in court – 77 judgments were handed down for 102 defendants. The appeals courts confirmed the first-instance verdicts in most cases.
Most of these cases – nearly half – ended with the defendants having concluded plea agreements. Of the 45 people who made plea deals, 33 refer to an organised criminal group that was arrested in 2010.
Another 28 people were convicted of money-laundering, while 29 were acquitted.
In half of the cases, the criminal offence of misuse of office was also committed.
Since March 2018, a special system within the Public Prosecutor’s Office has been specialising in the processing of all forms of financial crime.
The latest data from the Ministry of Justice on the work of the special anti-corruption units shows that in the period from March 1, 2018 to March 1, 2019, 448 convictions were handed down, involving 523 defendants.
However, only ten were convicted of laundering money.
Milenovic argued that the fact that there are no high-ranking officials have been convicted of money-laundering shows that the judiciary is only tackling those who launder smaller amounts of money.
“By the verdicts, you would think that corruption only exists at the most irrelevant levels, involving 10 to 20 euros, with a traffic police officer, a doctor taking a bribe, and that actually everything else at higher levels functions like some normal state,” she said.
The Financial Action Task Force, FATF, which monitor international anti-money-laundering and terrorist financing activities, put Serbia on its ‘grey list’ in February 2018 because of what it said were deficiencies in the country’s system of prevention of money-laundering and the financing of terrorism.
But in June 2019, the FATF decided that Serbia had addressed the deficiencies and took it off the list.