Eronet: covering up everything

Eronet: covering up everything
Cross-border investigative project "HT Eronet" financed by SEE Media Observatory reveals money-laundering ring which spans from Mostar through Sarajevo and Ljubljana to Gratz.
Marketing model of funneling money out of public enterprises in Bosnia and Herzegovina exposed in the investigations conducted in recent months in Austria, Slovenia and BiH.
The cases of the Mostar-based Eronet and the marketing king Neven Kulenović are examined in this exclusive investigative article. After the publication of articles in the weekly Slobodna Bosna in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the daily newspapers Dnevnik in Slovenia and Die Presse in Austria late January 2014, the prosecutors and judges in Sarajevo and Mostar finally agreed over the jurisdiction of the Eronet case. In a few weeks, the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina decided that the Cantonal prosecutor’s office in Mostar has the authority to investigate the Eronet case and the prosecutor in Mostar sent orders for interrogations to key suspects. “It is a classic story of organized crime and money laundering through marketing funds of public companies”, claimed Spomenko Jukić, one of the prosecutors involved in the legal procedure of the case.
The English version of the story was written after the original articles were published and it contains more details of the investigation by journalists.
While the State Prosecutions of Austria and Slovenia have been conducting criminal investigations against three citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) for the criminal offense of money laundering, in BiH it is not even known who has jurisdiction for the investigation. The Prosecutor’s Office of BiH back in February 2012 declared that it had no jurisdiction over the matter and passed on a report by the SIPA (State Investigation and Protection Agency) against Neven Kulenović, Stipe Prlić and Zoran Bakula to the Cantonal Prosecutor’s Office in Mostar. Two years later, the Mostar Prosecutor’s Office declared that it had no jurisdiction over the matter either and sent the whole case to the Court of BiH.
Spomenko Jukić, prosecutor for the case at the Mostar Prosecutor’s Office commented that: “We asked the Court of BiH for its opinion on subject-matter jurisdiction for the said case against Neven Kulenović, Stipe Prlić and Zoran Bakula ,which SIPA had submitted to the State Prosecutor’s Office. The entire case along with the request was dispatched by courier to the Court of BiH in Sarajevo. We think that we don’t have jurisdiction for this case and we don’t have the resources for an investigation of this kind. The Prosecutor’s Office of BiH had earlier declared that it had no jurisdiction, and thus all we could do was ask the Court of BiH to state its opinion on who has jurisdiction. I think the conflict of jurisdiction should have been declared immediately upon receiving the case and I don’t understand why my predecessor Predrag Tomić didn’t do that.”
An order to initiate an investigation against Stipe Prlić (Director of Croatian Telecommunications[HT], Eronet Mostar), Zoran Bakula (Director of the Eronet mobile network) and Neven Kulenović (director and founder of a number of marketing agencies), were written to in mid-October 2013 by the Cantonal Prosecutor’s Office in Mostar. However, the prosecutor on the case, Spomenko Jukić did not sign the letter at the time, citing “technical reasons”.  According to his explanation, he did not want to “deliver summons at their work addresses” at the Mostar headquarter of HT Eronet. Jukić was the fourth prosecutor in BiH who took up and left the Eronet case. Before him, the case was handled by the prosecutors Ismet Šuškić at the BiH Prosecutor’s Office Special Department for Organized Crime, Predrag Tomić, and Nijaz Mehmedbašić, Chief Prosecutor of the Cantonal Prosecutor’s Office in Mostar.
Stipe Prlić, long-time Eronet director
What Prlić, Bakula and Kulenović said
“I am not afraid of the truth”
Stipe Prlić, the director of HT Eronet, responded in a written statement to questions asked in this investigation: “I did not do anything illegal or inadmissible in relation to concluding the deals awarded by HT Mostar based on an implemented tender to S.V.-R.S.A. All decisions related to the tender were unanimously made by the company Board. None of the participants in the tender disputed in any way the decision to award the deal, and it was implemented when it became legally valid. I categorically deny having gained any personal or material benefit from the said deal, nor did I in any way participate in alleged money laundering. Further, I am not aware of any request by Austrian judicial bodies against me – I have never been notified of any such thing. I have no intention of participating in a trial that is being imposed upon me through the media, creating a presumption of my guilt. Let the judicial bodies do their work – I am not afraid of the truth.”
Zoran Bakula was asked for an interview, but briefly responded with “I have no comment.” Neven Kulenović did not respond when asked for an interview.
Police agencies from Austria, Slovenia and BiH, the Office for Money Laundering Prevention from Slovenia, the State Investigation and Protection Agency of BiH, the Federal Police Administration, and the Financial Police of the Federation of BiH have all so far worked on the case. The national offices of Interpol in Sarajevo and Ljubljana exchanged more than 100 documents in mutual communication on the matter. The Audit Office of the Institutions of the Federation of BiH has for years been issuing a negative evaluation of business operations of two public enterprises involved in the case (Public Enterprise HT Eronet and Public Enterprise RTV Federation of BiH), questioning the transparency and legality of their financial and marketing operations.
Behind Mostar Prosecutor Spomenko Jukić’s desk are two cabinets filled with documents related to the Eronet case, but the people suspected in the investigations conducted in Ljubljana and Graz are not yet formally suspects in Bosnia and Herzegovina. They continue to hold important jobs, in the course of which, they work every day with the most important media organizations in BiH as big advertisers and agents who decide on the lease of time for commercials, or for publishing advertisements in newspapers. Even though the investigators working on the case say off the record that this is a ‘classical example of international organized crime,’ due to the absence of an official investigation, the entire case in the public eye in BiH is reduced to unproven rumors, while ‘business’ continues as nornal.
In the Pošteno program, broadcast on November 11, 2013, Federal Television Program Director Duška Jurišić asked if it was true that this television station gave discounts of up to 80 percent and even more on its advertising price list. Federal Television Director Džemal Šabić  replied: “Look, I or someone else in a television station’s management can’t say ‘I don’t want funds from an agency because some newspaper wrote that he is a criminal’. There are serious agencies in this country that are doing their job in this or that way – SIPA, FUP [the Federal Police Administration] and so on.”

Three journalists Herwig Holler, Blaž Zgaga and Esad Hećimović during visit to the Volksbank office in Graz
Half A Million Euros Frozen
The company 3 Media Ltd, founded on Gibraltar  in 2006, on February 24 ,by Oscar Leonel Ruiz Ramirez who appointed himself as Director, was mentioned as a legal person.
Then, he authorized Neven Kulenović from Sarajevo to conduct the business. Previously, the company under almost identical name, 3Media Ltd. was registered in London in 2004. Its Director was  Neven Kulenović himself, while the Company Secretary was Sanjin Kulenović with an address in Rotterdam.
That British company was closed on August 28, 2007 . But Neven Kulenović opened an account of the offshore company 3 Media Ltd in UniCredit Bank in Ljubljana on  April 4 2006. This account has been frozen since May 11,2012  by the decision of the District Court in Ljubljana . Since 30th of June 2008 it had been paid in 4.767.546,00 EUR to this account by three marketing agencies whose director or founder was Kulenović (S.V.-R.S.AUfa Media and Ujedinjeni mediji), a group of TV stations from BiH (Mreža plus) and a branch of Serbian TV Pink(BH Pink Company).  Payments were made for the purchase of television rights.
Since July 8th ,2008  to  December 9th,2009 from these accounts  it had been regularly paid in 7500 euros to Stipe Prlić’s account and then later 9 900 euros since February till the summer. Similarly, the payments were made to account of Zoran Bakula in the same bank in Graz. According to data from the Slovenian investigators,  169,500.00 euros were paid into the account of Stipe Prlić  and 225,390.00 euros to  Zoran Bakula’s.
By the decisions of the District Court in Ljubljana, which are being renewed every six months, 498.716 euros and 1591,20 euros have been blocked on the accounts of 3 Media Ltd.
From the bank statement of deposits and withdrawals it remains unknown where the rest of 1,5 milion euros from bank accounts of 3 Media Ltd in Ljubljana has ended up. 
Criminal investigations have been launched in BiH, Slovenia and Austria, numerous official sources in this cross-border news investigation have confirmed. They began with a report on suspicious transactions made by the Volksbank in Graz, Austria, and due to that, this investigation also began with a visit to the bank. After a several-day delay, spokesperson Rosemarie Lang replied that bank officials cannot speak about the case.
Hansjorg Bacher, Head of Public Relations for the State Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Austria in Graz, explained: “Regarding a report on possible money laundering at an Austrian bank, a police investigation was launched”. After Austrian criminal police delivered the report to the Prosecutor’s Office, “in June 2013, a request was sent to the State Prosecutor’s Office in Sarajevo to take over the prosecution of two suspects. However, we have not yet received an answer from the Prosecutor’s Office of BiH,” added Bacher. Neven Kurtović, Head of the Department for International Legal Assistance and Cooperation in Criminal Matters at the Ministry of Justice of BiH, confirmed that the request from Graz had arrived and was passed on in July 2013 to the Prosecutor’s Office of BiH. The Prosecutor’s Office of BiH confirmed that the request “was received and the public will be informed after the prosecutor on the case makes a decision”. The request concerns the prosecution of Stipe Prlić, Director of HT Eronet Mostar, and Zoran Bakula, Director of the HT Eronet mobile network. The alleged criminal offense is money laundering, as described in Article 165 of the Penal Code of Austria.
Prosecutors from Graz and Sarajevo are communicating indirectly, through Justice Ministries in the two countries. “With BiH, all communication goes through the relevant minister of justice, i.e. the State Prosecutor’s Office in Graz sends reports to the Ministry in Vienna, which then sends these reports to the authorities in BiH and the minister of justice who forwards them to the Prosecutor’s Office of BiH and back. This means that the road is a little more complicated than in the Schengen region, where we can communicate, for example, with the Prosecutor’s Office of Germany directly,” said Bacher.
When asked if he knows when the answer from Sarajevo may be expected, Bacher said: “I myself don’t have experience with contacts with BiH, but I am assuming that this is an extraordinary proceeding for BiH and thus I am hoping that we will receive the proper answer related to this process relatively quickly.”
Hansjorg Bacher, Head of Public Relations for the State Prosecutor's Office of the Republic of Austria in Graz spoke about the Eronet case
Bacher explains that if the Prosecutor’s Office of BiH takes over the prosecution of Prlić and Bakula, the Austrian proceeding will be put on hold until the completion of the proceeding in BiH. If Sarajevo decides not to prosecute, the proceedings will resume before the District Court in Graz.
Neven Kulenović, BiH marketing king 
Oscar Leonel Ruiz Ramirez, A Poet, Nuclear Chemist And Proxy Director 
The witnesses in Ljubljana remember Ramirez describing him as a poet and Master of nuclear chemistry that during his study period in Ljubljana lived very humbly.
He came to Ljubljana in 2004. to prepare a doctoral dissertation at the Institute "Jozef Stefan". They describe him as a unique person who was interested only in poetry and chemistry. He never complained. When in café, he used to drink only tea or plain water. In 2005 and 2006 he organized  the festival Con Sabor Latino in Ljubljana . He used to bring  Mexican poets who travelled with him and read poetry in Ljubljana, Maribor, Ptuj, Warsaw, Krakow and Zagreb and  helped some Slovenian poets to go to Mexico and was their host in Guadalajara.     
In 2006,  Založba KUD Apokalipsa  in Ljubljana he published his bilingual poetry anthology "Biography". The research of the court registries in England and Wales showed that it would be a very complex undertaking to explore the biography of this poet. Besides  The 3 Media Ltd., Ramirez was  director proxy of a number of other offshore companies. Oscar Leonel Ruiz Ramirez founded Infinity Agency Ltd on Novembar 16 ,2006. Certain Ramirez, who was also born the last day of December in 1970 and  with the same address in Guadalajara founded Blanco Design Ltd in 2009 on 6th of July. 
On 7 February 2011 Ramirez founded the company Coralium Ltd. becoming the CEO of the same. On February 11 2006 , he was registered as Director of Net Support Systems Limited.  On December 19 2007 he was registered as Director of Simon Investments Ltd.  Ramirez was appointed Director of London New Business Managment Ltd and Mirax EU Ltd. The majority of these companies was registered on the same address in the St. John Street in London.
Together with a Mexican woman, Blanco Ramirez Aguila, born in 1948, the poet Ramirez managed business affaires of Media Solutions Management Ltd. from Mexican city Sinaloa between November 7, 2007 and April 20, 2010. But his fellow citizen had more connections with some entrepreneurs from Slovenia- On September 11 2007, together with a Slovenian, Petar Borštnarj from Medvode she had been the Company Secretary of Prophet's WisdomFor the establishment of the company  they used the services of the company Akra Global Investment Limited from the heavenly islands and tax haven, Seychelles. The last time Ramirez was seen in Slovenia was in 2008 when another festival of poetry took place.
In Slovenia, a court investigation was launched in May 2013 at the Ljubljana District Court on the request of the Specialized State Prosecution Office of the Republic of Slovenia, which has jurisdiction for organized, classical and economic crime, terrorism and corruption. “The investigation was launched against one legal and one natural person based on the reasonable suspicion that they had committed the criminal offense of money laundering,” explains Harij Furlan, Chief of the Specialized State Prosecution Office of Slovenia. The natural person referred to in the case is Neven Kulenović, director and founder of a number of marketing agencies from BiH and abroad. The Specialized State Prosecution Office of Slovenia, in response to a direct question on the future of the proceedings in Ljubljana, emphasized that a trial in absentia is more of an exception than a rule and that different ways of ensuring the presence of the suspect may be used. “It is possible to use forcible means, such as forcible apprehension, an international warrant and detention, to ensure the presence of a suspect as part of international legal assistance. A trial in absentia is possible under the law, if the suspect had previously been questioned, if they have been summoned and if their defense attorney is present,” explained the Prosecutor’s Office in Slovenia.
At the very beginning of the investigation, Slovene Prosecutor Harij Furlan arrived with one investigator in Mostar, where the HT Eronet company is based. At the Cantonal Prosecutor’s Office of the Herzegovina-Neretva Canton, through international legal assistance, he requested the examination of two Eronet directors, Prlić and Bakula, and Kulenović, the director of marketing companies. The suspects were examined by Prosecutor Predrag Tomić, but only for the purposes of the Slovene investigation. During the examination, Kulenović pleaded silence, while Prlić and Bakula claimed they had only borrowed money from Kulenović to build apartments in Croatia. Prlić and Bakula are citizens of both BiH and Croatia. Contracts 24/08 and 25/08 were mentioned as the reason for deposits made into accounts in Graz. Sources familiar with the investigations in Slovenia and BiH say that no one in the investigation has seen these contracts.
“Regarding a report on possible money laundering at an Austrian bank, a police investigation was launched”
On December 21, 2010 Tomić decided to perform additional inspections of HR Eronet’s business operations, based on a report from the HT Eronet Supervisory Board and other anonymous reports. Tomić requested the Financial Police of the Federation of BiH to “collect evidence and findings” on HT Eronet’s business operations. Before leaving Mostar, Tomić was waiting for the police report in order to resume work on the Eronet case.
Prosecutor Predrag Tomić, by decision of the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council dated December 21, 2012, was appointed to the position of prosecutor for war crimes at the Prosecutor’s Office of BiH. His transfer to Sarajevo led to another half-year interruption of work on the case. Tomić refused to speak about the Eronet case, claiming that he had carried out all procedural actions and that he was not rewarded for obstruction by being appointed to the position of prosecutor at the State Prosecutor’s Office.
Only six Financial Police inspectors in Mostar work in the territory of three cantons. On January 14, 2011 the Prosecutor’s Office sent new documents collected by Mostar Criminal Police. The inspectors only took over the Eronet case on June 10, 2011.
The Financial Police inspectors collected evidence across BiH on the astonishing ways in which money is funneled out of the public enterprise through marketing operations and agencies. Inspectors carried out checks in Sarajevo, Čapljina, Livno, Orašje, Vitez, Banja Luka, Brčko District, Tuzla and Bijeljina. Finally, on May 6, 2013, the Financial Police delivered to the Prosecutor’s Office in Mostar a report on the partial inspection of business operations of HR Eronet dd Mostar from 2007 to 2010. In mid-June 2013, the Financial Police submitted a summary of information and reports on committed criminal offenses against 25 persons from the JP HT Eronet dd Mostar Board (among other things, for the telecom operator’s marketing dealings with the Sarajevo-based agency S.V.-R.S.A).
Prosecutor Spomenko Jukić returned to the Mostar Prosecutor’s Office in April and took over the Eronet case in June 2013. He also dealt with a new report. 
Investigators believe that the Financial Police information report proves the assumption that deposits into the Eronet director’s private account are connected with the awarding of deals worth millions to the marketing agency, contrary to the results of public procurement tenders. Eronet’s Tender Committee on October 12, 2007 recommended accepting as most favorable the bid made by the McCann Ericson agency from Sarajevo. However, Neven Kulenović on behalf of the S.V.-R.S.A. agency and Zoran Bakula, member of the Eronet Board, reacted very quickly. On October 15, 2007 Kulenović faxed an additional explanation for his bid and declared that the development of a strategy and other analyses and documents were free. At the same time, Kulenović also submitted documents from other TV organizations which questioned the validity of the bids made by other marketing agencies. 
According to sources familiar with the criminal and financial police investigations, the Eronet executive director for the mobile network and member of its Board, Zoran Bakula, said during the company Board’s 41st session held on October 24, 2007 that there were errors in the Tender Committee’s point scoring. He claimed that agencies had given untrue information because TV organizations had informed them about the kinds of discounts they were able to give. He said that certain TV organizations (Neovisna TV Hayat, Televizija Mreža Plus, Pink BH televizija) had notified HT that the agencies which had applied for the public tender and had offered a discount of 60 percent or more did not get these discounts from the said TV organizations, thereby gravely violating the contract terms. The maximum reduction (discount on the price given to the reseller) quoted was 45 percent. There were other interventions as well which led to a change in the decision.

Main courtroom of District Court at Graz could be place of trial if there is no criminal prosecution of the Eronet case in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Based on Zoran Bakula’s presentation, the company Board rejected the Committee’s proposal to choose the McCann Ericson d.o.o. Sarajevo agency. Instead of annulling the public procurement notice, the investigators alleged, the next day the Eronet Board unanimously made the decision to award the 3 million KM contract to the S.V.-R.S.A. agency. Then, the company Board on May 21, 2008 decided to sign an appendix to the contract to the value of 50 percent and extended it until February 2009. With new appendices to the contract from 2007 and 2008, the value of the contract between HT Eronet and the S.V.-R.S.A. agency increased by another 4.5 million KM. Formally, the deal was described in business books as “lease of media in BiH”.
Zoran Bakula, one of the major players in Eronet 
There is a long list of evidence that will be presented and witnesses who will be heard in the Eronet case when all orders for investigations in this case are finally signed. Investigators at the very top of police agencies in BiH do not hide the fact that they are counting on international, external support in order to break the chain of impunity and bring the investigation to an end. “When they on the outside do something, we will too”, says a leading criminalist in BiH familiar with the case.
(This article was made with the financial support of the South East European Media Observatory project supported by the European Union. The content of the article is the sole responsibility of the author and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the EU.) 
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