Another contested demolition in Belgrade’s Savamala district

Savamala district, in Belgrade. [Philippe Le Moine/Flickr]

The Serbian government has come under fire once again after the Nelt Group announced that its facilities in downtown Belgrade had been illegally razed. reports.

The construction of the Belgrade Waterfront project, funded by Arab investors, is underway in the Savamala quarter of the capital city. During an April night in 2016, the government demolished a number of privately owned structures it claims were illegally erected to clear the ground for the construction of buildings planned by the project.

The state ombudsman, as well as the NGO sector, strongly reacted to the demolitions, as the legally required procedure to do so was not followed and masked men wielding baseball bats carried out the action. The police failed to respond to calls from neighbourhood residents urging them to intervene.

The government was accused of deliberately suspending the rule of law in one part of the city for several hours to enable the demolitions.

The case even reached the European Parliament, which, in a 14 June resolution on Serbia, urged Belgrade to “resolve the cases involving the use of excessive police force against citizens” and expressed its concern over the disputed events in the city’s Savamala district, particularly because it involved the destruction of private property. The resolution asked that the case be clarified quickly, with full participation of judicial authorities in the investigation and with the purpose of bringing the perpetrators to justice.

Confiscation or expropriation?

The announcement of the Nelt Group, one of the biggest and most successful Serbian private firms (its business cover consumer goods distribution, logistics and marketing, and employs 1700 people) will undoubtedly make the government’s position in the Savamala case much worse.

MEPs focus on Serbian Savamala affair

After ten months, and no judicial progress, lawmakers in the European Parliament are discussing the destruction of privately owned buildings in the centre of Belgrade last year. EURACTIV Serbia reports.

As opposed to the previous case, this time around the demolition was carried out in broad daylight. Nelt claims that its property on the Belgrade Waterfront site was confiscated, while state officials argue that this was an instance of expropriation and not confiscation.

“The act of taking away our property, although legally and formally carried out as an expropriation procedure, is actually a confiscation procedure, given that a private property was taken away without compensation, on behalf and for the benefit of another legal entity under the guise of public interest,” says the company’s announcement.

Nelt also said that the law on determining public interest and special expropriation procedures and the issuing of building permits for the Belgrade Waterfront project is actually a lex specialis adopted at the time by the Republic of Serbia, as the sole beneficiary of is the Belgrade Waterfront company.

The decision on the expropriation of Nelt’s property, however, was made later, when the Republic of Serbia was a minority owner of the company, with only a 32% stake. The announcement adds that, therefore, the demolition cannot be explained away as being in the public interest, but was in the private interest of the BWCI company of the United Arab Emirates, which is the majority owner of the Belgrade Waterfront company.

Reacting to the accusations, Serbian Construction, Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Zorana Mihajlović said that the Nelt warehouse at the Belgrade Waterfront construction site was not confiscated, but expropriated in accordance with law.

“This is no confiscation, but a pure and proper expropriation case. The entire demolition process was completely legal. There is not a speck of illegality in it,” Mihajlović told journalists.

According to the minister, the case involves an act of expropriation after a binding court decision. “If the company has some other outstanding court proceedings and wants to prove something, this has nothing to do with this case,” she said.

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