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Another contested demolition in Belgrade’s

Objavljeno :

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


A contract on the Belgrade Waterfront project that should be completed within

30 years was signed in 2015 by the Serbian government and the Eagle Hills
company from the United Arab Emirates.

The value of the project is EUR3.5 billion, and, as part of phase one, two
apartment towers are currently being built.

The project envisages the construction of over one million square meters of
apartment space and several hundred thousand square meters of business and
commercial facilities, along with kindergartens, schools, culture, social and
healthcare institutions and parks, all taking 177 hectares on the Sava River’s
right bank.

Opinions on the project are divided – experts claim that a foreign investor was
granted privileged terms because there was no tender at which the most favorable
solution could be selected, questioning also the state’s decision to set aside
money for a project that is not of priority. The authorities respond that the
Belgrade Waterfront project will revive the local construction industry and attract
new investors and tourists to Serbia.

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.


Photo: Beta