Bought International Awards to Show Off at Home Turf

Thursday August 29th, 2013

The Institutions, private firms and individuals from Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and Serbia have been receiving the awards from Oxford-based European Business Assembly (EBA) for years. The awards are pitched as outstanding results achieved in a prestigious competition. However, the reporters from the Center for Investigative Reporting in Sarajevo and Belgrade (CIN/CINS) found that lucrative business is behind awards ceremonies.

EBA nagrade

Every year, European Business Assembly (EBA) hands out awards at ceremonies organized at prestigious locations. (PHOTO: EBA)

By The Center for Investigative Reporting in Sarajevo and The Center for Investigative Reporting in Belgrade (CIN/CINS)

The Institutions, private firms and individuals from Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and Serbia have been receiving the awards from Oxford-based European Business Assembly (EBA) for years. The awards are pitched as outstanding results achieved in a prestigious competition. However, the reporters from the Center for Investigative Reporting in Sarajevo and Belgrade (CIN/CINS) found that behind the awards ceremonies is lucrative business.

The winners pay for the awards and participation in the ceremonies in the amounts of several thousand Euros. In some cases the winners help themselves to taxpayer money. The selection criteria is nowhere to be found.

Tatjana PašićAt the 2012 ceremony in Dublin, Will Goodheer and John W.A.Netting handed the awards to Tatjana Pašić, deputy of the Belgrade mayor Dragana Đilas. (PHOTO: EBA)

The City of Belgrade won the Best City award and its Mayor Dragan Đilas won The Manager of the Year in July 2012. The award ceremony took place in the Irish capital of Dublin. The mayor signed off on nearly €11.000 of the city money to be paid as a fee for the participation in the ceremony. The awards alone have cost around € 7,300.

Deputy mayor Tatjana Pašić and a consultant from the Public Relations Office Sonja Stojanović travelled to Dublin to receive the award. Pašić said that the City was informed several months ahead about the awards, but she said she did not know what the selection procedure entailed.

“It is typical to pay different attendance fees for such lectures, seminars and everything else that goes with it, plus for the making of the award. The award is really of excellent quality and I carry it everywhere with me,” said Pašić.

A day after the award ceremony, Mayor Đilas had a guest appearance in the the Serbian State Broadcasting Agency’s evening news. He said that the award that Belgrade got belongs to all Serbian citizen while the award he got personally belongs to the whole team which led Belgrade during the previous period.

Faris GavrankapetanovićFaris Gavrankapetanović with Sebija Izetbegović, then head of the Clinics for Obstetrician and Gynecology Ward and Azra Alajbegović, director of the Clinic for Neurology in Vienna at 2010 award ceremony.

Two years earlier, the EBA’s award for “European Quality” went into the hands of the biggest clinic in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) – The Clinical Center of the Sarajevo University (KCUS) – and its then Director General Faris Gavrankapetanović.

He told CIN that both awards were of great importance both for KCUS and for himself. He did not say what was the cost of the making of awards and a trip to Vienna.

Azra Alajbegović, directress of the KCUS’s Neuropsychiatry Department and a former legislator with the BiH Parliament went with Gavrankapetanović to Vienna. She said that she has attended the ceremony in Vienna on her own dime, but she refused to further comment on it.

Awards Became More Expensive

Reporters found that in the several last years, EBA has given out a number of awards to laureates from BiH and Serbia. Some even got more than one award. BiH winners include a private university Apeiron from Banja Luka, Slobomir P from Bijeljina and International university Travnik, as well as a Sarajevo-based micro crediting foundation Prizma. At the same time, the awards were given also to the institutions’ managers.

Among the winners from Serbia are: Miroslav Bogićević, the owner of Šabac-based company Farmakom MB; companies Aks Express Kurir from Šabac, Delta Petrol from Kladovo and Ekoterm 2001 from Kragujevac; High Business School in Novi Sad and its director Radovan Tomić, as well as Belgrade Megatrend University and its found Mićo Jovanović.

Nagrade ApeironThe recognitions of the European Business Assembly take a prominent place at the display cabinet of the Apeiron University. (PHOTO: CIN/CINS)

Jovanović and Megatrend received twice EBAs’ awards: the first in 2007 the Socrates award and a year later European Quality Award.

On EBA’s web page Jovanović is named as a member of Socrates’s committee which decides on the nominations and does the ranking. Jovanović said that he pulled out of the Committee before he received the award, and later he stopped collaborating with the organization.

“It was a good idea in the beginning and later I pulled out when I realized that it was a lucrative business. There was no selection and suddenly they started handing out hundreds of awards”, said Jovanović. He added that the award has greatly commercialized compared to the period when he was one of the award winners – he paid Socrates award just €124 and that only for the award’s making.

At the Oxford summit in 2012, there were as many as six representatives of the companies and organizations from Serbia, some of whom got an awarded. Apart from BiH and Serbia and several of the Southeast European countries, other winners and participants at EBA’s ceremonies mostly come from African and Asian countries.

A Belgrade sociologist Jovo Bakić said: “When speaking of private universities and private funds, it’s just an example of marketing. And, no matter how it looked wrong from the ethical standpoint—we can laugh at it, deride such ways or people—but they should not be legally persecuted. But, if taxpayer money is used, than that is something for law enforcement to look into”.

Nenad Brkić, professor at the Marketing Department of Sarajevo School of Economy said that paying for awards sets a bad example and that it represents a type of corruption “because you buy something you would not receive through a standard procedure and competition” he said. “You pay a fee, but no one will say out loud that you actually pay for the award”, added Brkić.

From a nomination to award

EBA hands out several awards among which are: Best Enterprise, Manager of the Year, European Quality Award, International Socrates Award, Queen Victoria Commemorative Medal and The Name in Science.

As it reads at their internet page, the nominees are first ranked against “their movement on the world market” through its monitoring center. No detailed information is available.

Reporters tried to contact EBA on several occasions. After longer time period, a male voice answered one of the numbers saying that all information can be found at their web page. He concluded that the director is the only person authorized to talk to media, but he was not present at the moment.

Mića JovanovićMića Jovanović, the founder of Belgrade University Megatrend, points EBA awards which it received. (PHOTO: CIN/CINS)

During his visit to Oxford, a reporter did not find anyone at EBA’s offices. However, due to a number of interviews with direct participants and collected documents, the reporters managed to discern the way in which awards were given out.

EBA usually sends an email to individuals or organizations informing them that they are shortlisted for its award. The participants shoulder travel and lodging costs, and pay to take part in the ceremony and for the making of award.

What promotes “a nominee” to “an awardee” is the willingness to accept costs and positive feedback to EBA’s first letter.

Jovanović says that EBA has a small team that follows various accomplishments, but that letters informing nominees about awards are sent to a great many addresses.

“A letter begins with: ‘Dears Sir, we have followed your scientific accomplishment. I see that you’re a leader …’, and they praise you so much that you think: ‘Wow, I’m such an important person’, and you fall for it. It’s a copy-paste they send to everyone, just change names and the titles of the institutions”, says Jovanović.

The pleased winners

Most of the awardees declined to comment when reporters called them.

Mladen Genčić’s Kladovo-based Delta Petrol won two EBA awards: European Quality Award and Best Enterprise. Director also got Manager of the Year award.

“I was informed that not only had I been nominated, but that I would received an award as well. Then we send two of our representatives to Oxford, in Oct. 2012. I’ve shouldered the costs. One pays for the attendance fee, participation, lodging and all of this had cost us €4,000 to €5,000,” said Genčić. He added that the awards did not help him financially, but the firm gained in popularity.

“The sole fact that you’re there and that you’re in the group of 50-odd people whom someone has recognized is great in and of itself. Now, for example, I can ask for help, for recommendation, if I need to.”

EBA Oxford The headquarters of European Business Assembly in Oxford. (PHOTO: CIN/CINS)

At the ceremony in Oxford, Bijeljina Slobomir P. University received a certificate of recognition. Mira Pavlović, one of the University’s founders was there.

The University’s Chancellor Vaso Arsenović said they were very proud because of the award adding that it has increased the number of enrolled students. He declined to answer other questions.

Subotica-based Public Utility Company Waterworks and Sewerage received European Quality Award in 2008 which it paid more than €2,500 from the budget. The then director Imre Čeke and the then president of the Subotica Municipality Geza Kučera attended the ceremony.

Petar Doroslovački, the head of the company’s Quality Control and Protection Department, said that when they received EBA’s invitation to participate they did not know that they were going to be awarded:

“I know that in the competition were even waterworks companies from Moscow and London…There are some costs to it. So, you don’t pay the award, but you have to travel there and to make an adequate presentation.”

Doroslovački said that the award opened the company’s way for compliance with international standards and added: “You benefit much more when you get some kind of diploma and a certificate of recognition. They publicly introduce you to broader circles…That award paved the way for our further improvement and influenced the way we treat the customers.”

Professor Brkić says that this is fraud. People don’t realize what’s going on – if they don’t know that the award was paid, they never question it: “That’s the first reaction: he won the award, he’s probably good”.

Some of the nominees have given up when they found out how much they had to pay to become winners.

The official web site of the Serbian Coal Power Company Nikola Tesla from Obrenovac reads that they got an award for the best company, and then director Petar Knežević was named the best manager.

However, Knežević wrote to reporters that in Oct. 2012 they were officially informed that the company and director got the award, but they have not taken it over: “We found out that the sculpture, that is, a diploma or a medal that was supposed to be awarded to our company, would require high costs which we could not accept. For this reason, we (declined and) thanked the institution for the nomination and the award.”

Ivan SavovIvan Savov, director of European Business Assembly with his father Anton, director of a similar organization in Ukraine. (PHOTO: EBA)

As the company officials explained, the company would have to pay between €5,000 and €10,000 for the firm representatives travel to the award ceremony —depending on how many of them would go.

In June 2009, the then acting chancellor of Bihać University Mujo Demirović got an EBA’s letter informing him that he was selected to join the Club of European Chancellorships and that the University got European Quality Award. He did not go to the award ceremony.

Demirović said he did not go travel to the award ceremony which was supposed to be held that year in Malta, because the University had no money. Instead, he invited EBA to come to Bihać and organize the ceremony there. After this he has not heard from of EBA team.

Firm behind organization

At its official internet page EBA says that its mission is “the creation of positive image about the dynamic development of the region, companies and individuals in the European and World Business Community”. They invite the companies to get in touch with them to “improve their business”.

The main EBA activity is organizing of award ceremonies on which are present dozens of invitiees. These are held several times a year in various European cities.

EBA structure consists of: The Club of the Rectors of Europe, International Club of Leaders, Knight Order of Grand Master La Valette and International Socrates Committee.

Even though their web page say that they are a non-governmental organization, the UK business register lists EBA as incorporated as a business in 2000. Its sole owner and one of directors is 31 year old Ukrainian citizen Ivan Savov.

Cjenovnik EBA nagradaThe 2010 price list of European Business Assembly’s awards which Kazahstan based Vladimir Sobolev published on his web page. Sobolev is employed in a firm that got their offer.

Savov is involved with similar activities in his native country where he founded Eastern European Business Academy in Harkov. The academy is the co-ordinator of international image program The Leaders of 21 century. It has been going since 1998 and it partnered with EBA in 2003.

The Academy’s President is Ivan’s father Anton Savov. He is a co-chairman in The Leaders of 21 century together with John Netting, EBA’s director general.

Jovanović of Megatrend University met father and son Savov in Oxford. They told him over breakfast that Megatrend univerzitet in Belgrade could host one of the ceremonies in 2012. After he refused, he has never heard from them again.

“I’m not foolish to make a full out of myself in Belgrade”, said Jovanović.

Savov is involved with similar activities in his native country where he founded Eastern European Business Academy in Harkov. The academy is the co-ordinator of international image program The Leaders of 21 century. It has been going since 1998 and it partnered with EBA in 2003.

The Academy’s President is Ivan’s father Anton Savov. He is a co-chairman in The Leaders of 21 century together with John Netting, EBA’s director general.

Jovanović of Megatrend University met father and son Savov in Oxford. They told him over breakfast that Megatrend univerzitet in Belgrade could host one of the ceremonies in 2012. After he refused, he has never heard from them again.

“I’m not daft to make a fool out of myself in Belgrade”, said Jovanović.

Published 29. 8. 2013.

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The Center for Investigative Reporting in Sarajevo (CIN) work is available for free to all organizations that credit CIN as their source and link to www.cin.ba.

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