Legal Battle for Stanari Land
Legal representatives of the minority stockholders of the joing-stock company Non-metal Mine Stanari have filed a lawsuit against EFT – Mine and Power Plant Stanari because of 267 hectares of land which was taken away without compensation. Under the ground lies lignite worth billions of KM.
Stanari lies on a lignite worth six billion KM. The right to exploitation of this coal has a firm EFT – Mine and Power Plant Stanari behind which is Energy Financing Team (EFT) whose majority owners are the Balkan power trader Vuk Hamović and his son Miloš.
EFT’s firm is the owner of a land in Stanari under which is valuable ore. Some of it they bought from the townsfolk, while 267 hectares, i.e. at least half of the land that they own, they took over from its earlier owner – Non-metals Mine Stanari, after a dubious transaction.
Republika Srpska (RS) government used to be a majority owner of the joint-stock company whose bankruptcy trial before the Doboj District Commercial Court has been going on for two years. Legal representatives of the joint-stock company filed an indictment with which they’re trying to get that land back.
The return of the joint-stock company, which according to their books is worth around 24 million KM, would allow the bankruptcy estate to pay its debts to the creditors, i.e. legal and natural entities and institutions which claim more than four million KM.
Decreased Value of Property
The problems of Stanari Non-metal Mine began in 2005 when the company has a name Stanari Lignite Mine. Then, the RS government, which is its majority owner, passed a decision to spin off the most valuable part of the joint-stock company and made it the part of the newly formed EFT Group – Stanari Lignite Mine.
Danish-based EFT (Holdings) ApS held two-third of the shares in it, while the joing-stock Stanari Lignite Mine had the rest.
Expert witnesses Rade Dugić and Mira Vasić have appraised the property to 8,670,000 KM. They made an itemized inventory of equipment and facilities and recorded a land of 18,479 square meters of space. Financial documentation of the joint-stock company shows that the expert witnesses have devalued the property for at least three times.
Nevertheless, based on this appraisal, the equipment and facilities became the property of the newly-formed company EFT Group –Stanari Lignite Mine, but the land was never recorded into the new owner’s name.
Without valuable property and most of the workers who had been shifted over to the new firm, the firm and its 17 employees continued to work in the company-owned restaurant and with the new name Stanari Non-metal Mine.
The Mine’s former director Milan Đurić said that the restaurant used to serve lunch for former workers, but the new employer changed the rules: “They have provided their people with lunch through sandwiches. You come to work, get a sandwich and you have to go working,” said Đurić.
In June 2006, the RS government headed by Milorad Dodik passed a decision to sell its co-ownership in EFT Group –Stanari Lignite Mine for 10.5 million KM.
A government’s resolution read that the joint-stock company would use these funds to pay off creditors and meet its debts which are increasing by the day. It also read that there was no probability that someone might by the joint-stock company through a privatization process, because it had too many debts and no business perspective.
The RS government recommended that after the sale of the share, the company should wind up or file for bankruptcy. The government’s resolution accepted the Board of Directors and the Shareholder Assembly of the Stanari Non-metal mine.
Đurić told the reporters from the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIN) in Sarajevo that they used the money from the sale of stocks to pay the back salaries to the workers and pay a part of the debt for pension and health insurance and part of the debt to the suppliers.
Meanwhile, lawsuits from unpaid debts arrived, so some of the money was spent on paying litigations and late payment premium. At least four million of debt remain unpaid. EFT (Holdings) ApS paid 10.5 million KM to the joint-stock company in Sept. 2006 and thus became the sole owner of EFT Group –Stanari Lignite Mine. The restaurant owners also moved in with them, while some like Đurić retired.
In Jan. 2007, several months after the partners parted their ways and when the joint-stock company stopped work, the expert witness Vasić made an addendum to her earlier appraisal report related to the land. Vasić added to the original appraisal another 267 ha. She wrote that this land represents overburden, that is overlaying soil and rock that must be removed to get to the ore, and she concluded that because of this its value was 0 KM.
Thus, in her addendum to the report, Vasić has made a list of all cadastral parcels which the joint-stock firm had in the amount totaling around 269 ha. The area of 267 ha she appraised to 0 KM, while the remainder she appraised to a little less than one million KM.
According to the joint-stock firm’s financial documents, their land was worth around 24 million KM. The land is located partly on some lignite deposits of at least 100 million tons, which according to the current market price is a treasure worth around six billion KM.
CIN found that Vasić filed under overburden the land which is not overburden since it’s located under the firm’s restaurant. That land, together with the building, is mortgaged for 244,000 KM of a loan that was taken earlier from the Hypo Bank.
Former director Đurić said that the loan was used to buy dumpers and vehicles that were transferred into the new company’s ownership.
Vasić refused to talk to CIN reporters. “I cannot tell you anything about that,” she said before hanging up. EFT officials say that this was an error and when it was found out, they returned the land to the former partner. The remaining cadastre parcels were registered as ownership of EFT Group –Stanari Lignite Mine. The firm has been operating under the name EFT – Mine and Power Plant Stanari since 2008.
Bankruptcy on the way
Joint-stock company’s property became an issue in the course of the bankruptcy proceedings which started before the District Business Court in Doboj two years ago.
Marko Dragić, a lawyer from Odžak who represents the former members of Stanari Non-metal mine’s Board of Directors, asked the bankruptcy trustee Svetlana Popović to overturn the transfer of property from the ownership of joint-stock company to the new owner. This is made possible by the RS Law on Bankruptcy Proceedings which allows for abolishment of the proceedings when the bankruptcy entity did not receive an adequate compensation for the property it gave up on.
However, Popović turned down that request. She told CIN that all the land once owned by the Mine were taken out of the books – but this was carried out by the management and all legal procedures had been followed.
Such an answer did not satisfy the lawyer Dragića, nor the other legal representatives in this court case, so Dragić filed a lawsuit against EFT – Mine and Power Plant Stanari on behalf of the joint-stock company. In the lawsuit he demands that 267 ha of land be returned in the ownership of the joint-stock company. The lawsuit claims that the expert witness Vasić had a clear intention to secure material benefits for EFT.
The lawsuit was filed with the District Commercial Court in Doboj which has yet to hand down a ruling on it. The court officials did say that the lawsuit will not influence the bankruptcy proceedings, but the final and binding judgment might have an impact. The representatives of EFT – Mine and Power Plant Stanari did not want to answer the reporter’s questions related to the lawsuit.
Attempt to Collect Claims
Since the beginning of the bankruptcy proceedings, the creditors – the legal and natural persons and RS institutions, including RS Tax Administration, RS Ministry of Finances and the Fund of Pension and Disability Insurance – are trying to collect more than four million of debt which the joint-stock firm owes for unpaid retirement and disability contributions or supplies and services.
These debts could be paid from the joint-stock company’s property, but what’s left is worth little.According to an appraisal by witness expert Dragan Danilović, the property is worth somewhat more than 400,000 KM. This includes the workers’ restaurant with the accompanying inventory and the land on which it was built, and an old car. The trustee Popović plans to sell movable property through a sealed auction.
Creditors will be able to get their money also if the joint-stock company collects its claims for lignite sold previously. A long time ago, the Mine supplied lignite to a Banja Luka-based Incel, but has never collected the money. The debt with interest stands over five million KM.
The bankruptcy proceedings has been going on for over two years. According to the Supreme Office for the RS Public Sector Auditing, one in three bankruptcy proceedings in this entity lasts longer than two years and one in four ends up by selling the bankruptcy debtor’s property and the distribution of proceeds among the creditors.
The same source said that bankruptcy proceedings over joint-stock companies with long-term lack of liquidity—as is the case with Stanari—are usually wound-up for lack of bankruptcy estate assets which could not lead to distribution of funds among the creditors.
“There’s a high probability that the creditors will be harmed in this proceedings,” said lawyer Rajko Stokić who represents a Banja Luka-based Timel Company LLC which expects around one million KM for services rendered to the mine.