In 2018, Arab investors in plain sight illegally built a huge condominium complex for rich Middle East buyers in the Sarajevo municipality of Ilijaš. Authorities looked the other way.
Even though they violated construction regulations that stipulate that illegally built buildings should be knocked over and their investors fined or imprisoned, owners of the complex got away with just a reprimand. Only after most of the planned villas had already been built did authorities intervene.
The Center for Investigative Reporting in Sarajevo (CIN) uncovered that at least five complexes built by Arab and Turkish investors in the Sarajevo metropolitan area covering 133,000 square meters were illegal. They took advantage of weaknesses in the local system and they ignored orders to stop works and knock down buildings. Local authorities could destroy the buildings themselves, but don’t, knowing they are unlikely to recoup costs from the investors. Even in rare court cases brought against illegal constructors, they usually get only minimal fines.
Some local officials say that investors behave this way because local advisors tell them that they will eventually legalize these complexes. However, in 2017 Sarajevo Canton passed a new Law on Spatial Planning which prohibits legalization.
In November 2017, Ilijaš Municipality adopted a master plan for the condominium complex Sovrle following a request from “Bosnian International for Tourism” (B.I.Tourism) based in Sarajevo but owned by Kuwaiti citizens. The plan calls for 47 housing units a kilometer away from the municipality’s downtown. However, the investors began work without a construction permit. Officials say that they never applied for one.
In May 2018, the municipality construction inspector Vahid Hadžiabdić arrived at the construction site and ordered B.I.Tourism to stop the construction.
“However, since I left on a vacation, they most probably took advantage of this time,” says Hadžiabdić. “Out of the planned 47 facilities they built 37.”
Last September, CIN reporters visited the Ilijaš resort. They found no machines or workers, but nearly all the new buildings had a roof and some had facades, doors and windows.
According to the Sarajevo Canton Law on Inspections, the inspector had to write down minutes before issuing a decision to close a construction site and demolish buildings. He didn’t do this or file a misdemeanor complaint against the investors.
“But If I had known what was going to happen…” said Hadžiabdić about his omissions. “We were waiting for a little while to see if the legalization would come to pass.”
The inspector only submitted minutes 16 months later, after CIN started reporting about the complex. He then informed Ilijaš Mayor Akif Fazlić, who could see the illegal construction from his office window. The mayor blames the inspector.
“If he had been sufficiently involved, probably none of this would have happened. It is what it is,” said Fazlić. He’s not sure what will happen with the complex.
“I ordered the inspector to take stock of the situation and we’ll see later,” said Fazlić. He added that he accepted his part of responsibility, but no sanctions were issued to those involved.
Intimacy for the Rich
Inspectors in the Sarajevo municipality of Old Town similarly did not stop Caphy International from Sarajevo while it was illegally building Saraya Resort in Hladivode neighborhood last summer. The firm is owned by United Arab Emirates citizens. According to the zoning plan, the complex in Hladivode is supposed to feature 93 villas, six buildings, a hotel and a mosque.
“Those residential communities are guarded; basically, this is where well-to-do people pay for intimacy,” said Amela Kulaglić-Herco, zoning assistant to the head of Old Town municipality.
The municipality instructed Caphy International to stabilize the landslide-prone area.
Inspectors say that they did eight inspections over one year, while in July 2019, the municipality officials told CIN reporters that everything was done according to the regulations. At the same time, investors were building 27 villas even though they did not provide any proof of stabilization. By October, 10 villas had roofs, while others were in varying stages of construction.
Since the construction flew under the inspectors’ radar, the head of the Old Town municipality, Ibrahim Hadžibajrić, filed disciplinary proceedings against his assistant for inspection affairs and the inspectors. He also cut their salaries.
In the beginning of October 2019, near the end of the construction season, inspectors issued a decision to close down the site on account of illegal construction. The investor was ordered to demolish six facilities and when only three were down by mid-November officials filed misdemeanor charges in the amount of 91,500 KM against Caphy International.
Company’ representatives twice promised CIN reporters that they would be available for an interview, but they did not.