The Scandal of the Serbian Government's U.S. Lobbying Deal

By Srdja Trifkovic
Saturday, 27 Feb 2010

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Two articles published on this site (and notably The Debacle of Serbia's "Lobbying" in Washington by James Jatras) have prompted inquiries regarding a "lobbying" deal the Government of Serbia has with ex-Gov. Rod Blagoyevich's top money man  Milan Petrovic and his Chicago-based APS Inc. According to the Belgrade daily Borba, “Serbia’s lobbying in America is in reality a well oiled scheme for private misappropriation of money which belongs to the citizens of Serbia.” We now reveal additional known facts of this case, which has all the makings of a political scandal (cf. Serbian translation at the end of this article).

Who Is Milan Petrovic? – As the Chicago Sun-Times reported on April 10, 2008, Petrovic was then-Governor Rod Blagojevich’s top fundraiser: over the years, Petrovic had raised over $1.9 million for the Governor, or half a million more than Tony Rezko, convicted on several counts of fraud and bribery in 2008. To be precise, during Rezko’s trial, FBI Special Agent William Willenborg testified that Petrovic raised $1,963,485 for Blagojevich, outpacing Rezko, who raised a mere $1,437,350

According to the Chicago Tribune, “By the time Blagojevich came to power in 2003, lobbying the hospital board had grown into a fertile business… the field was also saturated with lobbyists from Blagojevich’s orbit [including] Milan Petrovic, a friend and fundraiser of the governor.” Illinois Issues magazine, published by the Center for State Policy and Leadership at the University of Illinois at Springfield, noted that “Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s main re-election platform made the spotlight again when the Sun-Times reported the state’s new All Kids health insurance program awarded a major contract to McKesson Health Solutions. The company is reportedly represented by a Chicago lobbying firm, Advanced Practical Solutions, led by Blagojevich’s top political fund-raiser, Milan Petrovic.”

The Belgrade daily Borba reported on August 13, 2009, that Milan Petrovic was “involved in numerous affairs and in the state of Indiana he was even disbarred.“ A great unknown in his career, the paper went on, was the deal he signed with the international giant CH2M Hill:

“CH2M Hill suddenly decided in 2004 to become an APS client, although Petrovic’s firm APS was founded only a year earlier, as a beginner lobbying group. Why the giant... firm chose Petrovic as an intermediary, although he was drowning in debt, remains unknown to this day. It is noteworthy that Petrovic sought bankruptcy protection on April 5, 2001, and on May 23 of that year he surrendered his law licence to the Indiana Bar because he was under investigation by the Indiana Supreme Court. He admitted knowing of the investigation and that he ‘acknowledges the material facts so alleged are true’ and that he would not be able to launch a successful defense if he was indicted. The facts of that case were sealed by the Indiana court and they are not known to the public... Blagojevich’s ’money man’ donated $20,000 in 2006 to New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson’s re-election campaign.“

As Bloomberg reported on April 24 of last year („Blagojevich Fundraiser Represented Firm in New Mexico Probe"), a client of Petrovic, CDR Financial Products Inc., was under investigation in a federal pay-to-play probe in New Mexico.

Milan Petrovic, who raised $1.96 million for Blagojevich, introduced CDR to Illinois budget and debt officials, according to e-mails obtained under a public records request. He and his lobbying firm also donated $20,000 to New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, a one-time Democratic presidential candidate who withdrew from consideration as U.S. Commerce Secretary following disclosure of the CDR probe. Richardson ‘is a public official I admire,’ Petrovic, 43, said in a telephone interview, declining to comment further… In Illinois, Petrovic has also represented Stratton & Associates, a Denver-based consulting firm run by a senior political adviser to Richardson, state lobbying records show. Stratton lobbied on CDR’s behalf in New Mexico, according to William Sisneros, chief executive officer of the New Mexico Finance Authority… Petrovic and his firm, Chicago-based Advanced Practical Solutions, contributed $20,000 to Richardson’s campaign and political action committees in 2004 and 2005, New Mexico political finance records show. Petrovic’s friends, business associates and clients donated at least $50,500 to Richardson.”

Regarding that CH2M Hill contract, there is no real mystery. In a detailed report on Petrovic („A Closer Look at Blagojevich’s Top Money Man“), reported on December 21, 2008, that on Nov. 30, 2006, the Illinois Toll Highway Authority gave CH2M Hill a $2.26 million contract to do a master plan development for the Northwest Tollway, and in 2007, the Chicago Tribune reported the firm got $11 million in tollway contracts.

The Plus Side – To his credit, Milan Petrovic appears to be a strong proponent of ethnic diversity. In 2008 one Shqipe Osmani of Chicago, an employee of Advanced Practical Solutions (ABS), was listed as making a donation of $2,300 to Hillary Clinton. This clearly indicates that, whatever Petrovic may be accused of, he should not be accused of any Serbian nationalist bias -- not only in his hiring practices but also in indirect support for Mrs. Clinton, who boasts of having nagged her husband into bombing Serbia in 1999. The same Shqipe Osmani was listed as donating $7,750 in political contributions in 2004, which indicates not only commendable employee loyalty in the fluid lobbying environment, but also an enviable level of discretionary income some ABS employees seem to enjoy.

The Reaction in Serbia – According to the Belgrade daily Borba, „Serbia’s lobbying in America is in reality a well developed scheme for private misappropriation of money which belongs to the citizens of Serbia.“ The paper commented the deal with Petrovic on July 27 of last year by saying that the Government of Serbia was paying „obscure firms and second-rate politicians, and that at the same time the public in Serbia knows nothing about the activities of these so-called lobbyists, or their results, and especially not about the way in which huge sums of money are being spent“:

“Two main outfits for this deal are the above-mentioned firm of... Milan Petrović and ‘30 Point Strategies LLC,’ which taken together cost Serbia $145.000 each month, or $1.74 million a year. To make it all even more suspicious, through those agencies other firms are paid too, such as ’Prairie Avenue Advisers [sic!] LLC,’ which cannot be found on the Internet, with one interesting detail: when its name is entered on... Google, it automatically corrects the last word to advisors, which merely shows that the person creating this firm in Chicago even does not speak good English.“

The paper added that Serbian taxpayers’ money has been paid to „candidates“ from Illinois, including one Footlik Jay [ed.: defeated by Dan Seals in the 2008 Democratic primary in the 10th District]. It pointed out that the contract with Petrovic’s firm was signet by Tamara Stojčević, secretary-general of the Government of Serbia, on 30 April 2009, on the same day when the Government approved it. The first payment was made and the contract registered with the U.S. Department of Justice (No. 5933) already the following day, „while the gullible citizens of Serbia were firing their grills for the long May Day weekend.“ According to the paper, the deal with Petrovic was arranged in 2008 at the Democratic Party Convention in Denver by Srdjan Šaper, a trusted member of President Boris Tadic’s inner circle, who represented Serbia’s ruling Democratic Party at the Convention.

Outrage Across the Spectrum - Serbia’s opposition politicians were outraged. For once they were united in their indignation across the entire political spectrum, from the far left to the far right.

Aleksandar Vučić, deputy president of the Serbian Progressive Party, declared that the government would have to explain on what basis was the contract signed, what are the sources of its financing, and why was that particular firm selected: 

"It is unbelievable that the authorities are staying quiet. It only proves that they do not care about the citizens and their money. This is at the very least squandering of public funds, without any clarity as to whose interests this firm would lobby for. It is scandalous that nothing is known except that the money has been spent and the contract signed."

Dragan Todorović, leader of the Serbian Radical Party in the National Assembly, said that the contract was "criminal, just like any other contract signed by this government, because in each of them the key issue is which minister will get the percentage of the deal." He, too, agrees that the method of selection of APS LLC was contentious and that it is unlikely Petrović's firm could do anything useful. 

Velimir Ilić, former government minister and leader of the New Serbia Party, called the affair "a terrible business" in which he sees "money laundering on a grand scale." "Serbia certainly needs lobbying, but not in this shameful manner," Ilić said, "All of this is a major scandal."

Dragan Šormaz, a deputy of the Democratic Party of Serbia of former prime minister Vojislav Koštunica, said that the affair proves that the current government of Serbia Ćhad never wisely spent the money of its citizens: "I believe that this money is wasted and therefore the State Auditing Service should examine the contract and the sources from which it is paid.Ć

Nenad Prokić, a deputy of the pro-Western Liberal Democratic Party of Serbia, said that the decision of the Government of Serbia to designate the contract with Petrovic as "Secret" (even though it is a matter of public record in the United States) aroused suspicion:
“Lobbying is desirable and useful, but the secrecy of the contract may indicate the desire to conceal some aspects of the truth about it. If it is to be legitimate, it has to be transparent... It is necessary to verify whether this is a method of passing money through the window into a family firm.”
Vladan Batić, a deputy of the Christian Democratic Party in the Assembly, said that it was desirable to have lobbying representation, but that the selection of the right firm is crucial: "In view of Milan Petrovicćs links to Rod Blagojevich, it is hard to imagine successful lobbying."

Dušan Janjić, Director of the Forum for Ethnic Relations in Belgrade, has expressed surprise that the Government of Serbia had signed the contract with the firm of Petrovic which is implicated in the affair of Rod Blagojević: „Since that agency is compromised, I think that the Government has made a perillous choice.“ According to Janjić, this contract shows the extent to which its signers fail to understand the importance of lobbying: "I never cease to be shocked by their choices."

Biljana Kovačević Vučo, President of the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights YUCOM in Belgrade, has expressed indignation at the lack of transparency: „The members of the Government use taxpayers’ money as if it was their own, and violate the first principle of democracy that nothing should be clandestine“.

Vesna Pešić, a member of Serbia’s parliament, had tabled a Deputy’s Question to the Government asking it to reveal the details of the contract, disputing its „Top Secret“ designation on a contract which will inflict a multi-million damage on the taxpayers:

„The main problem in this whole story is that the public has not been informed on what the people elected to lead us are doing. Since when is the secretary of the Government authorized to sign such a non-transparent contract, which all of the government ministers claim they had never seen in their lives? I have asked the Government about it... but I expect them to remain silent, as they had done before... (President Boris) Tadić certainly knew about this contract, because (Foreign Minister Vuk)  Jeremić knew about it.“

(In fact, according to Borba's sources, Minister Jeremić did not merely "know" of the contract, he is personally in charge of the Petrovic deal.)

"APS seems an odd choice" for the Government of Serbia to make, James Jatras wrote on this site on February 26. It would be a very odd choice, indeed, if the objective of those who run the Government in Belgrade was to have an efficient, cost-effective and professional firm representing a beleaguered and near-bankrupt Balkan country that has been treated abysmally by successive U.S. administrations for almost two decades. It seems clear, however, that the objectives of those who control that government have little to do with Serbia's national or state interests, and a lot to do with their pockets and their careers.

The story does not end there. It will continue. Watch this space.

Check out Dr. Trifkovic's latest book,THE KRAJINA CHRONICLE: A History of Serbs in Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia

Korumpirane igre na relaciji Beograd-Čikago: Skandal srpskog "lobiranja" u SAD

Srđa Trifković

Tekstovi Džejmsa Džatrasa i moje malenkosti na temu srpskog lobiranja u Americi, objavljeni prvih dana marta na sajtu Fondacije lorda Bajrona za balkanske studije (, izazvali su bujicu pitanja sa raznih strana o „lobističkom“ dilu Vlade Srbije sa glavnim skupljačem para bivšeg guvernera Ilinija Roda Blagojevića, diskreditovanim bivšim advokatom Milanom Petrovićem, kao i njegovom firmom APS (Advanced Practical Solutions) iz Čikaga. Beogradski dnevnik Borba je ovim povodom lobiranje beogradske vlade u SAD svojevremeno okarakterisao kao uhodanu šemu za prebacivanje u privatne džepove novca koji pripada građanima Srbije. Sve šta smo u međuvremenu saznali na ovu temu samo potvrđuje tačnost navedene tvrdnje: reč je o prvorazrednom skandalu, vrednom preko milion dolara godišnje, koji više ne može i ne sme da bude prećutkivan.

Ko je Milan Petrović? – Po saznanjima visokotiražnog Čikago San-Tajmsa (10. april 2008.) Milan Petrović je bio glavni prikupljač para za tadašnjeg guvernera Roda Blagojevića. On je tokom godina prikupio skoro dva miliona dolara za smenjenog guvernera kome se sada sudi za korupciju i zloupotrebu položaja. Tokom suđenja jednom drugom Blagojevićevom prijatelju, Toniju Recku, specijalni agent FBI Vilijam Vilenborg je svedocio da je Petrović prikupio 1.963.485 dolara za Blagojevića, a Recko “samo” 1.437.350!

Naravno, takav se trud bogato nagrađuje. Prema pisanju Čikago Tribjuna, kada je Balgojević došao na vlast 2003. lobiranje za zdravstvo u Ilinoju postalo je unosan biznis pun likova iz Blagojevićevog okruženja među kojima je bio Milan Petrović. Časopis Ilinoj išus koji izdaje Centar za državnu politiku Univerziteta Ilinoja u Springfildu takođe je istraživao Petrovićevu ulogu u Blagojevićevom okruženju i ukazao na njegovo lobiranje za firme koje su profitirale od Blagojevićeve inicijative za državno sponzorisanje zdravstvenog osiguranja dece.

Kako je pisala beogradska Borba 13. avgusta 2009, Petrović je umešan u brojne afere, izgubio je dozvolu za bavljenje advokaturom u državi Indijani, a 2001. godine bio je u takvoj finansijskoj krizi da su on i njegova žena tražili zaštitu od bankrotstva. Po pisanju tog lista, velika nepoznanica u karijeri Milana Petrovića je posao koji je sklopio s međunarodnom gigantskom kompanijom CH2M Hill LLC:

CH2M Hill je naprasno odlučio 2004. da postane klijent APS, iako je Petrovićeva firma počela da radi samo godinu dana pre toga, kao početnička grupa lobista. Zašto je gigantska transportno-građevinska firma izabrala Petrovića za posrednika, mada je bio do guše u dugovima, ostalo je nepoznato do danas. Naime, 5. aprila 2001, Petrović je podneo zahtev za zaštitu od bankrotstva, a 23. maja iste godine, dobrovoljno je predao svoju dozvolu za bavljenje pravom u državi Indijana, jer je bio pod istragom disciplinske komisije vrhovnog suda Indijane. Petrović se tada pravdao da je znao za istragu koja se vodila protiv njega i priznao je da su "navedene činjenice slučaja tačne", te da zbog toga "ne bi mogao uspešno da sprovede svoju odbranu" ukoliko se podigne optužnica. Fakte tog slučaja je zapečatio sud u Indijani i oni nisu poznati javnosti. Petrović nikada nije optužen za bilo koje navode iz slučaja, a nije poznato zbog čega. Čudnom slučajnošću, te iste 2001, on se pridružio timu tadašnjeg kongresmena Roda Blagojevića, kao konsultant. U to vreme, Blagojević se kandidovao za guvernera Ilinoisa… Blagojevićev "čovek za novac" donirao je 20.000 dolara 2006. godine kampanji demokrate Bila Ričardsona, za reizbor guvernera Novog Meksika. To bi bilo u redu da nije otkriveno da je Petrović u isto vreme zastupao i firmu CDR Fajnenšal Prodakts, koja je bila pod korupcionaškom istragom državne porote Novog Meksika.

Kako je 24 aprila prošle godine izvesto Blumbergov informativni servis, Petrovićev klijent CDR bio je pod istragom federalnih vlasti zbog korupcije u Nju Meksiku. Guverner Ričardson, da se podsetimo, povukao je svoju kandidaturu za komercijalnog sekretara u Obaminom kabinetu kada se saznalo za ovu istragu.

se tiče ugovora sa firmom CH2M, nepoznanice zapravo i nema. Prema pisanju portala (najveći medijski sajt severozapadne Indijane) od 21. decembra 2008, državna uprava za puteve Ilinoja platila je toj firmi preko dva miliona dolara za ugovor o studiji razvoja severozapadnog autoputa; ukupna zarada firme od ugovora sa drđavom Ilinoj iznosi oko 11 miliona dolara.

Na pozitivnoj strani, sa stanovišta njegovih finansijera, Petrović nipošto ne može da bude optužen za nacionalistička skretanja. Jedan od zaposlenih u njegovoj firmi, po imenu Šćipe (Shqipe) Osmani, navodi se u federalnoj listi donatora političkim kandidatima kao izvor priloga od $7.750 u 2004. i kao priložnik $2.300 kampanji Hilari Klinton u 2008. Ovo ukazuje da je Petrović dosledni pobornik multietničke tolerancije. Svaka mu čast…

Reakcije u Srbiji – Posebno je interesantno da je Vlada Srbije na ugovor са Petrovićем stavila oznaku “strogo poverljivo” – što znači da on ne sme da se objavi u srpskim medijima – iako je taj isti ugovor svakome dostupan na sajtu američkog Ministarstva pravde. Nekome je u Beogradu stalo da se detalji oko ugovora sakriju od javnosti. On je usvojen tajnim zaključkom koji je u ime Vlade Srbije potpisala generalna sekretarka Tamara Stojčević, iako se o tome nikada nije diskutovalo ni na jednoj sednici Vlade: Rasim Ljajić, ministar rada i socijalne politike, rekao je tim povodom da "stvarno" ne zna ništa o tome. Iz džepa osiromašenog naroda Srbije milion dolara je po kratkom postupku plaćeno Petroviću, krišom i u strogo konspirativnom duhu.

Kako nas upoznaje beogradska Borba, pod oznakom "Strogo poverljivo" Vlada Srbije je 30. aprila prošle godine donela Zaključak (pod brojem 00-197/2009-001), kojim se prihvata angažovanje Advanced Practical Solutions LLC. Prvu tranšu od 85.000 dolara Tamara Stojčević uplatila je već 1. maja, samo dan po donošenju Zaključka, a novac je obezbeđen iz tekuće budžetske rezerve – odakle se, kako stoji u Zakonu o budžetskom sistemu, novac uzima za otklanjanje posledica poplava, suša, zemljotresa i drugih elementarnih nepogoda, kao i za vanredne događaje koji mogu da ugroze život i zdravlje ljudi i prouzrokuju štetu većih razmera:

Iako u Zaključku stoji da su za koordiniranje celokupnog posla ovlašćeni Kabinet predsednika Vlade Mirka Cvetkovića, Ministarstvo spoljnih poslova i Generalni sekretarijat Vlade, za sprovođenje ugovora s konsultanstkom kućom Milana Petrovića zadužen je lično Vuk Jeremić, ministar spoljnih poslova… Nekoliko ministara Vlade Srbije je u nezvaničnom razgovoru potvrdilo "Borbi" da nikada nisu videli dokument prema kojem Srbija američkoj firmi za lobiranje plaća 85.000 dolara mesečno. Za sada javnost u Srbiji ostaje bez odgovora šta sadrže odredbe ugovora o lobiranju, za šta se lobira, odakle ideja da se takav posao poveri čoveku čijeg je bivšeg klijenta anatemisala administracija aktuelnog predsednika SAD Baraka Obame, zašto je odluka tajna, kao i zašto se troše pare iz tekuće budžetske rezerve kad je zemlja pred bankrotom.

"Borba" nije uspela da stupi u kontakt s Milanom Petrovićem, vlasnikom firme "Advanced Practical Solutions LLC" iz Čikaga, s obzirom da se na broj telefona isključivo javlja automatska sekretarica koja kaže da "gospodin Petrović nije u mogućnosti da preuzme poziv".

Da slučaj bude još interesantniji, po pisanju ovog lista, tri dana pre nego što je Vlada Srbije donela tajni zaključak o angažovanju firme sumnjivog kredibiliteta APS, ugovor s njenim vlasnikom Milanom Petrovićem već je bio potpisan i overen u američkom ministarstvu pravde, pod brojem 5933.

Reagovanja srpskih političara i viđenih lica na javnoj sceni prošlog leta bila su burna celom širinom političkog spektra – od levice preko centra do desnice.

Aleksandar Vučić, zamenik predsednika Srpske napredne stranke, smatra slučaj skandaloznim: "Neophodno je da nam Vlada objasni na osnovu čega je potpisan taj ugovor, odakle će se on finansirati i zašto je baš ova firma odabrana da lobira za Srbiju. Neverovatno je da vlast ćuti… Skandalozno je da se ne zna ništa konkretno”. Prema njegovim rečima, suma koja se pominje u ugovoru je mala za ozbiljno lobiranje, što pokazuje da to nije ozbiljna firma i da od tog lobiranja neće biti ništa.

Velja Ilić, lider Nove Srbije, smatra da je još jedna afera od milion dolara "strašna priča" u kojoj on vidi "veliko pranje novca". "Lobiranje je Srbiji, svakako, potrebno, ali ne ovako sramno. Pare su opet nepotrebno potrošene u vreme kada Srbija grca i bori se da preživi a njeni građani ne znaju šta ih sutra čeka. Za to vreme naš ministar spoljnih poslova Vuk Jeremić izgleda kao neki dečkić koji eto tako putuje po svetu. Sve je to veliki skandal", ocenio je Ilić.

Dragan Todorović, šef poslaničke grupe Srpske radikalne stranke (SRS) u Skupštini Srbije, kaže da je ovaj ugovor, kao i svaki ugovor koji je ova Vlada Srbije potpisala, kriminalan, zato što je u svakom od njih najvažnije koji će ministar da uzme proviziju". I za Todorovića je sporno na koji način je odabrana firma APS i da li firma Milana Petrovića može da obezbedi bilo kakvu korist.

Dragan Šormaz, republički poslanik Demokratske stranke Srbije, ocenio je da aktuelna srpska Vlada nije nikada pametno potrošila pare za dobro svojih građana: "Verujem da su to unapred bačene pare i zato bi državna revizija trebalo da proveri taj ugovor, kao i to iz kojih sredstava će se on realizovati. Vlada je mnogo puta dokazala da je nesposobna i da ne brine za dobrobit građana, a ovo je još jedan od takvih dokaza", ocenio je Šormaz.

Vladan Batić, skupštinski poslanik Demohrišćanske stranke Srbije i bivši ministar pravde, kaže da je odabir lobističke firme veoma važan: "Ovako, s obzirom da je Milan Petrović imao dodirnih tačaka s Rodom Blagojevićem, teško je da će lobiranje biti uspešno", ocenio je Batić.

Nenad Prokić, poslanik Liberalno demokratske partije, upozorio je da je stavljanje oznake tajnosti na ugovor o lobiranju sumnjiv potez Vlade Srbije: "Da bi bilo legitimno, moralo bi biti transparetno, da se zna za šta se lobira, koliko novca se odvaja u tu svrhu, kojoj firmi i kako je, konačno, to odlučeno… Sprovođenje lobiranja mora biti transparetno, podložno proveri, moraju postojati izveštaji, kao i završni račun. Trebalo bi proveriti ne baca li se ugovorom novac kroz prozor u rođačku firmu".

Dušan Janjić, direktor Foruma za etničke odnose, iznenađen je što je Vlada Srbije sklopila ugovor s agencijom Milana Petrovića: "Nije problem što Srbija traži lobiste u drugim državama, ja podržavam ideju o lobiranju kako bi se našle zajedničke interesne tačke s Amerikom, ali s obzirom na to da je ta agencija kompromitovana, smatram da je Vlada napravila riskantan izbor". On milion dolara na godišnjem nivou za lobiranje u SAD smatra smešnom cifrom, ali veruje da je "Vlada svakako mogla da napravi bolji izbor". "Uvek sam šokiran kad vidim koga to Srbija bira za lobiranje", zaključio je Janjić.

Učesnici u ovoj prljavoj raboti možda su se ponadali da se slegla prašina i da njihove mahinacije mogu proći neprimećeno od srpske javnosti u zemlji ili dijaspori. Prevarili su se. Ovaj slučaj neće nestati sa radarskih ekrana. Afera tek počinje. Klupko nije ni počelo da se razmotava. Kada bude razmotano, ne treba da nas iznenadi da bude posla za poreske uprave, istražne organe i tužilaštva, na obe strane Atlanskog okeana.