After she divorced Belgrade’s mayor Marija Mali lost custody of her children. Her complaint of assault and battery against her former husband was rejected and she lost her job. She insists he continues to send threatening messages.
In an interview with KRIK which she regards as a way to defend herself, she talks about the dubious actions she was forced to take part in while married. For example, she was blackmailed to lie about her income to the Anti-Corruption Agency. He appointed her director of a branch office of an off-shore companies, without explaining what those firms were set up for. She now reveals details about the property holdings that Mali does not keep in his name, including his role in the case of Savamala. To back her claims Mali has correspondence, sealed statements, and receipts.
By Dragana Pećo and Stevan Dojčinović
One of the most embarrassing situations, Marija Mali said, was when her former husband made her sign a false asset disclosure for the Anti-corruption Agency that helped him conceal €95,000 – money whose origin he could not explain.
“As a public official he was under the obligation to submit reports that did not only target him, but me as well. The agency saw the discrepancy between the amount of money that I spent and the salary that I received in Henkel.“
Marija told KRIK this was the money Siniša Mali brought in cash which she then deposited to her bank account and later spent on family expenses using a bank card. The difference of €95,000 was incurred between 2013 and 2016. Siniša Mali has never explained where he got the cash. He would give her some of the money in euros and the other part in dinars.
“Whenever I would credit my credit card, Siniša would give me money that I used to balance my credit and this is how the difference in spending compared to my income arose. I was the mother of three children and took care of them, the house, family, while he took care of the finances. He shared with me what he wanted to share. From the moment he started working for the government, I think he stopped sharing with me 90 percent of the things. This is why things between us turned for the worse. I no longer had an idea what Siniša was doing, who he was dealing with. I guess these were, how can I put it, business secrets that a wife should not know about. While he had his private firm, I knew more or less.”
Since he could not explain the origin of those €95,000 Siniša Mali and his lawyer came up with an alibi, said Marija. They took advantage of the fact that her father had recently died.
“Siniša and his lawyer Igor Isailović came up with the idea to make it look as if I discovered money after the death of my father which I then went on to use for my everyday needs. Isailović sent me an SMS: ’Marija, you need to sign a disclosure for the Anti-Corruption agency’. I said: ’No way, I don’t want to do these kind of things’. I have this correspondence with him. Then I went to visit Siniša at his office and I told him: ’Don’t do that’, but he just used his negotiating skills to explain it to me how that was very important because of the children. That I have to protect children by doing that. I am, of course, mother before everything else.“
She showed KRIK reporters a certified statement with a notary seal. She appealed to the Anti-Corruption agency that a disclosure under her name was false, but officials have been avoiding meeting with her for months.
“Last time I called was on Thursday and they told me no one was there and to call on Monday.“
Marija said it was not easy dividing their joint property while divorcing because Mali does not keep all his property in his name.
They divided what was in Siniša’s name – two joined apartments in an exclusive Belgrade complex Oaza went to Marija Mali, while he kept another apartment in Bulgaria. However, Siniša kept other apartments not in his name.
Marija Mali showed KRIK reporters three real properties her husband had access to – one more in the Oasis and two flats on the Kopaonik, an attractive location in the middle of a tourist center next to the ski runs. These apartments are not listed in his asset card on the website of the Anti-Corruption Agency.
“For the third apartment in the Oasis, a deposit of €100,000 was placed in 2009. The apartment is not in Siniša’s name, but he disposes of it. We paid bills for the apartment. I know that the apartment was under litigation, which is why it has not been paid in full so it cannot be titled and this is the reason why it was not disclosed to the Agency. He also did not disclose the apartments on Kopaonik.“
Those are not deeded in the land register, thus it is not possible to establish who owns them. Marija showed KRIK reporters bills for utilities, maintenance and telephone in the name of Siniša Mali.
“One apartment on Kopaonik is titled in the name of Siniša’s father and we used it even before the children were born, sometime in 2004. I know that bills arrived and we paid them on time. Every winter we would spend at least a month there. All our things are there to this day. The other apartment on Kopaonik, even I don’t know in whose name it’s titled. He’s owned it since he became mayor in 2014. Hence, it’s not titled in anyone’s name. I went to take care of it, to paint it, to bring in the furniture. When we were splitting property, Siniša kept it.“
Marija Mali believes that Siniša owns more real properties that she does not know about. She said that only after KRIK published a story did she learn he had a part in buying 24 suits at the Bulgarian seaside. She knew only of one of the apartments, a place they’ve been spending summer vacations since 2009. She recalls he once told her he planned to join the project, but later informed her that he had given up on it. A document KRIK reporters acquired shows that Mali, acting as a representative of two off-shore companies, bought these luxurious properties in Bulgaria worth around €5 million from Srđan Dabić in mid-2012.
“They had been friends from some time before that. Both of them worked in Lukoil and when Srđan Dabić came up with the idea to build a complex on the Black Sea in Bulgaria, he offered Siniša partnership in the project. What I then heard from Siniša was that he refused it, he told me this personally. This was something I obviously should not have known about. As soon as we got married, he told me: “Friends advised me never to deed anything in my name,” so that he wouldn’t need to share property with his wife, among other things. This is why he puts it in off-shore companies. None of the properties that we ever bought was in my name,” Marija told KRIK.
Siniša Mali now demands a review of the properties – that the apartment in the Oasis he left to Mariji Mali be returned to him.
“He’s trying to prove that he was legally uninformed and that he shouldn’t have shared it with me at all. The case got of the ground and the first hearing has already taken place“.
So far, KRIK has uncovered several off-shore companies and secret transactions of the Belgrade’s mayor. Some, such as off-shore “Busby Financial Corp” from the British Virgin Islands are also connected to Marija – she was director of their Serbian subsidiaries. Marija told KRIK that the purpose of this firm was to avoid paying taxes on the purchase of cars.
“The family car we bought in July 2008 was under the firm’s name. According to my then knowing, it was transferred to the company so that taxes would not be paid. It is an expensive car, Mercedes G class with seven seats. There’s a period of time that needs to pass so that taxes would not be paid. Whenthat period expired, Siniša transferred the car in my name. It is disclosed to the Agency.“
Marija’s story is corroborated by a power of attorney that a firm “Busby” issued to Siniša’s lawyer Igor Isailović authorizing him to conduct “legal actions for the import of a car”.
Marija was also a director of the branch office of the off-shore company Alessio Investmenst Ltd. She had no idea what the company was used for.
“Those were the transactions Siniša did that I did not understand. I literally just signed documents that he and his lawyer gave to me”.
Even though he is renowned as an expert in finance and business Siniša Mali often left traces on documents that connect him to dubious business.
“He paid the least attention to himself. Maybe he did not go that deep into deals that were connected to him. He was more dedicated to others. For himself he thought everything was under control.“
Guardian of Secrets
Of the mayor’s lawyer she said Isailović was her husband’s closest associate and that he knew all Siniša Mali’s business.
“Igor used to work at Grand Coffee and they met when Siniša was in charge of the negotiations about the sale of the company. Isailović was just starting his career and Siniša took him under his wing and taught him business. After that, Isailović left a group of lawyers he had been working with and set up his own firm. From then on, there has been no deal that Siniša has ever done that he did not take part in it.“
After Mali came into power, Isailović became close to Serbian Progressive Party (Srpska Napredna Stranka). He supported the introduction of notary publics despite the protests of his colleagues. Isailović has set up a firm with Ana Brnabić, minister of state administration and local self-government, which KRIK recently revealed in a database of politicians’ property.
Marija said she was also a privy to the case of the Compost Group. KRIK uncovered that the Mali family owned the firm that illegally acquired 10 hectares of the state land near Vršac and started production of mushroom compost. The case is currently is before the Commercial Court in Pančevo that is deliberating whether the land will be returned to the state. The firm’s ownership Mali transferred in mid-2013 to Ivica Đolić, while Marija claims that Belgrade’s mayor still owns it.
“The firm was mainly managed by Siniša’s brother. At some point Ivica Đolić got involved as a person who was selling compost across Serbia. Đolić is my godmother’s husband and I recommended him. He’s only a nominal owner, but the fact of the matter is that this is a Siniša’s firm. From the moment when he joined politics, neither he nor his brother had time to take care of it. They’ve totally neglected it, I think that the firm is on its hind legs. Our internal agreement was that when he sold ’Compost Group’, that I would get half of the money. I lost hope that he would ever divide that.“
Marija Mali said Siniša Mali changed a lot when he became mayor and a politically powerful person.
“Something drastically changed in him. He assaulted me and in that same month a demolition in Savamala occurred. A feeling of domination, authority and power peeked – ‘Now I can do anything.’”
Right after the unlawful destruction of the buildings in Herzegovačka Street in Savamala, Marija Mali said that her former husband boasted he took part in the demolition. He did it, allegedly, to clear the way for construction of a first-rate building.
“In that moment, I was with my children in Montenegro. They had a few days of vacations. Elections were on April 24th. He arrived by plane the next day. He spoke of it as if it were the most ordinary thing. ‘I had a problem, some (people) did not want to move out. I organized a clearing operation. People came in the middle of the night and broke a thing or two. I have done nothing terrible, but I just organized it myself, I did a raid.” In his words, those were just some shacks, a shanty-town. At the moment no one had any idea that the news about it would strike like a bomb in media. It could not have been assumed that anyone would notice that the demolition had occurred. Perhaps while this election euphoria was going on, while the people celebrated the prime minister’s victory that this event should have been sidelined. He did name the firm that did this, but I would not like to talk about it now. Siniša had a task to clear this space because he closed the deal with Arabs to built the Belgrade Waterfront there.”
She said Siniša told her the name of the firm that was knocking down building with bulldozers but she did not want to reveal this detail.
A Judge is Mine
The main reason Marija Mali agreed to speak to KRIK about her former husband was the court proceedings that led to her losing custody over their children.
“I lost custody of three children in the most brutal manner. I turned to many. I have not encountered any help, protection, a piece of advice. Wherever I turn up, either they will not receive me or simply no one wants to hear me out. I turned to the prime minister, the welfare and several other addresses.“
After a no-fault divorce in November 2015, Marija and Siniša Mali continued to give public appearances as if they were still married. She says that she was forced to this.
“The fact of the matter is that for almost a year after divorce he behaved as if we were still married. Not even the children should have known. We played an ideal couple in public,“ said Marija Mali.
Meanwhile, she filed a criminal complaint on assault charges. She says he attacked her in her apartment “in front of the children and a woman who then worked for us.“ At the same time, Siniša Mali filed a complaint against her for false reporting. Marija’s criminal complaint was thrown out and it’s not known what happened with his.
“I don’t want to put up with violence and I turned to a Center for Social Work where they told me that I needed to file a criminal complaint against a violent partner. And still he continued to threaten and would say ’Don’t do that. If you do it, I will destroy you and take the children away from you’. Since I filed a complaint anyway, he did everything, using all available means and got custody over the children…as a revenge.“
According to the Belgrade mayor’s former wife, she received all kinds of threats from him.
“He did not make it clear then that he would reveal something in media, but he told me ’You stand no chance. The judge is mine. A special prosecutor advised me what to do.’ The woman who witnessed the violence would not testify on my behalf, but on his, which means that I have no witness…’You’d go to prison for three years because of false accusations for violence’ and ‘You stand no chance’“.
Marija Mali said that the hardest thing for her is that their three children don’t live with her anymore.
“Daddy is with them the least and those children are alone, totally alone. I see them four hours a week and every other weekend. And now he goes into the other extreme to brutally show me how powerful he is. ‘Didn’t I tell you so? Why did you go against me? Do you see now what has happened to you?’ But, he does not understand the trauma that the children are going through and that he’s harming them. In fact, he used the children as a means to an end. The end was to destroy me.“
Mayor Mali has refused to be interviewed by KRIK for more than a year.