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State Leasing Out Fields and Pastures on Fruska gora to Galens’ Partners

29. jul 2020. English
7 min čitanja

At a public auction of the state-owned agricultural land in the municipality of Beocin, the “Biljni lekar” (“Herbal Doctor”) company, associated with companies “Promist” and “Galens” from Novi Sad, secured long-term leases of fields and pastures on Fruska gora for a period of twenty years. Among the leased parcels, there is a pasture adjacent to the estate belonging to the owner of “Galens invest”, Sanja Petric, who has purchased 205 parcels on Fruska gora over the past several years, 122 of whom are located in the municipality of Beocin.

The pasture leased by “Biljni lekar” is located in a big, fenced complex, comprising parcels owned by Sanja Petric, in Rakovac, i.e. the location known as Kesten, one of the most beautiful lookouts on Fruska gora. This parcel borders a public, uncategorised road, which is no longer in use, following the installation of fences around the complex covering several dozen hectares, even though it is a public resource.

As VOICE has already reported, the road leading through the national park was built this spring and partially covered with concrete, although the construction works took place without all necessary permits of relevant provincial and national institution, while those issued were not respected. According to various organisations for protection and preservation of Fruska gora, the machines used for the construction works featured labels of Galens, owned by Sanja Petric and Promist, owned by her husband, Nebojša Petric.

The state-owned parcel leased to Biljni lekar, llc Veliko Gradiste is a category-five pasture. The company from Gradiste is involved in many deals with Galens and its owner, Ljubodrag Adamovic, co-runs several companies with Sanja and Nebojsa Petric.  

The confirmation of the news that the state-owned field has been leased to the company from Veliko Gradiste for a period of twenty years has been received by the “Odbranimo sume Fruske gore” (“Defend the Forest of Fruska gora”) movement, which has been drawing attention to the huge problem of abuse of natural resources in the Fruska gora National Park and around it for several months.  When asked to provide information of public importance, the municipality of Beocin stated that on March 3rd this year, the parcel in question in the cadastre municipality of Rakovac was leased to “Biljni lekar”, and that the lease agreement was signed by the Ministry of Agriculture and Ljubodrag Adamovic. In their response, the municipality of Beocin does not state on what grounds “Biljni lekar” obtained the right to be awarded a long-term lease arrangement, nor the activities planned to be organised on the category-five pasture. It is worth noting that the cadastral documents have still not recorded this change, i.e. a notice that the state-owned land has been leased.

“Biljni lekar” closely connected with Petric’s companies

“Biljni lekar” was registered in 2004 for wholesale of chemical products. Last year, the company registered a net profit of 23.5 million dinars. “Biljni lekar” does not have a website, i.e. it is under construction, but VOICE has discovered that the company employs ten people and has at least four associated companies. Its sister-company is Hrastovača, LLC Požarevac, which deals with crop production and trade. As the website of the Serbian Business Registers Agency states, Hrastovača has two owners: Ljubodrag Adamovic and Nebojsa Petric, who is associated with Galens, but also the owner of “Promist” from Novi Sad.

Indirectly, “Biljni lekar” is associated with Hrastovača Veterinary Service, LLC founded in 2018. The owners are the same – Ljubodrag Adamovic and Nebojsa Petric. This is a micro-company, with no registered assets and poor credit rating, which had a profit of 243,000 dinars last year.

Ljubodrag Adamovic, Sanja Petric and Nebojsa Petric are co-owners, i.e. members of the Sremski Karlovci Farmers’ Cooperative. Last year, the cooperative recorded a net loss of 2.5 million dinars. If we take a look at the companies associated with the cooperative, apart from “Biljni lekar”, there is also “Ossid kapital”, LLC, owned by Sanja Petric, “Promist”, llc and “Naše šume”, owned by Nebojsa Petrić, as well as “Premier gradnja”, owned by “Galens invest”. Another associated entity is the women volleyball club VGSK from Veliko Gradiste, whose representative is Ljubodrag Adamovic.

Another entity associated with the “Sremski Karlovci” cooperative is the Vigneron Farmers’ Cooperative. Actually, a document from SBRA shows that the current members of Vigneron were two years ago removed from the “Sremski Karlovci” Farmers’ Cooperative.

It should be mentioned that “Biljni lekar”, owned by Ljubodrag Adamovic and the companies owned by Nebojsa Petric are not connected only in this context. For instance, their companies, “Bijni lekar”, “Promist”, as well as “Galens”, own shares of “Dnevnik”, JSC from Novi Sad.

The state will receive EUR 458 annually

When it comes to the parcels on Fruska gora, Adamovic has not only leased the pasture adjacent to the estate belonging to Sanja Petric, but he, as reports published by the municipality of Beocin suggest, signed eight lease arrangement for the 2019-2039 period. The parcels in question include one smaller than 0.5 hectare, while others are between one and five hectares. The annual lease per hectare is between 13 and 65 EUR/hectare. In total, Adamovic will pay only EUR 458 annually to the state, with 40 percent of the amount, i.e. EUR 183, going to the municipality of Beocin, which will not really benefit a lot from that amount.

The question is on what grounds did Beocin, i.e. the state, give this company a category-five pasture for a period of 20 years, especially since “Biljni lekar” does not deal with husbandry.

VOICE has tried to get the answer to this question from both the owner of “Biljni lekar”, Ljubodrag Adamovic, and the municipality of Beocin.

“I’m not obliged to give you an answer to that question,” Adamovic told us and referred us to the Administration for Agricultural Land of the Ministry of Agriculture.

He added that he bid for the pasture at the auction because he needed it for agricultural production and that the whole procedure had been conducted in accordance with the rules.

“The municipality invited us to the public bidding, it decided to lease the parcel for a period of 20 years, we didn’t ask for it. We simply showed up, registered and took part in the public bidding, not knowing the period the lease arrangement would cover,” Adamovic said.

The municipality of Beocin failed to provide an answer to this question from journalists. It said we should approach them “officially, with a request for access to information of public importance” and that we would then receive the information we needed.

If we compare the annual plans for leasing state-owned agricultural land in the municipality of Beocin in 2019 and 2020, respectively, we can see that most parcels leased to “Biljni lekar” were not available for lease last year.

It should be noted that the right to lease land, according to the Law on Agricultural Land, is given to registered agricultural farms that have been active for the previous three years, while the preferential leasing rights go to the owners of irrigation and drainage systems, fisheries, greenhouses and perennial crops that have been using state-owned land for several years. Basically, a long-term lease arrangement is restricted by the law to owners of farms that have orchards or vineyards. The annual landscaping plan of the municipality of Beocin shows that lease arrangements for periods over ten years have only been concluded with winegrowers and orchard owners. “Biljni lekar” was not eligible to lease the fields for a longer period based on the preferential leasing rights, either, because it does not deal with husbandry, nor is it the owner of infrastructure – irrigation systems, and there are no fisheries on the category-five pastures…

Furthermore, there is a way to lease state-owned land for up to 30 years to investors who submit their investment plan to the local self-government. That plan, according to the amendments to the Law on State-Owned Agricultural Land and relevant rules, should include creating new jobs and investments in agricultural products processing, i.e. adding value to primary production. Since in this case the state gave “Biljni lekar” fields of the lowest quality, as well as pastures and scattered parcels on several locations in the cadastre municipality of Rakovac, it is hard to imagine that serious production is planned and that jobs will be created, as confirmed by the annual landscaping plan related to agricultural land in Beocin.

We should also mention that the law stipulates that if state-owned agricultural land has not been leased for three years and has not been used, it could be given to natural and legal persons registered with the Register of Agricultural Farms for at least five years. Moreover, the law allows the period to be extended to 25 years, provided it is established that the user is using it for agricultural purposes.

However, none of these provisions can be applied when it comes to “Biljni lekar”, because the parcels that were envisaged for leasing and that have not been leased for the past three years cannot be leased for a period of 20 years, as it was the case here.

“Parcel 2439/1 CM Rakovac, as state-owned agricultural land, has been included by the municipality of Beocin in its annual programmes. The parcel in question was envisaged for leasing and has been offered at public biddings since 2010. At a public bidding held on December 27, 2019, the 2439/1 parcel was given to the highest bidder, “Biljni lekar”, LLC,  Veliko Gradište for a period of 20 years,” it is stated in the reply issued by the municipality to the “Defend the Forests of Fruska Gora” movement, which VOICE also has access to.

The “Defend the Forests of Fruska Gora” movement has requested from the Ministry of Agriculture access to information of public importance regarding the leasing arrangements with “Biljni lekar” and the information pertinent to other parcels leased to this company in the municipalities of Beocin and Sremski Karlovci.

This organisation has, on several occasions, expressed their suspicions regarding the legality of all activities and procedures implemented by the owners of “Promist”, “Galens” and their partner companies, when it comes to building a road through Fruska gora and fencing the complex, which, according to this organisation, is extremely detrimental to both the nature and citizens, since a public resource is being usurped.

Sladjana Gluscevic and Milos Katic (VOICE)

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