Several interviewees confirmed this to eTrafika, revealing that they only learned about the lawsuits that led to the loss of their land after the court decisions. They were not informed about the proceedings, even though they live near Trebinje, and it should not have been difficult to locate them.
Due to this, a criminal complaint has been filed against lawyers Dragan Škuletić and Momo Turanjanin, stating that they apparently found clients who were co-owners of real estate where the other co-owners had residence or domicile outside the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The two of them appeared as the plaintiff and legal representative of the defendant in dozens of lawsuits, and it is known that they previously shared office space and closely collaborated.
“With the intention of acquiring undeserved rights through court decisions, they initiated legal proceedings in dozens of cases, proposing each other as temporary representatives in lawsuits. Contrary to the positions taken that possession cannot be acquired on co-ownership because a co-owner is conscious and aware of other co-owners of the property, they obtained decisions based on acknowledgements or after proceedings before the first-instance court, which they did not appeal”, the criminal complaint states.
They Did Not Appeal the Decisions
It is further added that they did not intend to appeal the first-instance decisions because they knew that the decisions would be overturned by the appellate or Supreme Court.
“When acting as appointed representatives of individuals with unknown residence, they did not have authorization from the individuals not to file legal remedies. In no case did they file an appeal, neither one nor the other, although they were obliged, as temporary representatives appointed by the court, to file appeals and take care of the rights of the individuals they represented”, the criminal complaint states.
One of the owners who claim to have lost land through this fraud is Esad Dilberović, residing in Konjic, a city 204 kilometres away from Trebinje, allegedly making it difficult to locate him. He indirectly learned about the court decision through friends in Trebinje and then embarked on a legal battle. He first filed a lawsuit for its annulment and then a criminal complaint against the lawyers.
“I received the plot in the village of Zubačke Uble, where I built a house before the war, as a gift from my friend and employer Zvonimir Braco Šuman. I had everything there—paid taxes, had electricity, water, everything as it should be. And now I lost everything in some lawsuit I didn’t even know about, and Blažo Vučurević, the son of the man who sold the land to my employer, is now registered as the owner”, says Dilberović to eTrafika.
He claims that no one tried to contact him to inform him about the lawsuit, which is all the more suspicious because his address is listed in the land registry, and anyone who wanted to find him could have done so in a few minutes.
“I appeared before RUGIP and testified that the land is mine, provided documentation. Even Braco Šuman testified that he gave me the land. The commission did not accept it, but the appellate commission did, ordering a retrial. However, the same decision was made again within 15 days. That’s why I filed a criminal complaint against the lawyers and appealed the repeated decision. I also sued Vučurević in court”, says Dilberović.
He claims to have learned about the lawsuit and the verdict in which he lost his property by chance last year. That prompted him to check the land registries, confirming that ownership had been transferred to a co-owner without his knowledge. The verdict was written by Judge Dragan Puzić, who is currently undergoing a disciplinary procedure, as confirmed by the Basic Court in Trebinje.
Family Loses 5,800 Square Meters of Land
Zvonimir Šuman is also preparing to file a lawsuit, stating that he personally lost 2,800 square meters of land in the same location. He mentions that his brother, sister, and close relative have experienced an identical situation, each losing 1,000 square meters.
“I was the first to buy land there, and after me, 167 weekend houses were built. The law did not allow the purchase of a plot larger than 500 square meters earlier. Since I bought much more, we divided the land into several plots and multiple owners. A year ago, I found out that something was happening, and I had lost my land. I had some private problems; my wife passed away, so I didn’t deal with it. But now, I also plan to file a lawsuit”, says Šuman.
Addresses in Bosnia and Herzegovina Not Verified
Lawyer Din Tešić, whose office specializes in expropriations, real estate, and banking, representing Dilberović, states that, according to the case files, it is apparent that no appeal was filed in the court proceedings, as in similar cases when legal representatives were appointed ex officio for individuals residing abroad, often without necessary address verification in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Tešić explains that the reason for filing the criminal complaint is that filing an appeal was an obligation for temporary representatives.
“Now it is up to the competent prosecutor’s office to determine whether the criminal offence of abuse of trust has occurred. The District Court in Trebinje took a clear stance that a co-owner cannot be conscientious when they are well aware of the existence of other co-owners of the property. In such a case, ownership cannot be acquired by adverse possession of real estate. Conscientiousness is necessary. Since co-owners were registered in the land registers, whose data are accessible to everyone and the public, this fact clearly excludes Vučurović’s conscientiousness”, says Tešić.
Tešić asserts that if an appeal had been filed, the District Court in Trebinje or the Supreme Court of Republika Srpska would have overturned such a decision. The lack of an appeal in the proceedings resulted in his client, along with other individuals, losing ownership of their valuable property.
“It is striking, it happens to our clients from abroad, that during the process of presenting ownership of real estate, it is established that the properties belong to third parties. Due to these criminal offences, a criminal complaint has also been filed against responsible individuals in the Regional Unit of the Republic Administration for Geodetic and Property Affairs in Trebinje. We draw the attention of property owners who reside outside of Bosnia and Herzegovina to check public records to ensure that there has been no change in ownership of their properties without legal basis”, asserts Tešić.
Disciplinary Proceedings Against Judge
Similar events occurred in Trebinje in 2019 when legal representative Turanjanin was appointed for property co-owners Muhamed and Miralem Alečković, who lived in Trebinje at well-known addresses, in a lawsuit filed by Škuletić. The same judge, Dragan Puzić, signed this judgment as well. The Basic Court informed us that he decided on 23 judgments on which no appeal was ever filed.
They state that in the last ten years, 309 litigation proceedings were conducted at their court based on the legal grounds of “determination and registration”, which does not mean that all proceedings relate to determining property rights by adverse possession due to the undetermined residence of the owner or co-owner.
“In the last five years when Judge Dragan Puzić was in charge, we recorded that out of a total of 66 proceedings, 26 relate to determining property rights by adverse possession due to the undetermined residence of the owner or co-owner. Of these 26 cases, 23 were granted, and in three cases, the lawsuit was rejected. In one case, a decision was made to suspend the proceedings due to the death of the plaintiff. Three appeals and two revisions were filed. In two cases, the appellate court modified the decision, and in one case, it upheld the first-instance decision. In one revision procedure, the second-instance decision was annulled, and the first-instance decision was confirmed, while in another case, the revision was rejected. Disciplinary proceedings against Judge Dragan Puzić are ongoing at the Office of the Disciplinary Prosecutor, and they have not yet been concluded with a final decision”, they told us at the court.
Turanjanin Unreachable, Škuletić Rejects Accusations
Despite multiple attempts to reach him by phone, lawyer Momo Turanjanin did not answer our calls. Škuletić, who answered our call, dismissed all accusations and stated that he knew nothing about the criminal complaint.
“Proceedings are conducted against individuals with an unknown place of residence who do not participate in the actual proceedings, and this is customary. They have never lost their real estate. Automatically, by appearing, they have the opportunity for the procedure to be repeated. They have never lost anything. If they are absent, it is a way to equalise the legal and factual situation. The property of people who are abroad and do not care for it, do not cultivate it, and do not use it, is made available for purchase or acquisition in a legal proceeding by those who meet the conditions for adverse possession. In 99 per cent of cases, people have fulfilled the right to adverse possession. Everything is regulated by law”, says Škuletić for eTrafika.
He states that lawyers have no responsibility, and even if a complaint has been filed, he believes it is a misunderstanding of the process. He says he has had such cases before, probably as much as any other lawyer, and rejects any responsibility for any intention to harm someone or that the lawyers worked against the interests of the party they represented.
When asked if he shares an office with Turanjanin, he says he doesn’t share and that it was the case in the past when he was starting out and didn’t have his own space.
“We have never had a shared office. When I was in the process of opening, I used his office for a few months, somewhere in 2005 or 2006. All colleague lawyers work on such cases, and it has never happened that we admitted a lawsuit that went against the party. This criminal complaint is ridiculous, but everyone has the right to file it. It’s a setup where there is none. I have no idea; I heard that there was some colleague who said something similar, but I didn’t pay attention to it because it wasn’t something I considered important or credible”, says Škuletić.