The Greed for Money – the Story of Ulcinj Salina
Here you will gain an insight into the shady wheeling and dealing surrounding Ulcinj Salina. It is a very complex story with secretive deals, shady networks, political calculation and empty promises. Be prepared for a very exciting crime thriller, a crime thriller which is unfortunately only too true.
It all began in 2005. After just under 90 years of successful salt production, the salt operation, like so much else, was privatised. The new company, the investment fund Eurofond, bought 75% of the Shares in Ulcinj Salina for just 800,000 Euros. Eurofond maintained that, for this price, it had bought not just the permit for salt extraction, but also the total land area of the Salina of just under 15 sq. kms. Since the takeover, the owner of Eurofond, an oligarch by the name of Veselin Barović, has not invested any money in the Salina, and has in fact been winding down the business. Already in 2012, only seven years after the takeover by Barović, the salt production company “Bajo Sekulić” filed for bankruptcy. Since then, no more salt has been extracted.
© Marc Thibault
In addition to the stopping of salt production, unknown criminals have destroyed the pumps, or even stolen some of them, with the result that the circulation of water within the Salina could no longer be assured. This is, of course, important, so that the water level is optimal for the birds to nest and search for food. When, in spite of all this, the birds still arrived to breed, persons unknown gained access to the breeding area and took away hundreds of flamingo eggs.
Despite the obligation to preserve the insolvency assets, the liquidator, presumably a henchman of Barović, did not prevent the further degradation of the Salina.
The first impression is that it seems like bad luck, too little commitment and bad management. But, the next part of the story makes it very clear that, behind the veil of mismanagement and declaration of bankruptcy, there lie corrupt schemes and ice cold calculation:
Since 2011, Eurofond has been trying make a profit by selling the Salina to big investors. It has been praising the Salina on its website as a property perfectly suited to the development of a luxury resort with golf course, spa and marina. When these plans were published in December 2011, there followed a huge wave of protest. This could not stop Eurofond however. The liquidator finally offered the Salina for sale at a price of 150 million Euros. That is 180 times the price which Eurofond paid for the acquisition of the Salina/Salina company in 2004.
However, it is not only the attempt to sell the Salina that throws a bad light on Eurofond and the liquidator. Eurofond also used the Salina site as collateral to gain a bank loan of over 5 million Euros, although not one cent of this money has ever been invested in the Salina. Quite the contrary, in fact, as the accumulated loss rose from 270 000 Euros in 2005 to 7.9 million Euros in 2013! What bank would make so much money available to an investment fund, when it was not even clear if it was the rightful owner of the property?
The suspicion that dirty dealings are afoot does not seem too far-fetched.
It has not yet been conclusively established what precisely was privatised in 2005. The stakeholders of Eurofond maintain that they had acquired not only the capital equipment of the Salina and the concession to produce salt, but also the entire site. This is belied by the fact that the Montenegrin state is registered as the owner of the site in the land registry of the town of Ulcinj.
Whether the Salina belongs to the state or to Eurofond must be decided by the Privatisation Council of the State of Montenegro. This is under the leadership of the prime minister, Markovic.
Since the question over ownership is still open, the partners of the #SaveSalina-campaign MSJA and CZIP have launched a national petition, which calls on the chair of the Privatisation Council, the prime minister, to finally reach a decision.
The government is not only embroiled in shady deals over the question of the ownership of the Salina, but it is also relying on delaying tactics and empty promises with regard to the protection of the Salina. It is thus abdicating its responsibility.
Despite the fact that Montenegro is a candidate for membership of the EU, and the EU Commission has been insisting for many years that the Salina be protected for its conservation importance, nothing has happened so far. Although Ulcinj Salina has been nominated as a candidate for the Emerald Network of Areas of Special Conservation Interest, and it fulfils the criteria for designation as a wetland area of international significance, it is not legally protected.
Until Ulcinj Salina enjoys legal protection, either under national or international law, there will always be attempts to use the Salina for infrastructure projects.
One example of this is the designation of the Salina as a protected or building area in the regional development plans. In June 2012 the Montenegrin Ministry for Tourism and Sustainable Development proposed the entire area of Ulcinj Salina without protecting the administration buildings or the salt pans. The parliament duly integrated the Salina as a protected area into the new regional development plan for Montenegro. Eurofond reacted by filing an action to have this decision retracted. The Constitutional Court decided that in the July 2012 parliamentary decision procedural errors had occurred, with the effect that the decision is void.
Yet even if the Salina were officially protected, this would not be sufficient. A functioning water regime (water circulation management) will have to be reconstituted. This could be achieved by the resumption of salt production.
In 2017 a study funded by the EU was created, which points out, that the Salina should be re-vitalized. The Montenegrin government agreed in April 2018, based on the conclusions of the study, to re-establish the salt production with high-quality salt (Fleur de Sel). We are also looking forward to the fulfillment of the promise that Ulcinj Salina will be protected under national law by the end of 2018 and internationally shortly afterwards.
documentary: The Salina in the Net
© Milka Tadic