Shelter for dogs used as a site for criminal activities
Tens of thousands of marks in donations whose whereabouts are unknown, physical attacks and death threats against volunteers, investigations by the relevant prosecutor's office - these are the conclusions of the story about the establishment of the shelter for abandoned dogs "Happy Tails" in Srebrenica. Meanwhile, the shelter was closed by an inspection decision in September of last year.
Author: Muhamed Kovacevic and the investigative team of Impuls
Against the main culprit of this unfortunate end to a positive story by Velimir Stojanović, president of the "Silver Dog" association, whose project was this shelter, the District Prosecutor's Office in Bijeljina is conducting an investigation for endangering safety, damaging or confiscating other people's property, and causing bodily harm.
An activist from this association, Biljana Ilić, also accuses him of attempting to murder her after she spoke out about his illegal activities.
The volunteers did not fare any better, as they are afraid for their own safety and do not want their full names mentioned. They have given statements to the prosecution.
Our interlocutors also claim that Stojanović attempted to extort money intended for the shelter and to make his threats more convincing, he did not hesitate to send photos of firearms to the volunteers, which has also been documented.
Donations and Manipulations
In 2019, the "Silver Dog" association, with the support of volunteers, international organizations in Bosnia and organizations from abroad for the protection of animals, launched an initiative for the care of abandoned animals and also received the understanding of municipal authorities. A memorandum of understanding was signed with the municipality, and the fruit of this cooperation is the land that was allocated by the local government for this purpose. By signing a memorandum with the municipality of Srebrenica, a supervisory body was established, consisting of members of international organizations who worked and lived in Bosnia, members of the non-governmental organization "Silver Dog", and finally officials from municipal institutions. The municipality provided certain financial resources annually to the association for their work.
With the help of the association's friends, a solar panel was also procured. As all the conditions were met, and according to witnesses' claims, without the consent of the working group, the president built a shelter on his own initiative called "Happy Tails", and it began operating.
Abandoned dogs started coming to the shelter, and sterilization campaigns were initiated, which were carried out throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina by the "Dog Trust" organization. Veterinarians were also engaged to take care of the dogs' health. The shelter, which aimed to become one of the best in the region, took shape and progressed daily in its work.
However, problems arise at that time caused by, as our interlocutors claim, the actions of the president of the "Silver Dog" association.
As they indicate, inexplicably uncivil and often violent behaviour towards volunteers who came to work at the shelter was only an introduction to actions that have criminal intentions. In addition, according to them, Velimir Stojanović practically did not participate in the work of the shelter but was replaced in those obligations by his brother.
Foreign donors also testify to Stojanović's malversations, and they have given statements to the competent authorities.
A donor from abroad, J.P. (full name known to the editorial staff), has been in contact with volunteer P.D.M. from the Netherlands since October 2020 and decided to help the dog shelter in Srebrenica. By the end of that year, J.P. had made several donations. The first donation in the amount of 804.16 pounds sterling was made by J.P. on October 12th, and the second donation in the amount of 1827.63 US dollars was made on October 23rd, 2020. Among other things, J.P. also donated 2807.82 dollars for the purchase and installation of a peripheral fence for the shelter, as well as 2887.82 dollars for various shelter expenses. In early December of that year, she donated 2395 euros to provide the shelter with a solar panel.
After the volunteer from the Netherlands left Srebrenica, J. P. contacted Velimir Stojanović directly, and according to her testimony, that's when the real problems started. Soon, J. P. realized, as she claims, that Stojanović was using the dog shelter for personal gain. Before she realized that, she was sending him various amounts of money at his very "strange requests".
Already in January, he allegedly sent her messages saying that he was sick, exhausted and needed help, after which he convinced her to send him money, supposedly to pay someone to help him while he "recovers". Shortly thereafter, he claimed that his car had broken down.
"He said that if he didn't have a car, he couldn't bring water to the dogs, and I couldn't do that on my conscience," stated J.P., explaining why she paid Stojanović money for the alleged repair of the car. Only two days later he asked for more money, because "the battery is not good enough to convert the energy from the panel and the system needs an upgrade". All these amounts ranged between 100 and 500 euros, but in February, Stojanović increased the demands several times.
"Velimir Stojanović then sent me a message to tell me that he was in great trouble and that the man from whom he had borrowed money, in order to be able to build a shelter, wanted the money back. I asked him what the money was spent on, and he said for food, wages, and materials", says J.P.
Believing in such a story, and fearing that the protection of the dogs could be called into question, she paid Stojanović 1,649.48 euros. It was only the first of two instalments, which he claimed he needed to pay off a debt to "some man". Already in March, she paid him the second "debt instalment" in the amount of 1,742.48 euros.
But that was not enough, he asked to pay him a fine of 300 euros, because he was punished "for causing a disturbance in front of the supermarket". Allegedly, the incident occurred because he was protecting a dog that an unknown woman threw a stone at and injured. At least that's what she claims he told her.
After several more similar pleas for help from Stojanović, the donor began to have doubts about the way in which the funds donated by her are being spent. The fact that she never had insight into the spending of the funds and that she did not know all this time that there were other donors was of particular concern.
She was also worried about the attitude towards dogs. Because of the knowledge that some dogs were never let out, she asked Stojanović to let them out. As she stated, after that he sent her photos showing that the dogs were injured, with the remark that she was responsible, because she persuaded him to let them go.
All this, she claims, began to cause her doubts. When he asked her to buy a container for the shelter, and she told him that she had no more money for donations, communication was reduced to a minimum.
"I am now convinced that my donation of 3,397 euros was misused and not used for the purpose of paying off the loan for the shelter. I believe that the loan did not exist, as did the man from the forest, and that Velimir manipulated me to get the funds in a manipulative way", she stated.
She also said that she found out that the solar panels, which she bought for the shelter, were in the police station, after Stojanović "tried to sell", while the shelter remained in the dark.
With the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, when foreign nationals left this project, relations between activists in the Srebrenica dog shelter turned into something "worse than a nightmare".
The culmination of such relations, according to Biljana Ilić, was a physical attack, that is, an attempt to kill her by Stojanović.
Blackmail and Threats
Despite working with Stojanović, J. P. had a much better experience than volunteer Biljana Ilić, who claims to have survived a physical assault after informing her colleague about Stojanović's illegal actions.
Ilić claims that Stojanović directly threatened her with death in the presence of three police officers in the city centre, after which he was arrested. After spending 24 hours in custody, he was released.
Shortly thereafter, she claims, he arrived with a bottle of beer in hand in front of the "Happy Tails" shelter and physically attacked her.
"He first punched me in the temple, then threw me into a canal and tried to strangle me. Only with sheer composure, I managed to find a piece of machinery located in the shelter and used it to save my own life", she says.
Biljana Ilić; photo: Private archive
In an attempt to find out at what stage the investigation against Stojanović is, we also contacted the District Prosecutor's Office in Bijeljina. We received a brief response.
"We inform you that an indictment has been filed against Velimir Stojanović from Srebrenica for the criminal offence of endangering security under Article 150 of the Criminal Code of Republika Srpska". The prosecutor's office also informed us that they cannot provide us with more information due to the interests of the investigation.
What is certain is that Biljana Ilić's safety was jeopardized after she opposed Stojanović. Since she was involved in the shelter from the very beginning, she claims to have witnessed various illegal actions, as she alleges that the shelter was used as a platform for personal enrichment by Stojanović.
"I am a witness, and I support this with documentation, that Velimir Stojanović is directly responsible for the misappropriation of numerous private donations to the association, which mostly came via "PayPal" in foreign currencies, sometimes in amounts greater than a thousand banknotes. He is also responsible for the disappearance of eight tons of dog food donated to the "Happy Tails" shelter by international animal protection organizations. Finally, he is responsible for the disappearance of a solar panel installed within the shelter, which was obtained with the help of the association's friends", she said.
Biljana Ilić emphasized the misuse of assistance from "The Tanzie Project", which has supported the association financially since the very beginning.
It is particularly interesting how Stojanović tried to obtain money from the association's account.
"He brought me a signed resignation from the position of president of the 'Silver Dog' association, and then after handing over that paper, he started calling me frantically and telling me how I had to save him, how people were going to kill him because he owed them money."
In fact, everything was "a tactic aimed at extracting money", because immediately after receiving the money, Stojanović reported Biljana Ilić for alleged theft of the stamp and forgery of his signature on the document, which he actually personally handed over to her.
According to her claims, there is only one goal behind all of this, and that is to make a personal profit by shutting down the shelter and selling its property.
"After the physical assault, Stojanović switched to online attacks and committed online violence against me. Despite everything I have been through, I have come to understand that unfortunately, physical violence against women in Srebrenica is allowed, that smearing and threatening women is allowed and that alcoholism has become an accepted and almost normal condition. All this atmosphere has led to the fact that even though we have secured private land that is located in an absolutely uninhabited part of Srebrenica, quite far from the city centre, where literally no one lives, the municipality refuses to issue the necessary permit for the opening of the shelter", Ilić said.
Stojanović is accused of constantly psychologically tormenting and threatening the volunteer P.D.M. over a longer period of time, who had to leave the area of Srebrenica for her own safety. Another victim of Stojanović's fraud and arrogant behaviour was the volunteer A.A. who provided food for the dogs in the "Happy Tails" shelter.
Volunteer J.S. may have suffered the worst. Immediately after returning from Srebrenica, an unknown person attacked her in front of her apartment building in Belgrade. According to her, the attack happened after Stojanović hinted that such a scenario could happen.
These are just some examples of volunteers accusing Stojanović of, at the very least, unlawful actions.
He himself was not particularly willing to talk.
He dismissed the allegations briefly and also claimed that he did not know that an investigation was being conducted against him for financial malpractice. Therefore, he claimed that seven criminal charges were filed against Biljana Ilić.
According to our sources, Stojanović has been on the territory of Serbia for a longer period of time. While he was in Srebrenica, our interlocutors claim, he publicly boasted that he was "untouchable as a former member of the Serbian MIA", and he would refer to his family ties with the Srebrenica Chief Mladen Grujičić.