He was expected to oversee the auction of the assets, finding the best price for the equipment and buildings. The proceeds would be divided among the remaining companies and individuals who were owed money by the farm – including the workers. While the bankruptcy meant all stocks in the farm were technically worthless, the workers believed they were still owed a share of the farm’s assets. They wanted severance payments, as well as more than a year’s worth of unpaid wages, accrued in the period leading up to the bankruptcy. The payroll records from the period are unclear.
During the insolvency hearings, the workers claimed Markovic and several of his fellow managers had stolen produce worth half-a-million euros.
Antun Kasteljan, a farm employee, told BIRN truckloads of grain had disappeared during the Markovic era. When he asked where the trucks were going, he says he was told to mind his own business.
The workers also questioned how the managers had taken over an orchard that they believed belonged to the farm.
“How could this have happened? How could it be possible for them to have acquired that?” Zivkovic, the farm worker, asked the court.
The employees demanded an investigation into the previous management. They also criticized Babic, accusing him of delaying the insolvency process by missing key sessions. But their complaints were ignored by the judges at the commercial court.
Selling off the kit
The rancorous bankruptcy sessions reflected tensions outside the courtroom. The workers claimed a man named Vlado Loncaric, appointed by Babic to guard the farm, had mishandled the auction of equipment.
“Some of the machines – combine harvesters, tractors, trailers and parts of the gear – have been stolen and undersold by Vlado Loncaric,” the workers told the court in May 1998. “There are no auctions and no one is keeping a record.”
Babic responded by accusing farm employees of trying to sabotage the auction by stealing machine parts. “Everything the workers are telling you is a lie,” he said in court.
The insolvency process would deal a series of blows to the employees’ hopes of recompense.