Millions of euros have been raised through appeals in Bosnia and Herzegovina to build wells and mosques in Africa, but concerns persist about suspect fundraising methods and claims that photographs documenting some charity-funded wells were faked.
Nadzida Cano, who runs the Kids Corner Sarajevo kindergarten, says that according to the Islamic faith, securing water for someone is an act for which “a man will be rewarded after death”.
This is why she and her sister, after the death of their parents, wanted to build a well in a place that lacked water supplies.
“At the time we heard from several people that you could build a well in Africa. We asked around and learned about some people’s positive experiences, so two or three months after making the payment, we could see photos on Facebook, depicting a well [in Nigeria] named after our parents,” Cano said.
Later she raised 1,000 euros for two more wells in Nigeria together with the parents of the children at the kindergarten in Sarajevo.
“I paid the money for the first kids’ well, as well as the well which I and my sister had built for our parents earlier, through a giro transfer to Mr Aldin Kajmakovic. I have the payment slip. I forwarded the money for the second well through a friend of his,” she explained.
According to posts on Kajmakovic’s Facebook page, he has helped build around 2,300 wells in Africa in the period from October 2016 to March 2020. He claimed that the number of wells built was actually around 2,500, but BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina determined that certain posts had been repeated.
According to prices published on his Facebook page and the number of pictures of wells, over the past three-and-a-half years, Kajmakovic has raised at least four million Bosnian marks (over two million euros) for the construction of wells.
But he told BIRN that he does not keep a particularly detailed record apart from the one on his Facebook page, because he and the group of people involved in the project – Haris Hecimovic, Adla Abazovic and Anel Okic, a doctor from Zenica, are “an informal group”.
During a later conversation, Kajmakovic said that he had not published the photos of all the wells on Facebook because donors did not want them to be published, but that he kept an archive of them all.
The way that records are kept and money raised for the well-building project by Kajmakovic and his partners is different from methods used by other humanitarian organisations.
By analysing the posts with photos and data on the wells that have been built, BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina determined that photographs of two wells have been altered to depict the same well with a changed signboard. This was confirmed by an international expert in digital forensics.
The first post, published on September 3, 2019, showed a well in Togo in West Africa named ‘Mujic Ilijas Anes G. Sepak’ after the donors who provided the money to build it. An identical post from the same location published on September 4 showed a well with the donors’ names ‘Hadzi Serif and Hadzi Ziba’.
In Ivory Coast, BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina found two examples of photos of pictures of the same wells with signboards Photoshopped to make them appear different, so instead of two wells, it appeared that four wells had been built.
Kajmakovic denies having manipulated the photos of wells published on his Facebook page. He explained that he was tasked with publishing those photos, and that it was his project partner Hecimovic who communicated with people in Africa because he does not speak Arabic.
“They would send photos to Haris, Haris then sent those photos to me, and I then sorted and published them. If there are any errors, that’s the thing with the photos we received. So really this is the first time I’ve heard about it; if it is really true, I am surprised,” Kajmakovic said.
Hecimovic did not want to talk about the building of the wells in Africa.
Donations sent to private bank accounts
According to posts on Kajmakovic’s Facebook page, most of the wells have been built in Nigeria – more than 600 – followed by Gambia with more than 500 wells and Ivory Coast with more than 400.
On the basis of a 2018 post on Facebook, the wells cost 800 euros each in Gambia, Ivory Coast, Mali, Ghana and Togo, and 1,000 euros each in Nigeria and Burkina Faso.
“Initially, the price of the wells we built in Ghana, the first couple of wells without tanks, without additional tanks, was between 800 and 900 euros depending on the country. As for the wells we built later, mostly in Nigeria, because Nigeria was the most organised country for us in terms of wells, and then these other countries, we settled on a uniform price of 1,000 euros. That is the standard price,” Kajmakovic said.
Based on those prices, over four million Bosnian marks (more than two million euros) have been raised in Bosnia and Herzegovina for Africa in three-and-a- half years. Out of that amount, around a million was for wells in Nigeria.
Kajmakovic said that it is not true that people gave him money in cash.
“Ninety or 95 per cent went through the account. However, as the project expanded, we could no longer receive money through the account, because at some stage, particularly during the Ramadan when people donated the most, the amount exceeded the normal amount that could be deposited to an individual account in one month,” Kajmakovic said.
He said that “avoiding taxes” was not the reason for this.
A mountaineering association called Azimuth 135 said it donated money for a well in cash. Several people have confirmed to BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina that they donated cash to build wells in Africa through Kajmakovic, but they wanted to remain anonymous.
In a later conversation with BIRN, Kajmakovic said that “towards the end of the project, people brought [money] in the way most suitable for them”. He added that donors who were in Zenica gave him the money.
He did not answer the question whose account people used to deposit the donated money for the wells, only saying that he and his partners cooperated with several organisations in Africa, which he did not name.
Asked whether he sent the money to Africa, or if this was done by Hecimovic, he said he could not remember all the details. He said that the money was paid to associations in Africa, but he did not know which ones.
In several posts appealing for various types of donations, Adla Abazovic and Kajmakovic called on people to make payments to Kajmakovic’s private bank account.
On one occasion, Kajmakovic wrote that if people wanted to pay a certain amount of money to help build a well, but not for an entire well, they could send the money to the bank account of the Association of Citizens for the Affirmation of Human Ideas, AHI.
The AHI Association did not respond to BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina’s email, but Aida Jasarevic, who is listed as the administrator on the association’s Facebook page, responded that the association was just an intermediary that allowed its bank account to be used for this purpose.
According to the Financial Intelligence Agency in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Federation entity, the AHI Association had an annual income of around 69,000 Bosnian marks (around 35,000 euros) in 2017 and 103,000 Bosnian marks (around 53,000 euros) in 2018, while the 2019 income was 299,640 Bosnian marks (over 153,000 euros).
Judging by the number of wells that are claimed it have been built, the figures are much lower from the amount of money apparently raised by Kajmakovic’s group, who also raised funds to build mosques in Africa as well as wells.
Officially-registered humanitarian associations in Bosnia and Herzegovina normally take in donations via their bank accounts. Kajmakovic and his partners could not do work in this way because they did not have a registered association.
Three economics experts told BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina that, in any humanitarian campaign involving fundraising, there must be a registered association involved, as well as receipts or payment orders.
Economics expert Abaz Esad said that it is not legal to make payments for humanitarian purposes to private accounts. Expert Edina Hebibija agreed that making such payments to private accounts is illegal, adding that the work of such associations must be transparent and records of the money raised must be kept.
“It often happens that they come to people’s homes, saying they are collecting humanitarian funds. That is not legal. They should not be doing that,” Hebibija said.
“In my opinion, it would be more legal if it happened through an association,” expert Asima Pracic said.
Numerous humanitarian organisations in Bosnia and Herzegovina and around the world are involved in building wells in Africa. Elvir Karalic of Pomozi.ba, the best-known humanitarian organisation in the country, said that it insists on payments through banks and, even when cash is received, it is recorded and deposited in the association’s bank account.
The Solidarnost association also insists on bank payments. Over the course of seven years, it has built 113 wells through the IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation.
The Foundation said that from 2016 to 2019, the price of wells has been 3,500 euros, adding that the construction of one well takes between six and 12 months.
However, Kajmakovic and his partners claim to have built 2,500 wells in fewer than four years – which would mean this informal group of people with no previous experience in the construction of wells have built more than 50 wells a month.
Accusations of ‘Photoshopped’ images
Elvir Basic, a businessman from Sarajevo who has been involved in humanitarian work, raised money for several wells too. He told BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina that he had raised money for building wells in Africa and handed over the money for four wells to Kajmakovic.
“He would come to Sarajevo mostly, we would meet in front of Fahd’s Mosque or somewhere and I would hand the money over to him. For one of the wells, he did not even appear, but a friend of his came and we gave the money directly to him,” he said, adding that he worked with Hecimovic, who now lives in Saudi Arabia.
“They never issued receipts. They still do not issue them. You have heard about the School Sandwiches project [a project created by Kajmakovic and his partners to raise money to feed socially-disadvantaged children]. It also runs through the guy from Zenica [Kajmakovic]. I have a payment slip confirming a payment to his bank account. But when taxes for the money paid through the account became too large, they said deposits could no longer be made to the account, but it was better to give money directly in cash, as they had neither been registered nor had an association,” Basic said.
In 2019, road haulier Admir Dugalija accused Basic of having ‘Photoshopped’ photos from Kajmakovic’s page on social networks and kept the money for himself, also saying that he had reported Basic to the Federal Police Administration.
The Federal Police Administration confirmed to BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina that it has not received a report accusing Basic, and he said he returned the money to the individuals whose wells had not been built.
Dugalija raised money for wells via Kajmakovic, saying that donors made payments to the Sadaka i Dobro Djelo Association and that the association then forwarded it to Kajmakovic through bank transfers.
“It happened a couple of times that people collected money, like [patients at a health centre in the Stari Grad municipality of Sarajevo] who collected 1,800 for a well, but a well cost 2,000, so we added 200 and gave the cash to Aldin,” Dugalija said.
On his Facebook page, Kajmakovic once wrote that he would transfer the money for wells during the Hajj in Mecca.
“When we went, we would take the legally allowed amount, one could carry up to 10,000 euros across the border, we would carry some small amounts just to buy [local children] some sweets,” Kajmakovic said.
The law says that all travellers who take more than 10,000 euros in cash in or out of the country are obliged to report it. There is no annual limit. Western Union did not want to reveal the maximum amount that can be sent abroad from Bosnia and Herzegovina, but one of the Sarajevo branches of the company confirmed to one of BIRN’s journalists that the limit is 2,500 euros.
In order to build as many wells as Kajmakovic said had been built, around a million Bosnian marks (over 510,000 euros) should have been transferred to Africa each year. This means that on average, more than 100,000 Bosnian marks (around 51,000 euros) should have been sent to Africa for the construction of wells each month since October 2016.
The Indirect Taxation Authority is obliged to inform the State Investigation and Protection Agency, SIPA, within three days of each report that foreign or local currency and cash in the amount of 20,000 Bosnian marks or more has been taken out of the country.
SIPA told BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina that over the past four years it has acted on bank reports of suspicious transactions involving African countries due to potential fraud. One of the reports referred to the transfer of money to Africa for humanitarian activities, but it was determined that no trace of a criminal offence could be found.
The Prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina has not responded to a question about whether there is any ongoing investigation into individuals involved in transactions involving Africa for the construction of wells and mosques.
Bosnia and Herzegovina was on the Council of Europe anti-money laundering body Moneyval’s ‘grey list’ of high-risk countries in terms of financial transactions. Beside improvement of investigations into and check-ups on financial transactions, Bosnian deputy justice minister Nezir Pivic and the chief of the Moneyval delegation in Bosnia and Herzegovina said the Bosnian authorities were asked to improve the supervision of the financing of non-governmental organisations.
“This was specifically emphasised as regards associations and foundations, in order to raise the level of awareness that those activities [illegal money translations] are illegal. The legal obligations of associations and foundations at the level of Bosnia and Herzegovina is to provide financial reports which are published on the Justice Ministry’s website,” Pivic said.
In his first interview with BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kajmakovic said that he was building wells through friends. When asked how to get in touch with these friends in Africa, he said it was Haris Hecimovic’s task.
Hecimovic, whose Facebook page says that he has been “self-employed at Keremmont – PVC Stolarija” since January 2019, and that he studied and currently lives in Saudi Arabia and is referred to as ‘Sheikh’, did not want to speak to BIRN.
Donor signs disappear from wells in Nigeria
On June 27, BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina journalist was added as a friend on Facebook by a person named ‘Prince Richard’. On his Facebook page, it can be seen that he is involved in digging wells in Nigeria.
Prince Richard said he had never dug wells for people from Bosnia and Herzegovina. When BIRN sent several photos from Kajmakovic’s Facebook page to him, he denied that he had seen the wells before. Later he sent a message, apparently meant for someone else, saying: “She sent me some photos.” Then he sent another message saying: “Sorry, this message is not for you.”
Journalists from Nigeria collaborated with BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina in the research for this article. When they visited the locations of the wells in Nigeria, ‘Prince Richard’ contacted BIRN’s journalist again.
Through these visits to several locations in southern Nigeria where wells were built using money donated by Bosnian citizens, BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina found that the wells no longer had signboards and the information about their builders and donors that was originally shown in the photos published by Kajmakovic.
“The wells were built two years ago. They put up a canvas, that canvas could have been torn or something. I am telling you, it’s Africa, that is how they did it,” Kajmakovic said.
Some of the wells are located around the Nigerian city of Ibadan. People in the area where the wells have been built mostly live in rundown houses in poor conditions, and diseases still spread due to the lack of clean water.
According to Kajmakovic’s Facebook posts, Abdullateef Surau, known as Abu Sultan, seems to be the key person for building wells in Muassasat al-Hassan al-Islamiyyah Foundation, Organisation of Islamic Goodness, whose name is on signboards on all photos from Nigeria which Kajmakovic posted. BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina was unable to find any information about the foundation on the internet.
In an interview conducted in Nigeria, ‘Abu Sultan’ told the Nigerian journalists who worked with BIRN that the price of wells ranged from $390 to $800, depending on the exchange rate and other factors.
He said he could not provide detailed information on financing because he said he is not getting any from Saudi Arabia, where the organisation that he represented in Nigeria is apparently based.
Bosnia-based Salafi preacher Elvedin Pezic, who studied in Saudi Arabia, has often shared appeals for the construction of wells and mosques in Africa. His Facebook page has almost 200,000 followers. He also dedicated a well to his parents himself.
Elvir Basic said he thinks that Pezic promoted appeals for wells and mosques in Africa more than anyone else in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“People follow him, they believe him; whatever activity he initiates, it will be successful. When he says something, it practically means an order to be carried out,” Basic said.
Pezic did not respond to BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina’s request for an interview.
Kajmakovic said that Pezic only shared appeals.
“If Pezic shared it once, twice or five times, others shared it as well – they shared photos of wells and called on people to join the project and organised themselves in order to do good things and help those people,” he said.
While in Africa, Pezic visited Koranic schools. In one of the videos on his Facebook page he can be seen talking to local preachers there about spreading the faith.
According to information on Kajmakovic’s Facebook page, more than 50 mosques have been built in Africa, including more than ten for which money was raised with Pezic’s help.
One of the mosques is named after Sheikh Jusuf Barcic, who was killed in a car accident. He was considered a pioneer in the promotion of Salafism in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He verbally attacked imams from the country’s official Islamic Community organisation on several occasions.
Krithika Varagur, who is the author of a book entitled ‘The Call – Inside the Global Saudi Religious Project’ and worked in the north of Nigeria, told BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina that Salafism is a transnational movement, and that Saudi Arabia could be a potential link between Africa and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“Saudi Arabia indeed sees itself as cradle of Islam and centre of the Islamic world and has that type of international focus, especially if you study at a university there,” Varagur said.
Based on information published by Kajmakovic, the price of building mosques ranged between 10,000 and 16,000 euros. Judging by the number of photos published on Kajmakovic’s Facebook page of mosques that have been built in Africa, at least a million Bosnian marks (over 510,000 euros) have been raised for the cause.
Projects implemented by Hecimovic, Kajmakovic and Adla Abazovic, with whom BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina has not gotten in touch, also included sending money to Africa for the ritual sacrifice of animals.
Pezic told his followers on Facebook that he supported this project, saying that “these people eat meat only once a year”.
Pezic’s posts did not include account details for payments, but said that Hecimovic, Kajmakovic or Abazovic should be contacted for further information.
The Islamic Community of Bosnia and Herzegovina deals with donations in a completely different way and for different purposes, however. Arnaut Vehid of the Islamic Community said that money for animal sacrifices is raised in Bosnia and Herzegovina in a way that helps the local economy, producers and post-war returnees.
“We use domestic resources, meat and meat products from sacrifices to help the most vulnerable people in our society,” Vehid said, adding that the only correct way to give such charitable donations is through the Islamic Community.
US diplomats issue warning
In August 2018, Kajmakovic wrote on Facebook that the projects in Africa had been completed, adding that donations for other projects could be made through the AHI Association. Despite the announcement however, the fundraising for the construction of wells continued.
Almost 15 months later Hecimovic wrote on Facebook that they “have to discontinue the building of wells and mosques in Africa for technical reasons”.
“At some point some well-intentioned people drew our attention to the fact that eventually it could be – if someone wanted to – it could be made into a problem. Not that it was problematic, but that it could be made into a problem. When they told us that and drew our attention to that, we discontinued the project,” Kajmakovic said.
As well as Hecimovic and Adla Abazovic, Facebook posts on Kajmakovic’s page also tag doctor Anel Okic, with whom they visited Africa twice.
Okic told BIRN by telephone that he had nothing to do with wells and did not want to comment on the fact that he appeared on N1 TV with Hecimovic and Kajmakovic in a report about the construction of wells in Africa.
Kajmakovic said that Okic administers a closed group named Help for Families in Gambia on Facebook.
When asked why the group is closed, Kajmakovic said he “doesn’t know and every request to join the group is accepted”.
A BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina journalist sent a request to join the group, but it has still not been approved.
Okic said it was “a private project”, adding that “personal photos of people who need help” are shared in the group.
“We share that among ourselves. It is really not a public thing,” Okic said.
One of the members of the Facebook group gave BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina a payment slip indicating that money is deposited in Okic’s private account.
“Yes, it was like that before, but not anymore,” Okic insisted.
A group member, who wanted to remain anonymous, provided BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina with a screenshot of a post published on September 6 this year, in which Okic wrote that money could no longer be received through the account, but it could be handed to him, Kajmakovic, Hecimovic, Abazovic and one more person, while payments from abroad could be made through Western Union, MoneyGram and others.
This year, the US embassy in Gambia issued a warning about financial fraudsters raising money for poor families in the West African country.