Peers and clients say:
"If you need an asset recovery specialist in Serbia, Tomislav is the one you need"
"Mr Sunjka has a very creative mind and a wealth of experience"
"Tomislav's experience in relation to dispute resolution is impressive"
Tomislav Sunjka is a founder and principal of SunjkaLaw, an independent, specialised and focused law firm in Serbia. Owing to his background in business law, he understands the nature of transactions, bank transfers and financial arrangements very well, which is a huge benefit to his asset tracing and asset recovery practice. His knowledge of foreign laws, anticorruption exterritorial laws and resources for working internationally has validated his position as a top-class player in asset tracing and asset recovery. Tomislav Sunjka is current Co-Chair of the International Bar Association (IBA) Asset Recovery Committee.
What do you enjoy most about working in asset recovery?
Creativity. To work in asset recovery and to be an asset recovery lawyer means you should have an upgraded knowledge of several different practice areas. At every moment in a case, you must be an excellent investigator, a litigator, with deep knowledge of finance and different scopes of law, a criminal lawyer who understands the role of a victim and to be able to recognise defence techniques of opponents, to have an excellent understanding of corporate and business law, anticorruption laws, as well as be a top international and multicultural lawyer, with knowledge of the principles of many different national and international laws, with strong management and supervisory skills and to be a wise negotiator.
How does SunjkaLaw distinguish itself from the competition?
We bring quality and integrity to our clients' matters, and we often find people are more willing to invest in these these qualities. Investing in integrity is not a get-rich-quick scheme, however it is a proven way to build a profitable practice. Firms want to present themselves as a fine car with first-class design and engineering. However, it really does not matter how great the car is if the person behind the wheel drives recklessly and ends up going off the road. Client’s matters, in our firm, are therefore handled only by experienced lawyers.
In your opinion, in what ways will the work of asset recovery practitioners be impacted by the sanctions currently imposed on Russian institutions/assets?
I believe there does not exist at the moment a legal framework nor a legal standing on the side of private persons or entities with which to bring asset recovery proceedings, yet because of sanctions initiate asset recovery cases against Russian institutions and assets. Sanctions are an instrument of foreign policy and the war is not officially declared. All of this means that energy is traded daily between the USA, the EU, and the Russian Federation. The Russian Federation daily pays for the transit of gas through the Ukrainian part of the gas pipeline, even though Ukraine has declared the Russian Federation an aggressor. Decisions in asset recovery cases are made by courts, not politicians. If an international legal framework is established or a correlation through the general principles of human rights is found, it is possible that things will be different in the future. As an international lawyer, I believe that at one point a peace settlement will be concluded, which will resolve the asset question or at least determine the procedures and mechanisms for resolving them. However, Canadian courts, followed by some US courts , made some decisions of seize and confiscation of Russian`s assets in the purpose of the Ukrainian war reparations. Asset Recovery specialists will study and learn from those court decisions about its potentially or not, widely implemented. At the same moment Russian Federation made a similar approach, they adopted a law regarding “enemies” countries and created a basis for different legal procedures against foreign entities domestically and confiscated some foreign assets as a reciprocity. It is important to mention that the UN on November 24, 2022, recommended to the states to create some international asset recovery mechanisms regarding the war in Ukraine. At this moment we still do not have such a mechanism, but some group of asset recovery experts started to work on that, and I am participating too.
Some practitioners have reported a steady increase in crypto-related asset recovery work. In your opinion, what challenges do crypto assets present from an asset recovery perspective?
There is a lot of talk about crypto-related asset recovery work. However, two main challenges occur. One is the de facto enforcement of court decisions or freezing orders. If the debtor or fraudster does not want to disclose the cryptocurrency code of the wallet, such a judgment or orders cannot be effectively enforced. The second legal problem is the lack of regulatory framework in international private law, the inapplicability or limited applicability of conflict norms and laws, as in the determination of lex fori, the jurisdiction, the place of the court but also the governance law in a particular procedure. The existing legal framework does not provide answers or provides them partially and arbitrarily.
What challenges did you face when setting up your own firm?
When I set up my own firm it was the year 2000, Serbia (at that moment Yugoslavia) started to drastically change and began its economic transition period. In that period, there were only two kinds of lawyers: typical criminal lawyers and civil private lawyers. That situation I viewed as a challenge, as I did not have real mentors in business, anti-corruption, and asset recovery law. So, I turned the situation into an opportunity, an advantage, and formed my own firm with a new legal culture and new practise, unknown to the market. I have never regretted my early decisions.
Where, in your opinion, does the future of the practice area lie?
I believe in the longevity of asset recovery practice. From old Mesopotamian times till today, facing the current changes in the international order, assets have some subjective or objective value and constantly changed their form, value, mode of transmission, along with the changes in empires, states, kingdoms, but also with wars, and changes of ownership. This will stay in the future. Asset recovery practice will become a special independent legal practice.
You have enjoyed a very distinguished career so far. What would you like to achieve that you have not yet accomplished?
Thank you for your confidence in me, nice words and recognition. My legal journey will continue. I really enjoy the daily life and of asset recovery work, but also the high-value international cases, traveling, legal diplomacy work and exchanging experience and knowledge. However, when the International Anti-Corruption Court starts to work, I would gladly take some role and mandate there.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Too much work will cool your heart. Be careful.