* Miskovic arrested in government anti-graft drive
* Billionaire among Serbia's most influential businessmen
BELGRADE Dec 14 Serbia's richest man, retail
tycoon Miroslav Miskovic, was placed in pre-trial detention on
Friday after being arrested by police investigating a series of
disputed privatisation deals.
Miskovic, for two decades one of the most influential
figures in Serbia, was arrested two days ago after the
six-month-old government vowed to root out organised crime and
corruption as it seeks talks on joining the European Union.
His son and eight others were also arrested as part of the
probe into allegations that 33 million euros ($43.19 million)
was siphoned illegally from a privatised and now bankrupt group
of road repair companies.
Serbia's chief organised crime prosecutor, Miljko
Radisavljevic, said a pre-trial judge had ordered up to 30 days
detention for Miskovic, his son and five others.
Miskovic's company Delta Holding, which employs over 7,000
people in Serbia and the Balkan region and last year had
turnover of 1.42 billion euros, has denied any wrongdoing.
"Most suspects denied responsibility, but the prosecutor's
office is now sure there's reasonable suspicion that they
committed the crime," Radisavljevic said.
Miskovic, a slight, bespectacled 67-year-old, heads an
empire built during the conflict and sanctions of Yugoslavia's
bloody collapse in the 1990s and expanded since the ousting of
Serb strongman Slobodan Milosevic in 2000.
To many Serbs, Miskovic is synonymous with the murky nexus
of business and power under Milosevic, when the country was
mired in poverty, and questionable sales of state assets since
The political opposition, which held power from 2000 until
May this year, has welcomed his arrest but warned that the
corruption campaign risks selectively targeting opponents of the
new government, an alliance of socialists and nationalists last
in office together under Milosevic.
The European Commission, the executive arm of the EU,
declined to comment on the case but said on Thursday it was
"encouraged" by the government's commitment to fight crime and
graft as the bloc mulls opening accession talks next year.
A spokesman added: "This is a long-term process that
requires effective commitment at the highest political level and
a consistent, comprehensive and non-selective approach."
($1 = 0.7641 euros)
(Reporting by Matt Robinson, Fedja Grulovic and Justyna Pawlak
in Brussels; Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer)