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Serb tycoon jailed for five years for aiding tax evasion

Miroslav Miskovic (C), Serbian billionaire retail tycoon, arrives at the Special Court in Belgrade, November 14, 2013. REUTERS/Djordje Kojadinovic

BELGRADE (Reuters) - One of the Balkans’ richest men was sentenced to five years in prison for aiding tax evasion in a landmark trial the Serbian government said would shed more light on links between businessmen and politicians dating from the 1990s.

Miroslav Miskovic, who created an insurance, retail and real estate empire during the collapse of Yugoslavia and Serbia’s subsequent emergence from international isolation, was arrested in 2012 on charges of fraud and tax evasion.

The 70-year-old Serb was accused of siphoning off millions of euros from a privatised and now bankrupt road repair company between 2005 and 2010.

Serbia’s Higher Court, which deals with cases of organised crime, sentenced Miskovic to five years in prison for helping his son Marko to evade taxes. Marko has already been jailed for tax evasion.

Due to lack of evidence, the court found Miskovic not guilty on the charges relating to the road repair company.

Lawyer Zdenko Tomanovic said the verdict was the result of political interference and Miskovic would appeal against his sentence.

In taking Miskovic to court, the Belgrade government hoped to show that it is serious about tackling the murky nexus of politics, business and organised crime that has flourished in Serbia over the past two decades. That fight is central to Serbia’s campaign to join the European Union.

In 2007, Miskovic was ranked among the richest 1,000 people in the world by Forbes magazine, with a fortune estimated at one billion dollars.

His Delta Holding company employs more than 4,000 people and in 2015 had a turnover of 53 billion dinars (334.84 million pound).

Reporting by Ivana Sekularac; editing by Giles Elgood and Dominic Evans