BELGRADE (Reuters) - Billionaire retail tycoon Miroslav Miskovic, one of Serbia’s most influential figures, was questioned by police on Monday as part of what the nationalist government says is a drive to root out graft, a key condition for joining the European Union.
Miskovic is among the richest people in Serbia, with an empire - Delta Holding - first created under late strongman Slobodan Milosevic and expanded after his ouster in 2000.
Justice Minister Nikola Selakovic said Miskovic was to be questioned, among other things, about his real estate business.
Western diplomats are concerned Serbia’s leaders are motivated more by political score-settling than genuine reform.
Delta, which has interests in retail, agribusiness, real estate and insurance in Serbia and the region, has denied any wrongdoing and said last week that Miskovic would respond to the police summons “in line with his civic duty”.
Miskovic arrived at the Interior Ministry without a lawyer and was questioned for four hours, but made no comment to a scrum of waiting journalists.
The ruling alliance of nationalists and socialists, who last held power together at the tail end of Milosevic’s 13-year rule, says it is committed to rooting out the organized crime and graft that has flourished in Serbia over the past two decades.
“I‘m skeptical this (investigation into Miskovic) will bring any kind of real result,” said political analyst Petar Lazic, describing Miskovic as “too powerful” and politically well-connected.
“This looks more like classic demagoguery, a witchhunt to score political points,” he said.
The anti-graft campaign is led by Aleksandar Vucic, Serbia’s deputy prime minister and defense minister who, as a former member of the virulently anti-Western Radical Party served as Minister of Information when Milosevic took Serbia to war with NATO over Kosovo in 1999.
He returned to power this year with the nationalist Serbian Progressive Party, replacing the liberal Democratic Party that had ruled since 2000. Vucic now advocates EU accession.
The EU called on the country last year to probe irregularities in the privatization of 24 state companies since Milosevic was toppled.
Miskovic served briefly as Serbian deputy prime minister under Milosevic in 1990 as Yugoslavia began its slide into war.
He dealt in business and banking during the 1990s, when Serbia was under sanctions for its role in conflicts in Bosnia and Croatia, and then expanded his empire under the Democrats.
His Delta Sport is the exclusive distributor of Nike for much of the former Yugoslavia and a franchise partner of Costa Coffee. Delta Holding employs 7,200 people and turned over 1.42 billion euros ($1.85 billion) last year, its website says.
With Vucic publicly taking aim at Miskovic, the tycoon announced last month he had given up his controlling stake in the Serbian daily Press, saying he wanted to contribute to the government’s policy of greater media transparency.
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Additional reporting by Fedja Grulovic; Editing by Louise Ireland