BELGRADE (Reuters) - 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 privatization 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 organized 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 privatized and now bankrupt group of road repair companies.
Serbia’s chief organized 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 his overthrow.
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.”
Reporting by Matt Robinson, Fedja Grulovic and Justyna Pawlak in Brussels; Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer