Serbian tycoon jailed for 5 years for tax evasion

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BELGRADE, June 20, 2016 (AFP) – A Belgrade court on Monday jailed one of Serbia’s richest men, Miroslav Miskovic, for five years for tax evasion, local media said, as his company branded the business mogul’s trial a sham.
Miskovic, 70, was found guilty of helping his son Marko to evade taxes worth three million euros ($3.4 million), in the highest-profile case since an anti-corruption drive was launched in the Balkan country four years ago.
Father and son were arrested in December 2012 but faced separate trials. Marko Miskovic was sentenced in February to three and a half years in prison over the same crime.
His father, while convicted of helping his son evade taxes, was acquitted Monday of charges of embezzling more than 30 million euros during the privatisation of several state-run companies engaged in road construction.
Miskovic’s company Delta Holding in a statement lashed out at the verdict, and said the trial had “become a symbol of the politicised judiciary system in Serbia.”
Miskovic was “denied the right to a fair trial,” the company said, arguing that the court “refused to hear defence witnesses and to accept defence evidence.”
“Not a single piece of evidence, and not a single witness supported the allegations against Mr Miskovic. Today, a verdict has been pronounced, but justice has not been done,” the company said, adding that the defence team would lodge an appeal.
– Regional business empire –
One of the most influential businessmen in the Balkans, Miskovic had close ties to the late strongman Slobodan Milosevic and his wealth is estimated at around 2.3 billion euros.
He was released in mid-2013 on a record 12-million-euro bail ahead of his trial.
Local media have speculated for years about Miskovic’s influence on Serbian politics and ties with top-level politicians, which he allegedly used to obtain the best deals for his businesses.
Over the past decade, he has expanded his vast Delta Holding empire — which includes real estate, food production, retail and insurance — throughout the region.
But he has slowly begun to sell off some of his businesses, including the supermarket chain Delta Maxi, bought by a Belgian company in 2012 for almost one billion euros.
Delta Holding, which employs around 7,200 people, is still considered one of the most profitable companies in Serbia.
Miskovic’s arrest came amid a campaign to root out corruption, a key condition of Serbia’s bid to join the European Union, although critics say the government has failed to target many of the country’s biggest offenders.

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