According to the investigative website, KRIK, certain Serbian politicians and businessmen have been named as clients of the Appleby law firm and Asiaciti Trust, which are at the centre of the so-called Paradise Papers affair.
The Paradise Papers is a set of 13.4 million confidential electronic documents relating to offshore investment that were leaked to a German newspaper and on 5th November 2017 were released into the public domain. The documents originate from the offshore law firm Appleby, the corporate services providers Estera and Asiaciti Trust, and business registries in 19 tax jurisdictions. They contain the names of more than 120,000 people and companies. Among those whose financial affairs are mentioned are Queen Elizabeth II, the President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, and the singer of U2, Bono Vox. According to the Boston Consulting Group, the amount of money involved is around $10 trillion.
Serbian businessman Branislav Grujic is also one of the names in the Paradise Papers, and he is mentioned co-owning a company called PF Properties Limited with the Russian businessman Blanko Arkady, which seat is registered in Malta.
“Malta is not an offshore country, but a member of the EU, and the room for any misuse is virtually non-existent. There is no bank in Malta that would carry out a transaction unless proper documents are submitted. I never hid the fact that I am the co-owner of this company which was founded with the purpose of implementing large-scale projects abroad with the help of loans from European banks. I really don’t know what they mentioned me in these papers”, Grujic adds.
According to KRIK, there are about 15 businessmen and companies listed as clients of the said agencies. One of them is Energetika Juzna Backa which has been in hot water before – from winning a multi-million-dinar project at EPS’ tender to buying the Fontana Hotel in Vrnjacka Banja at the price of only 110 EUR per square metre. The owner of Energetika Juzna Backa, Dragoljub Zbiljic was also suspected of tax evasion in the amount of 1.7 million EUR.
Other companies and individuals mentioned in the paper are Jamb Holding LTD, which was founded by Bogdan Rodic, the former owner of the Roda supermarket chain and the businessman who is suspected of having close ties with the mafia boss, Darko Saric. Then there is Nebojsa Ivkovic who was involved in shady privatization of the Sinvoz Company. There are also two former army generals, now arms traders, that are also named in papers, including Jovan Cekovic, who was a director of the Serbian arms manufacturer, Yugoimport SDPR, and now the owner of the Malta-based company, Jomil Malta Limited.
KRIK also claims that the minister Nenad Popovic has been trying to “re-organize his wealth through a complex network of offshore companies that are controlled by a Hong Kong-based trust and two companies from the Isle of Man”. Popovic was going to hire Appleby law firm to do this but the firm refused him as a client because of Popovic’s controversial way of running his multiple businesses.
“Not one of my companies is registered in the offshore zones mentioned in the Paradise Papers. All my companies have their seats in Russia or Europe. As a holder of public function, I did inform the Serbian Anti-Corruption Agency about my businesses, in line with the law”, Popovic says.
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