NEWS

Serbs look for Milosevic loot

BELGRADE (AP) – Serbian authorities yesterday began investigating a 1997 sale of state assets under former President Slobodan Milosevic, which allegedly involved millions of dollars in kickbacks, the justice minister said. Justice Minister Vladan Batic said he has requested assistance from the justice ministries of Italy, Greece, Germany, Cyprus and Great Britain in the Serbian investigation. Milosevic and his cronies are believed to have had secret bank accounts and offshore companies in those countries. Several individuals have been accused of wrongdoing in the sale of Serbia’s Telekom, Batic said. He refused to identify the suspects or provide more details. «This was the biggest scam and financial machination in Serbia in the 20th century,» Batic said. Under Serbia’s legal system, police and investigative magistrates carry out pre-trial investigations before prosecutors officially bring charges. The sale of 51 percent of Telekom Serbia for $497 million to Telecom Italia, owned by the Italian Treasury, occurred during the height of Milosevic’s rule. In February 2001, prosecutors in Turin, Italy, began investigating the sale after a left-leaning Italian newspaper, La Repubblica, alleged that unnamed Italian businessmen had demanded millions of dollars in kickbacks as part of the deal. The Italian Parliament also began investigating. At the time, Telecom Italia said it was unaware of any irregularities in the deal and Belgrade officials denied the report. Last December, the new democratic Serbian authorities bought back the stakes of the government mobile company for $220 mln and Telecom Italia pulled out of the controversial deal. In addition, Belgrade promised to cooperate with the Italian probe and investigate separately here.