"Millions" syphoned off from coal mine, minister charges

Serbia's Energy Minister Zorana Mihajlović on Thursday accused the coal strip mining company Kolubara of being "mired in crime and corruption".

Source: Beta

Mihajlović addressed a news conference at the government HQ in Belgrade to say that Kolubara's business dealings are now a subject of an investigation, on suspicion that financial abuses cost it "millions of euros".

She specified that the authorities believe Kolubara paid salaries "to non-existent persons", and that the number of these payments to fictitious employees ranged "from 1,000 to 1,500".

Furthermore, the mine bought equipment for prices that were "three, four, six times higher than normal", Mijalović stated.

Kolubara's losses of RSD 11 billion increased by RSD 3.6 billion in 2012 alone - in the period that preceded the forming of the country's new government.

The minister also told journalists that member of the Managing Board of the Serbian power monopoly EPS Radoslav Savatijević was given EUR 1.2 million by the board as compensation for his house in the village of Vreoci, that was to be expropriated as room was being made for a new strip mine.

The value of the house was appraised at EUR 3.4 million.

She noted that the advance payment was made based on the EPS board's decision, without a decision on expropriation, and based on a directive written by then Director General of the Mining Basin Kolubara Nebojša Ćeran.

"Two days after, the payment was made (to Savatijević), at a time when there was no money for first priority expropriations - on which our electricity supply depends," explained Mihajlović.

She stressed that Savatijević's house was in fact located far from the second priority zone, and that it would not be up for demolition for the next seven years - "and bearing in mind the pace and plans for the mine's expansion, it is uncertain if it would ever be demolished".

More controversial decision were made by experts hired to appraise the value of property slated to be torn down. The minister noted that in some cases, garages were appraised to be worth EUR 66,000, while in once case, four flower containers were determined to be worth EUR 10,000.

As for Savatijević's village house, the minister noted that a home in downtown Belgrade spreading on thousands of square meters could be worth EUR 3.4 million.

Furthermore, Savatijević did not have the house registered as his address of residence - a condition for a structure to be eligible for expropriation compensation.

Mihajlović noted that these suspected wrongdoings were "only some of the abuses taking place in Kolubara".

"We cannot appraise the total damage, this is just one of the examples from one sector where abuse and crime took place."

She could not specify whether the investigation also targeted other members of the EPS board who made the decision to pay the compensation money to Savatović.

Meanwhile, Kolubara General Director Milorad Grčić said that expropriation activities in Vreoci would continue as planned.

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