Businessman Beko questioned over Port of Belgrade

The questioning of Serbian businessman Milan Beko lasted for six hour on Tuesday at the Criminal Investigations Police Administration HQ in New Belgrade.

Source: B92, Tanjug
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Beko was answering questions related to the privatization of his company Port of Belgrade (Luka Beograd).

Under the law, the police have the right to question a citizen for four hours. But as Beko gave his consent, the interview was extended and wrapped up after some six hours.

Port of Belgrade was privatized in one of the 24 dubious privatizations listed by the EU, and highlighted by the Serbian Government Anti-Corruption Council in 2010.

That year the Council pressed criminal charges against 17 people, including Milan Beko, but also against former Minister of Economy Predrag Bubalo for alleged abuse of office during the privatization of this company in 2005.

In a brief comment for the media made as he was leaving the police premises alone, Beko said that he thought he had managed to explain to the MUP and the prosecution the circumstances surrounding the takeover of the company's shares, and the reasons why "the illusion of irregularities in the secondary privatization of that company has been created for years".

According to him, this concerns above all "an attempt of some structures to cover up illegal activities related to giving 14.1 hectares of Port of Belgrade-owned land to a different user, and also giving 4.6 hectares on Ada Huja to a user who was not legal".

Beko stressed that he had handed over all relevant documentation to the authorities. When asked whether he was "afraid he might end up behind bars like Delta Holding owner Miroslav Mišković", he did not wish to answer.

As early as in 2008, the Anti-Corruption Council claimed that the events surrounding the sale of Port of Belgrade "pointed to large-scale corruption".

The council also stated that the transaction incurred damages not only to the state budget and former shareholders, but also to all taxpayers, because the company was appraised according to an obsolete bookkeeping value that was 2.5 times lower than the current.

Luxembourg-based Worldfin offshore in 2005 acquired 40 percent of Port of Belgrade's shares, owned at the time by the Shareholder Fund and the state pension insurance fund, PIO. Later, the remaining stock was bought from small shareholders. At the moment of the transaction, Milan Beko and Miroslav Mišković stood behind Worldfin.

Port of Belgrade Director Ivana Veselinović gave her statement on January 11 in the investigation against Mišković in a corruption case concerning privatizations of road maintenance companies.

In late 2012, Port of Belgrade issued a statement saying that they were exonerated by the Commercial Court of Appeals of any wrongdoing. The company's managers were sued by its former small shareholders.

B92's reporters on several occasions probed the Port of Belgrade privatization, starting with investigative programs aired in 2008.

The company owns over 220 hectares of prime building land in the Serbian capital city's central zone. The General Urban Plan of Belgrade envisages that the port should be moved, and residential and business premises built at that location instead.

The city and the company have for years been involved in mutual contesting of the right to dispose of the land in question.

Milan Beko was born in 1961 in Herceg Novi, Montenegro, and was actively involved in politics during the 1990s - first as the man behind an election campaign for the opposition Democratic Party (DS) in 1993, and then by joining the Socialist Party (SPS)-led government in 1997, where he played a key role in the privatization of Serbia's state-owned telecommunications company Telekom Srbija.

In 2000, he ran in elections on the JUL ticket - the party was led by the wife of Slobodan Milošević, Mirjana Marković.

After staying out of the limelight for several years, he reemerged in 2004 as a consultant in the privatization of the Knjaz Miloš mineral water and beverage maker.

A year later, he bought several companies, including Port of Belgrade, the C Market retail chain, the Večernje Novosti media company - in partnership with Miroslav Mišković.

There was speculation at one point that Beko was bankrolling some political parties - above all the Liberal-Democrats (LDP). But when Tomislav Nikolić, then leader of the opposition SNS party, staged his hunger strike in 2011, Beko was seen visiting him in the hospital.

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