BELGRADE – Serbia has arrested 80 former and current top officials, most of them belonging to opposition political parties, on corruption charges, including abuse of office and money laundering.
Speaking to reporters Saturday in Belgrade, Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said that those arrested were accused in some 20 cases of “financial crime and corruption” that cost the state more than $100 million.
“This action has been taken to prevent financial crime and corruption, especially in government bodies,” Stefanovic said. “Criminal charges have been brought against the detained because there is reasonable doubt that from 2004 till today they committed several crimes such as money laundering, embezzlement, forging documents, and issuing certification for false documents, abuse of office, bribe and misuse of public procurement.”
He said that police are still hunting for five other suspects, while another 39 are under investigation.
The Serbian Interior Ministry has issued a detailed report, with the names of those arrested and the specific crimes they have allegedly committed. Opposition leaders said that arrests are politically motivated.
The suspects include a former minister of trade, Slobodan Milosavljevic of the opposition Democratic Party of Serbia who held the portfolio from May 2007 to July 2008, and Zorana Markovic, a former director of the Anti-Corruption Agency from 2010 to 2011.
Slobodan Milosavljevic and seven other suspects are being questioned at the Prosecutor’s Office for Organized Crime in connection with agricultural land frauds in Novi Sad.
It is suspected that from December 2004 through June 2008, they illegally exchanged agricultural land owned by Maxim&Co marketing company for state-owned land in the construction zone of the City of Novi Sad used by the agricultural cooperative of Novi Sad, the prosecutor’s office said in a release on Saturday.
By doing so, Maxim&Co acquired an unlawful material gain of over RSD 1 billion, since the state-owned was worth many times more than the agricultural land that the state received in the exchange, the release said.
The government of Serbia is complying with European Union demands to root out corruption and organized crime in the country.
On December 14 Serbia opened accession talks with the European Union, a process that usually involves reforms designed to deal with waste and corruption and enhance government transparency.