Miroslav Miskovic. Photo: EPA/Sasa Maricic
Belgrade’s High Court has sentenced one of Serbia’s richest men, Miroslav Miskovic, to two years and six months in prison and has fined him 68,000 euros in a high-profile tax evasion case that saw his son, Marko, also get a conviction.
After Serbia’s appeal court overturned his former conviction and sent the case back for retrial, Miskovic was again found guilty of helping his son to evade paying 3 million euros in tax.
His son was sentenced to a year under house arrest and also fined 68,000 euros.
The prosecutor asked for a sentence of five years in prison for Miroslav Miskovic, and for four years for his son Marko, local media reported.
Under the verdict, both father and son will have to pay a 68,000-euro-fine, while Marko Miskovic’s company will have to repay the state the sum that he evaded in tax, the prosecution said.
Zivojin Petrovic, director of Marko Miskovic’s company in Serbia, was sentenced to eight months under house arrest and fined 4,200 euros. Jadranka Bardic, who owns a bookkeeping company, was sentenced to six months under house arrest was and fined 2,100 euros.
Miroslav Miskovic was not at the hearing and the verdict can be appealed.
In the explanation of the court’s verdict, Judge Maja Ilic said the court had handed down lower sentences than in their previous trial because of the time that had passed between them, and because they did not have any other criminal convictions.
Miroslav Miskovic, owner of the industrial giant Delta Holding, was charged with illegally earning more than 30 million euros from privatized road companies in December 2012. He was arrested in Belgrade at home on December 12 that year.
Among other suspects in the case were his son, who owns the Mera Investment Fund, and Milo Djuraskovic, owner of the road building company Nibens Group.
Marko’s company, Mera Investment Fund, known as Foreign Mera, had bought more than 225,000 shares of the Nis road maintenance company.
Foreign Mera then registered the shares it held in the road company as the founding capital of a Serbian subsidiary, Serbian Mera, worth about 25 million euros.
The indictment called this an exchange of property for which there was a major tax liability. Marko Miskovic was accused of concealing this, in order to evade paying the tax.
In May 2013, prosecutors indicted all three men, alongside eight others, for the illegal extraction and appropriation of funds and assets from several road companies between 2005 and 2010.
The indictment said the suspects had cost road construction companies around 151 million euros and they had unlawfully gained 1.8 million euros.
During the trial, which started in November 2013, Miskovic said he had only been a financial investor in the road companies. He claimed he was not involved in their business decisions.
After seven months in custody, after his bail was set at 12 million euros, the biggest bail ever set in Serbia, Miskovic was released in July 2013.
In 2015, Serbia’s Constitutional Court determined that his right to a limit to the time he had spent detention had been violated.
In March 2016, Marko Miskovic was sentenced to three years in prison for tax evasion.
In June that year, in a first-instance verdict, the Belgrade High Court sentenced his father to five years in prison, for helping him to evade taxes.
But due to a lack of evidence, the court failed to prove the main charges, concerning allegedly corrupt dealings with the road companies.
The case then went to appeal.
The Court of Appeal in September 2017 confirmed the acquittal part of Miroslav’s verdict and abolished his conviction for assisting tax evasion, returning the whole case back to the beginning.
The Court of Appeal said the High Court had not clearly identified what advice Miskovic allegedly gave his son on tax evasion.
It also said the High Court verdict had violated the constitutional article concerning the separation of powers in Serbia that guarantees judicial independence from the legislature and executive.
In the six years since his trial began, the case has gained enormous media coverage and political attention.
The Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, YUCOM, an NGO based in Belgrade, listed it as an example of pressure on the judiciary – citing Vucic’s words of prejudgement.
The background context to the whole affair was a pledge that Vucic’s Progressive Party gave ahead of legislative elections in Serbia in May 2012 to investigate 24 controversial privatizations that occurred under previous governments.
After forming a government, it set up a working group to probe them. Three involved Miskovic.
Two concerned the privatization of C Market retail network and the Port of Belgrade.
The other issue was with Belgrade-City owned land that had been given to Miskovic’s companies, Delta M and Del Real 1, for their use.
Some of the cases linked with Miskovic have since been resolved.
In the cases of Del Real and C Market, it was determined that no criminal actions took place.
The case of the Port of Belgrade Port ended with a first-instance verdict – but Miskovic was called only as a witness in the case.