19 September 2012The European Commission is asking Belgrade to investigate the privatisations of 24 large companies in Serbia.
According to local media, the privatisations of companies such as Sartid -- now US Steel Serbia -- Jugoremedija, Mobtel, C Market and Belgrade Port, will be checked as part of an anti-corruption investigation.
"From the very start of privatisation in Serbia after 2000, there have been problems, and not only in the cases listed by the European Union. Nearly a third of the privatisations were annulled and in at least another third not all conditions agreed during sale were met. The investigation of 24 controversial privatisations [needs to] be the beginning of investigating all abolished privatisations. Only then can we believe that there is real will to fight corruption," Zlata Djordjevic, an Anti-Corruption Agency Council member, told SETimes.
Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, who also is the government co-ordinator for the fight against corruption, recently said that the government was already checking suspicious privatisations.
"There will be many more investigative actions and no one will be protected … Serbia has only just begun forming real institutions for the battle against corruption, which is why I expect it will be supported by Russia, the US, Germany, the United Nations and others in the process," Vucic said.
Djordjevic welcomes such statements, because they "show the existence of political will to solve the problem."
"Real intentions will be revealed in a few months' time, which is enough to at least launch serious investigations. Serbia is rated as a country with a very high level of corruption, which is why it is very important for the probes to be conducted as soon as possible and to get their epilogue in court. If there was corruption and other abuse, that can be proven," she said.
But the late head of the Anti-Corruption Council Verica Barac earlier told SETimes that the council's research had uncovered a link between tycoons and state bodies in disputed privatisations, which is why it will be very difficult to get court verdicts.
Transparency Serbia representative Nemanja Nenadic also thinks this will be a limiting factor for the new Serbian government.
"The Serbian authorities will probably do only what Brussels asks them to and then inform the EU about what they have done. Serbia had the big problem of an apparent lack of political will to resolve the issue and it was then internationalised -- the EU had to interfere," Nenadic told SETimes.
But not everyone in Serbia thinks the privatisation checkup is a necessary step. MK Group owner Miodrag Kostic, singled out by the media after the sale of Serbian sugar refineries, said that constant insistence on reviewing the privatisation process could drive away new investors.
"It is normal to have those involved in malversation to answer for their actions, but constant talk of checking already finished privatisations is not good," Kostic said.
Serbian citizens are skeptical when it comes to announcements that major corruption scandals will be resolved.
"After the fall of Milosevic in 2000, no politician has gone to jail over corruption. It's as though they're guarding each other, only the small players get convicted. Why would things be any different now?" Vojkan Borisavljevic, a clerk from Belgrade, told SETimes.