BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — A Serbian court sentenced one of the richest businessmen in the Balkans to five years in prison for tax evasion Monday in a trial that the government sees as a major effort to curb corruption as it seeks European Union membership.
Miroslav Miskovic was once among the most influential people in Serbia with close political ties. He was found guilty by the anti-graft court for helping his son Marko evade paying some 3 million euros ($3.4 million) in taxes linked to his road construction business. Judges also fined the elder Miskovic 65,000 euros.
Marko Miskovic has already been sentenced to 3.5 years for the same offense.
Miskovic, 70, created a business empire under the rule of late strongman Slobodan Milosevic in the 1990s, and expanded it after Milosevic's ouster in 2000. In 2007, his wealth was estimated at $2 billion but is believed to have grown since.
Miskovic, one of the richest people in impoverished Serbia, is the owner of Delta Holding, one of the biggest companies in the region. The company has retail, real estate, insurance and agriculture businesses in Serbia and the rest of the Balkans.
When Miskovic was arrested in December 2012, populist Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said it demonstrated that no one was untouchable in the anti-corruption sweep. Serbia must fight graft to move closer to EU membership.
Miskovic was released from detention months later after posting a record 12 million-euro bail.
The businessman denies the charges and his lawyer Zdenko Tomanovic said the trial suffered under strong political pressure.
"The verdict shows that Serbia has far from an independent judiciary," Tomanovic said after the verdict, adding that it is absurd that Miskovic received a higher sentence than his son, although he was allegedly only helping him evade taxes.
"The verdict is not the result of evidence, but lack of courage" by the court, Tomanovic said.
He said the lawyers will appeal. Miskovic did not attend the Monday court verdict.