Serb police arrest 11 over multi-million euro fraud

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 21, 2013 8:01 AM

BELGRADE (Reuters) - Eleven people were detained by Serbian police on Thursday on suspicion of links to a multi-million euro fraud in a chemical plant.

The Socialist-nationalist coalition that came to power in 2012 promised to root out organized crime, corruption and nepotism as it tries to secure a date for accession talks with the European Union and attract foreign investors.

The arrests are a part of a wider investigation into the privatization in 2006 of the Azotara plant, in the northern town of Pancevo, and illegal sales of fertilizers and wheat at a cost of about 100 million euros, the director of police said.

In 2012, the authorities arrested seven people and Sasa Dragin, the agriculture minister from the previous government run by the now-opposition Democratic Party, in connection with the case. Dragin denied any wrongdoing.

"We have 11 people in detention and another one is at large and we are looking for that person ... They are suspected of embezzling about 5 million euros ($6.48 million)," director of police Milorad Veljovic said about Thursday's arrests.

Last week, in a separate case, police detained 13 people on charges related with illegal sales of scrap steel and 5.7 million euros of damages to Serbia's sole steel mill Zelezara Smederevo.

According to opinion polls, the co-ruling nationalist Serbian Progressive Party and its influential head Aleksandar Vucic soared in popularity to more than 40 percent after the government started the crackdown.

Vucic, who is also the deputy prime minister tasked with coordinating police and security agencies in fighting organized crime, was instrumental in arrest the December of Miloslav Miskovic, the wealthiest Serb tycoon, over suspicious privatization deals.

Miskovic, 67, who denied any wrongdoing, is still in pre-trial detention.

($1 = 0.7722 euros)

(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Alison Williams)