It is no coincidence that United Group president Dragan Šolak and leader of the Freedom and Justice Party Dragan Đilas, instead of a simple sale and purchase transaction, wove a complex net of secret transactions in order to hide their business arrangements.
The nature of the political-business alliance of these two men is best seen in the sale of Đilas’s Direct Media, which, as Kurir reported yesterday, fell into the hands of Šolak’s United Group through virtual companies from various offshore zones and their joint financial shenanigans.
Yesterday, Kurir unravelled the complex net of companies through which Direct Media came to own the United Group. As we explained, in 2014 the controversial Bulgarian businessman Krasimir Petrov Gergov became merely a sham owner of the company, with money for the purchase coming from a number of offshore companies held by Šolak’s people.
One of them was Dragana Kostić (Jovanović Džaril), who, through related companies, borrowed to Gergov around 9.5 million euros to purchase a stake in Multicom Group. The other transaction went through Wolfram Andreas Kuoni, a lawyer from Switzerland. Through his offshore companies, Kuoni borrowed to Gergov around 8.2 million euros for the same purpose.
The sum of these borrowings equals around 17.7 million euros – the amount paid for Direct Media, as reported by journalists. Still, it remains unclear whether this sum that Đilas got for Direct Media was the entire money he received. Moreover, until this very day the public is kept in the dark about the beneficial owner of companies from the British Virgin Islands, from which money was paid directly to Direct Media. The origin of the money is unknown either.
Questionable change of owner
The persons talking to Kurir say that hiding money flows and evidence of ownership, and tax evasion, are the sole motives why someone would wish to obfuscate a rather simple and legal change of owner, making the public think that the transaction did not take place at all. Director of the Statistical Office Miladin Kovačević notes it is quite unusual that a local company be not sold directly and that, instead, such a complex scheme is woven, through companies registered in tax havens.
– Everyone has the right to sell or buy a company or other goods. It is strange that things are done in the way it was done with Direct Media. The only motive I can discern is to hide that Direct Media was sold in the first place. Two questions can be raised: was the transaction registered as a change in ownership structure and was the capital gains tax charged. Đilas or anyone else can freely claim they have paid taxes, but the only true answer can be given by the tax authorities – explains Kovačević.
Professor at the Belgrade Banking Academy Zoran Grubišić highlights that taxes and regulations are the main reasons for moving operations to offshore zones.
– The procedures are simple there and incorporation costs are low. What is even more important – the level of transparency is low as well. This is how money flows and ownership traces are being hidden – suggests Grubišić..
Research journalist Marko Matić is convinced that Šolak and Đilas stepped into offshore zones to evade taxes and hide money flows and origin.
– Everyone familiar with the logic of corporate operations knows that offshore companies, whose ownership is hidden, are incorporated primarily to evade taxes and disguise money flows and origin. In addition to these motives, Dragan Đilas and Dragan Šolak were hiding their business relations also for other, political reasons. They wanted to conceal that they have created a political-financial octopus. Owing to such structure, they aim to use their current financial clout to gain power. The political power gained in such way would be then put in service of their business interests and their amassing huge profits at the expense of Serbian citizens – observes Matić.
- Offshore zones or tax havens are countries with extremely low taxes and exceptionally simple procedures for incorporation of companies
- These exotic destinations are said to be conducive to non-transparent operation, which makes them ideal places where the richest become even richer
- Offshore zones are also ideal for businessmen to hide suspicious ways in which they amassed a fortune
HE DARES NOT APPEAR BEFORE RTS CAMERAS
Why is Šolak avoiding a public debate if he is not hiding anything
Šolak and his United Group are doggedly pursuing non-transparent operation. Our research has shown it, but Šolak also made an effort to prove it himself. He refused the RTS’s invitation to be a guest in the “Oko” TV show and resolve all dilemmas in the field of media content production, as offered by the public broadcaster. Why the leader of the United Group is avoiding the public, unless he is hiding something? At the same time, president of Mondo Inc. company Igor Žeželj accepted to take part in a TV debate with Šolak.
– I believe the exchange of opinions and ideas with Mr Šolak would help understand the broader picture and trends of the development of the media market of Serbia and the region – said Žeželj.
Šolak obviously feels ill at ease outside his media. N1 and Nova S, his TV channels and portals, are the only places where the United Group is creating its own, one-sided truth. Other media of the interest-business lobby led by Šolak and Đilas further disseminate this version of the truth, thus pursuing a campaign against Telekom as a competitor. Šolak’s decision to refuse to take part in a debate organised by the public broadcaster best confirms that he feels vulnerable obviously because hiding operation is the cornerstone of his business empire – as Kurir uncovered through its research. We have recently shown how the linkage between business and political interests functions, and have explained why the United Group engaged all its resources to undermine the increasingly more powerful Telekom, prevent its market expansion, and ensure for itself and its interest-business lobby unimpeded domination in both the Serbian and regional markets. Given the furious campaign of the United Group, the interest-business lobby was annoyed by the business moves of Telekom. As we have written, this domestic company is on the rise owing to the purchase of cable operators in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, consolidation of Arena Sport, launching of the satellite TV m:Sat, building of the optical network in large cities, constant enrichment of TV content and offer, and the signing of exclusive contracts with RTS and a number of channels from Bosnia and Herzegovina. The competitor is simply vexed about the fact that Telekom can boast a sharp increase in the number of internet and multimedia users.
Kurir.rs/ Editorial Staff / Photo: Ana Paunković, Screenshot, Shutterstock