The leader of the Party of Freedom and Justice Dragan Đilas and the chairman of the United Group Dragan Šolak have obviously found another safe haven for their dubious transactions in the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), no less. The fact that the EBRD as the co-owner of the United Group keeps avoiding Kurir’s specific questions regarding the quite problematic business dealings of this company and a possible conflict of interests surrounding the two international financial institutions seems to suggest that individuals from the bank management tacitly support the Balkan partner’s controversial business practices.
Marriage and business
One of the unquestionable ties between the EBRD and the businesses owned by Šolak and Đilas is Milica Delević, who has been in the EBRD management since 2013. In addition to having been married to Đilas, Delević co-owned Multikom Group with him. This company used to own Direct Media, a company which was sold to the United Group in a dubious manner. In the year in which she sold her 25-percent share in Multikom, Delević became Deputy Secretary General of the EBRD in charge of Shareholder Relations, moving on to the post of Director for Governance and Political Affairs of this London-based bank in 2016. Unlike her, Đilas remains an owner of Multikom, with his official share in the company currently standing at 25 percent. However, given that the remaining 75 percent is owned by Multikom itself, this effectively means that Đilas owns 100 percent of this company.
Kurir has already written about the complex web of connected offshore companies and representatives which Šolak and Đilas have used to conceal from the general public the fact that Direct Media was sold in 2014 to the United Group. Šolak made this acquisition official as late as 2018, still hiding that he had traded property with Đilas. Specifically, the controversial Bulgarian businessman Krassimir Guergov became the formal owner of Direct Media in 2014. However, Kurir’s investigation into the matter has revealed that it was then that this company ended up in the hands of Dragan Šolak, i.e. the United Media, through two of his associates – Dragana Kostić (Dragana Jovanović Džaril) and the Swiss lawyer Wolfram Andreas Cuoni. The two linked up an array of offshore companies, masking in this way the fact that they gave the Bulgarian two loans for purchasing a share in Multikom, of which Direct Media is a member. In this way, a total of about 17.5 million went into the transaction, which is how much Đilas got for Direct Media, according to the reports in the Serbian media. In July 2015, Guergov transferred ownership in Direct Media free of charge to the company Ascanius Netherlands B.V., whose owners were hidden behind eight companies registered in multiple offshore locations. The end owner of the British Virgin Islands companies, as well as the origin of the money, remain unknown to the public.
Hiding the owner
The EBRD’s ownership share in the United Group poses the question of the role that the former co-owner of Direct Media and newly appointed official of the EBRD Milica Delević had in this transaction. Although this aspect of Milica Delević’s engagement at the EBRD is quite problematic and requires checking for a possible conflict of interests at the very least, this bank has decided to ignore Kurir’s questions, deepening the suspicions regarding whether it is hiding something or tacitly supporting these kinds of practices. The questions that we asked of Milica Delević also remain unanswered (see the box).
While Đilas has no formal ties to the United Group’s business activities, the same cannot be said of his political involvement in the protection of this company’s interests. Because of everything that accompanied the sale of Direct Media, this transaction can be seen in a wider context, especially in light of the fact that the value of the company at the time of sale was considerably higher than 17.5 million euros. A possible broader picture might look like this: This transaction allowed Đilas to effectively enter into the ownership structure of the United Group. If this turned out to be true, it would be a major political scandal, which would travel far beyond Serbia’s borders.
Malfeasance in office
The investigative journalist Marko Matić thinks that Milica Delević’s connections with the above actors is certainly a reason to suspect a conflict of interests.
‘The purchase of Milica Delević’s one-time company by a company owned by the EBRD, where Delević is a high-ranking manager, is a very dubious transaction and, quite possibly, a conflict of interests. I think that the representatives of Serbia at this international bank should raise this issue, as well as the issue of the participation of the EBRD in the joint dealings with the companies whose ownership is hidden, and the issue of purchasing the assets acquired through influence peddling and malfeasance in office,’ Matić said.
Nemanja Nenadić from Transparency Serbia says that the question of a possible conflict of interests should be posed first and foremost to the EBRD.
‘That is a question for this bank. The EBRD should say whether there are obstacles for Milica Delević as a director there, given this connection. I cannot say either that it is or that it is not a conflict of interests, because I am not familiar with the bank regulations,’ he said.
WHAT WE ASKED THE EBRD AND MILICA DELEVIĆ
Too many suspicions, too few answers
The Kurir Editorial Team sent specific questions to the EBRD in relation to Milica Delević’s connections with the problematic transactions. We wanted to know what the EBRD’s views on a potential conflict of interests were, given that the period of her employment at the bank almost fully coincides with owning a 25-percent share in Direct Media, and given that the United Group, in which the EBRD has an ownership share, has become the owner of Direct Media. In the EBRD’s general answers that Kurir published yesterday, it is stated that ‘it is not the bank’s practice to publish its views and information on individuals and companies, other than the information it provides in public announcements.’
We asked Milica Delević the following questions:
- Have you been an owner of Multikom, and do you have any ties to this company now?
- When did your participation in Multikom’s ownership structure stop, and what amount did you sell your share in Multikom for?
- Were you in any way involved in the sale of Direct Media?
- Did you have a conflict of interests in the circumstances in which the company that you co-owned sold its company to the United Group, co-owned by the EBRD, an institution at which you have been employed since 2013?
- Does the EBRD as a co-owner take part in the decisions made by the United Group relating to the purchase of other companies ?
- Given the principles of transparency that it advocates, does the EBRD think it is problematic that the United Group traded in assets acquired through a possible malfeasance in office?
We have not had any answers yet.
A RICH COMPENSATION
She got 3.6 million euros for a 25-percent share
In 2013, Kurir published the documents revealing that Multikom Group had paid around 398.3 million dinars (3.6 million euros) for the ownership of Milica Delević’s shares. Multikom had had four owners until then – Dragoslav Ilić had a 42-percent share, Đilas and his former spouse 25 percent each, and Nebojša Garić had eight percent. Multikom, aka Đilas and Ilić, decided seven years ago to buy off Garić’s and Milica Delević’s shares. The contract on the sale of these two blocks of shares was signed by Đilas’s close associate Jadranka Drinić, in her capacity as the representative of Multikom.
- May 2013 - Milica Delević sells the 25-percent share in Multikom Group for 3.6 million euros.
- July 2013 - Milica Delević takes up a high-ranking post at the EBRD
- April 2014 - Đilas sells Direct Media to the Dutch foundation CEE Media, founded only one month before, and formally headed by Guergov.
- June 2018 – The United Group, co-owned by the EBRD, purchases Direct Media.
Kurir.rs/ Photo: Dado Đilas, Shutterstock, Zorana Jevtić, Screenshot