The business and political lobby of the chairman of United Group Dragan Šolak and the leader of the Party of Freedom and Justice Dragan Đilas has made every effort to hide their shady business operations from the general public, and to secure the protection of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) for their business and political schemes. Šolak and Đilas were evidently planning to tie their current businesses to this international financial institution over the long haul, and did so via the official partnership and the hidden ties maintained through some EBRD managers.
The case of Milica Delević
Kurir has discovered that, in addition to Milica Delević, who has been in the EBRD management since 2013, Dragica Pilipović Chaffey, formerly an EBRD director and currently Vice-President in charge of Corporate Affairs in United Group, also has ties to Šolak’s and Đilas’s business operations. This case is somewhat different, as Pilipović Chaffey’s career moved in the opposite direction from Delević’s, going from the post of director at the EBRD straight to the top management of United Group. This raises suspicions of a possible conflict of interests, as the EBRD provided services for United Group as one of its clients. These sorts of transfers receive close scrutiny in the world of business in order to avoid the smallest suspicion of corruption, influence peddling, and conflict of interests. This is especially relevant to an institution such as the EBRD, which is different from commercial banks in that it operates on a membership principle and with a set business mission. Serbia is one of the 69 EBRD member states, which include the EU and the European Investment Bank.
Influence on the decisions made by the bank
Unlike Delević, Dragica Pilipović Chaffey has been with the EBRD since its founding in 1991. She has held high-ranking positions at the bank, including the post of director in charge of Russia, moving on to director in charge of Serbia and Montenegro in 2003. Around that time, in 2004, the first EBRD investment was made in Šolak’s SBB, an operator which is part of United Group, in the amount of 18.5 million euros. In addition, this bank invested in SBB’s capital stock, becoming its minority owner with one million shares under its belt. It was this very financial injection that prompted Šolak to start expanding his business in the region, buying an additional 25 providers, introducing new services, and offering broadband internet access.
Pilipović Chaffey left the EBRD in 2008, and went straight to the top management of SBB, a company which had become a strong regional player owing to the financial support from the EBRD. She has since held key posts on the United Group team: one-time managing director of SBB, Chairman of the Board of the SBB Foundation, and, since 2015, Vice-President of United Group in charge of Corporate Affairs. None of these actors has responded to Kurir’s questions on the possible conflict of interests (see the box).
Deep in corruption?
The investigative journalist Marko Matić thinks that the case of Dragica Pilipović Chaffey points to a ’well-founded suspicion that the EBRD management is neck-deep in corruption, and that the business decisions of this international bank are made under the influence of corruption structures and interests.’
’The EBRD must explain how it is possible that this institution made the decision to invest a hefty amount in Šolak’s largely unregulated cable business at a time when Chaffey was an EBRD manager, following which she took up a well-paid position at Šolak’s company. Furthermore, how is it possible that the EBRD continues to support the business operations of this company, which violates the laws and regulations on free competition and has a hidden ownership structure in offshore areas. Such things are incompatible with the kinds of business operations and aims that the EBRD was founded to uphold. This case seriously discredits the work of this highly influential and as yet reputable international financial institution, which Serbia is a member of as well,’ Matić notes.
Kurir has reported on the ties of Šolak’s and Đilas’s companies with another EBRD director – Milica Delević, Đilas’s former spouse. Before joining the EBRD, she sold her 25-percent share in Multikom Group, which owned Direct Media. The EBRD then practically became a co-owner of her former company, as United Group, in which this bank has a minority share, bought Direct Media. Our investigation has revealed that the sale of Direct Media was made in an extraordinarily non-transparent fashion, using a complex offshore web with the aim of hiding the actual owners. Nonetheless, Kurir has managed to expose this scheme and prove the ties between Đilas and Šolak in this transaction.
QUESTIONS WITHOUT ANSWERS
Pilipović silent on the transfer, as is the EBRD
The EBRD has not answered Kurir’s questions regarding whether the bank has looked into a possible conflict of interests in this case, as well as whether SBB was a client on any of the projects involving the EBRD’s then director. Dragica Pilipović Chaffey has not answered our specific questions either:
• What was her role in the 2004 arrangement, when the EBRD first invested in SBB?
• Based on whose and what sort of recommendation did she take up a senior post at SBB?
• Was SBB a client on any of the projects that she worked on at the EBRD?
• Has the EBRD looked into a possible conflict of interests, given that she joined a company that was once an EBRD client?
TIES BETWEEN THE ACTORS
Fake credibility and wealth
Kurir’s investigations have revealed that Šolak and United Group have enjoyed a safe haven at the EBRD for all these years despite their non-transparent and dubious business operations. When the ties between specific actors from the EBRD and the business decisions of Đilas and Šolak are analysed, it can be reliably concluded that it was these ties that made it possible for their business to expand and their wealth to increase exponentially. Today, the interests of United Group are protected by the reputation and credibility of this London-based bank, whose minority share in Šolak’s Group provides a basis for creating the false image of an undisputed and credible institution.
- 1991 – Dragica Pilipović Chaffey joins the newly founded EBRD.
- 2003 – Pilipović Chaffey becomes EBRD director in charge of Serbia and Montenegro.
- 2004 – The EBRD first invests in SBB, becoming a minority owner of this company.
- 2008 – Pilipović Chaffey leaves the EBRD and becomes SBB’s managing director.
- 2013 – In May, Milica Delević sells her share in Multikom Group for 3.6 million euros.
- 2013 – In July, Delević takes up a high-ranking post at the EBRD.
- 2014 – Đilas sells Direct Media, member of Multikom, but the ultimate buyer remains unknown.
- 2018 – United Group, of which the EBRD is a shareholder, officially announces that it had bought Direct Media.
Kurir.rs/ Photo: Printscreen, Ana Paunković, Shutterstock, Beta/Milan Obradović