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THEFT IN THE GUISE OF DEMOCRACY AND FIGHT FOR MEDIA FREEDOM: Šolak is the richest Serb, with €1.22 billion and three private jets
Dragan Šolak, Foto: Screenshot

KURIR'S EXCLUSIVE INVESTIGATION

THEFT IN THE GUISE OF DEMOCRACY AND FIGHT FOR MEDIA FREEDOM: Šolak is the richest Serb, with €1.22 billion and three private jets

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A calculating and avaricious tycoon, the owner of United Group has managed to stay out of the Serbian public's eye for years and conducted the bulk of his business under the radar. Kurir is the first to expose him.

Knowing well that he has played dirty and without scruples in the game of business, owner of SBB and United Group Dragan Šolak has done his best to stay out of the public eye and go virtually unnoticed as he accumulated wealth which is colossal even by international standards, not to mention Serbian ones. According to the official data on the value of the assets in his possession, Šolak's personal fortune exceeds 1.22 billion euros!

Both business and pleasure

The documents and findings obtained by the Kurir team indicate that Šolak's empire was built on a slew of speculative, cowboy-style, even cartel-like activities, and that it continues to grow. The number of companies in which this exceptionally ruthless businessman has open or hidden ownership shares is increasing by the day. The enormous value of his assets makes Šolak the first home-grown Euro billionaire. This native of Kragujevac made his fortune mostly by providing cable television services to the citizens of Serbia and the region. However, the question that remains unanswered is this: how much tax has Šolak paid to the Serbian state for the fortunes that he has made doing business in this country?

After months of investigation and running detailed checks of all the available official documents, the Kurir team have discovered that, in addition to a 34-percent ownership share in the umbrella company United Group, there are indications that Šolak had, or still has, a share in the ownership of over one hundred firms. A calculating and avaricious businessman, Šolak has managed to stay out of the Serbian public's eye for years. His extensive asset declaration, the business schemes in the 'grey area', a life of luxury, and political machinations have also stayed under the radar.

In addition to the ownership share in valuable high-profit companies supported by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and globally renowned speculative investment funds, Šolak is also the owner of a great deal of real and personal property, whose value stands at tens of millions of euros. Of the United Group owner's personal assets, the most prominent ones include a luxurious house on Lake Geneva, worth tens of millions of euros, luxurious passenger airplanes, and golf courses across the world (see sidebar).

Companies in Serbia

In Serbia, Šolak has an ownership share in the companies Techhill Plaza and Dansav Plaza, which are mostly in the business of buying and selling owned real estate, as well as the company Ali Invest, which is in the business of hiring out and managing owned or rented real estate.

On top of this, Šolak has a 33.78 percent share in 21 companies: United Group; Serbia Broadband – Srpske Kablovske Mreže (SBB); Pantić Electronic Cable Television; Netlogic; Direct Media, allegedly previously owned by Dragan Đilas; Shoppster d.o.o. Belgrade; Tako Lako Shop; Fusion Communications; Big Print; Direct Media Komunikacije; Media Point; Grand Slam Group; CAS Media; United Media Production; United Media Digital; Newsmax Adria; United Cloud; Absolut Solutions; Adria News; City Media Plus-Streaming Ex Yu, and the TV channel Ultra, which has gone into liquidation. Šolak has shares less than 30 percent in the companies Brainz (25.34 percent) and Fortuna E Sports (27.02 percent).

Offshore network

Hiding actual ownership and tax evasion are evidently a specialty of this manipulative businessman. Specifically, Šolak is the actual owner of multiple companies founded in offshore zones, which often figure as ultimate owners in a network of his companies and recipients of profits which are not taxed in Serbia. They include Gerrard Enterprises (The Isle of Man), Gerrard MIP (The Cayman Islands), and Gerrard Consultancy Service Limited (The British Virgin Islands). Indirectly, through Gerrard Enterprises, Šolak is the actual owner of the companies Gerrard Aircraft (Austria), Gerrard Aircraft Two (Austria), Gerrard Estate Holdings (The Isle of Man), Gerrard Investments (The Isle of Man), Eligo Bled (Slovenia), Kraljevski Bled Golf Klub (Slovenia), Hiša Plus (Slovenia), and Hiša Plus (Serbia).

Indirectly, Dragan Šolak has 62-70 percent majority ownership shares in the following companies: Summer Parent (Luxembourg); EECF Istra (Luxembourg); Istra Cement (The Netherlands); Hotel Valkane (Croatia); MAX City (Croatia); Valbonaša Centar (Croatia); Kamp Banjole (Croatia); Istra VAL MAX Nekretnine (Croatia); and Golf Klub Sava (Serbia).

In euros, the total value of United Group's assets stands at 3.28 billion. According to the official financial statement of the company for the first half of last year, the Group completed over 100 acquisitions in the last 20 years, making a profit of as much as 793 million euros in the last year. According to the same document, the co-owners, with varying share percentages, include the funds BC Partners, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co (KKR), EBRD, as well as the management, with Šolak in the lead. His share in Summer Parent (Luxembourg), United Group's controlling company, is 34 percent. Following from this, the value of Šolak's assets related to United Group stands at slightly over 1.11 billion euros.

Millions for a hobby

Šolak has high-value assets in Slovenia as well, where he purchased very valuable golf courses to develop a hobby of his. Specifically, Šolak's share in the Slovenian company Eligo Bled is 18.59 million, in Kraljevski Bled Golf Klub 1.1 million, in Hiša Plus 5.9 million, and three million euros in a company with the same name, registered in Serbia. United Group's owner also has Golf Klub Sava in Serbia, whose nominal account value stands at only 19,677 euros, of which 13,774 euros belongs to Šolak. United Group's owner also has golf courses of unknown value in Moravske Toplice and Belgrade.

And while on paper it is perfectly clear that Dragan Šolak has the honour of being the first Serbian Euro billionaire, the one thing that cannot be traced, and which neither Šolak nor his United Group is willing to address, is a clear explanation as to where the taxes on the profits made so far have been paid.

RICHES IN THE AIR

Owner of three airplanes

Falkon
foto: screesnhot

In the best manner of the true rich who surround themselves in luxury, Šolak also owns several airplanes. He has two Falcon aircraft in his personal possession: Dassault Falcon 2000LXS, registration YU-FSS, worth 35 million euros; and Dassault Falcon F-900XL, registration T7-DGS, worth 45 million euros. Šolak also owns a Cessna 560XL Citation XLS aircraft, registration YU-SPC, worth 7.2 million euros. The Gerrard Enterprises company mortgaged 100 percent of its share in the company Gerrard Aircraft from Austria as security on an 8.5-million dollar Apple Bank for Savings loan in order to finance the purchase of this airplane.

THE RICHEST SERBIAN TYCOON BY A LONG SHOT

Twice as loaded as Mišković and Kostić

Miodrag Kostić, Miroslav Mišković
foto: Zorana Jevtić

Compared to the best-known Serbian tycoons, Dragan Šolak is by far the richest. As the first home-grown Euro billionaire, the owner of SBB and United Group has left behind Miodrag Kostić, whose wealth is estimated by Forbes Magazine to be around 520 million euros, Miroslav Mišković, whose wealth was estimated to be around 500 million euros at the peak of his power, Petar Matijević, with 400 million euros to his name, and Milija Babović, whose wealth was estimated by the media to be around 306 million euros.

LUXURIOUS VILLA ON LAKE GENEVA

Wife chooses the palace

jezero
foto: Shutterstock

Šolak also owns an exclusive villa on Lake Geneva, estimated at tens of millions of euros. According to the data published by the reporters of the Slovenian daily Delo, this luxurious piece of real estate was purchased by Šolak's wife Gordana on 24 September 2013. The data from the Swiss land registration listing reveals that the tax levied on this purchase was 8.35 million Swiss francs (app. 7.5 million euros).

A CLEAR MESSAGE

Kurir will not stop investigating

Despite all the pressures from the business and political lobby of Dragan Šolak and Dragan Đilas, Kurir will continue to investigate the shady business deals and schemes of this duo. It is quite telling, however, that the pressures and attacks against Kurir are invariably mounted ahead of publishing an investigation into Šolak and his associates.

Kurir.rs/ Redakcija Kurira Foto: screenshot

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