Illegal use of public and state property was the crucial head start that the co-owner of United Group, Dragan Šolak, jumped at and used for his SBB – which was only one among many cable operators back in the day – allowing it to remove the competition and secure a dominant position in a growing market.
The comprehensive investigation conducted by Kurir has revealed that the plundering of the infrastructure (owned by EPIS and Belgrade Power Plants) and unscrupulous dealings lie at the very foundation of Šolak's business and make him the richest tycoon in Serbia. With a personal wealth estimated at 1.2 billion euros, Šolak has twice as much to his name than both Miodrag Kostić and Miroslav Mišković.
Tenants in the dark
The avarice that has gone into Šolak becoming the owner of a business empire from a small entrepreneur is best illustrated by examples of stealing from ordinary folks, who have personally testified to this. What has come to light, according to the citizens of Belgrade, is that SBB has for years been illegally tapping into the electricity from the communal and privately-owned electric meters in apartment buildings. The tab was picked up by the tenants of these buildings, who never agreed to this, or even knew that such a thing was happening in their buildings. The cost racked up by SBB and paid by others could amount to as much as 36 million euros (see the sidebar).
In July 2019 the public learned what happened in Drinčićeva Street in Belgrade. According to the tenants, it is a case of the cable operator SBB illegally tapping into the electric meter owned by Živorad Jovanović, a tenant from 6 Drinčićeva Street, and illegally obtaining electricity through it for 10 years or more. Jovanović's wife Mira told Kurir that that the situation had not changed at all – SBB was still tapping their electric meter. "A metal box is in front of the door and is wired into our electric meter. In June 2019 our electricity was shut off and the tenants in the building complained that they didn't have any TV channels. It turned out that they were tapping into our electric meter, so when our electricity was shut off, the tenants lost the cable TV signal. We paid our electricity bill, but their team came here to check the electricity. Our son had serious problems because he didn't let them connect. The police came too, and charges were pressed against us over what we owed," the tenant told us, adding that this case had prompted others to check their electric meters.
The letter that has become available to the public reveals that SBB actively refused to disconnect from their users' usurped electric meters, demanding that all the users in the residential unit in question terminate their contracts first – a condition practically impossible to meet.
Yet another example of SBB's arrogance is what happened at 15 Bogdana Žerajića Street in Miljakovac. The tenants claim that the cable operator has been using communal electricity without adequate remuneration for over 16 years. According to the building superintendent, Nebojša Stošić, SBB has not paid for the meter location or the electric meter. Instead, it paid only 4,830 RSD total per month for the renting of the electric cabinet. "That's a cut-price figure, but now they're not paying that either. They used our electricity and avoided paying for the meter location, which costs no less than 500 euros. In other buildings, the cable operators paid more than 30,000 dinars for that. And that's not all. They mounted a cabinet and put in cables through which they send the signal to many users in the neighbourhood, and they didn't let the tenants know. You cannot do that without obtaining the tenant's consent. It's questionable whether what SBB has done here is safe," Stošić told Kurir, noting that the operator's employees had illegally drilled holes in the load-bearing walls in order to mount their equipment.
SBB pays for nothing
Citizens to pick up the multimillion-euro tab
In light of the suspicion that these are not isolated cases but examples of established practice, EPIS experts have calculated that in 20 years of doing business in this way, SBB has illegally transferred to its users the potential costs exceeding 36 million euros.
According to an SBB document that has been reported on in the media, SBB consumes app. 16 W/h per electric meter. For an estimated 30,000 meters (800,000 users) over a period of 20 years, this adds up to around 36 million euros. Moreover, SBB does not pay the grid connection charges, nor does it cover the meter purchase expenses or any other obligations that must be paid to The Electric Power Industry of Serbia.
Foto: Damir Dervišagić, Printscreen