By Bojana Barlovac
Serbia’s former ruling party denies using a Russian front company to buy half-share in the recently sold flagship Politika newspaper.
Amid continuing uproar over the sale of the country’s oldest newspaper, journalists associations in Serbia have asked the authorities to present all relevant information regarding the recent sale.
On Monday, Germany’s WAZ Media Group sold its 50-per-cent share in Politika to Moscow-based OOO East Media Group.
Politika is now owned 50 per cent by the Serbian state and 50 per cent by the Russian company.
But a mystery continues over who stands behind the Russian company, with some claiming it is little more than a front for the Democratic Party.
According to a Russian Business Registry, East Media was registered in Moscow in January 2012.
The value of the share is 15 million euro but Serbia’s Beta news agency reported that WAZ in fact sold it to the Moscow-based company for only 4.7 million euro.
The Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia, NUNS, says the current media ownership structure of Politika needs to be made transparent.
Another union, the Journalists’ Association of Serbia, UNS, meanwhile, has linked the East Media Group to another Serb, Miroslav Bogicevic, a Democratic Party donor.
It claimed that there had been “hints for months that he would be the person to finance the acquisition of Politika”.
Bogicevic owns MB Farmakom Concern, which includes Sabac Dairy, Battery Factory Sombor and several mines.
Bogicevic denies having anything to do with the newspaper’s sale.
“I do not know where the idea of linking my name to this comes from,” Bogicevic told the daily newspaper Press.
Adding to the confusion, Politika shareholders say they do not know who stands behind the East Media Group either.
The chair of the Politika Shareholders Society, chair Zeferino Grasi says that he was not informed about the decision to sell the WAZ stake in the company.
“I do not know anything more than what we see in the media … Now we are trying to find out more,” he told Politika.
The sale of a half-share in Politika comes at the time of a handover of power in Serbia from a Democrat- to the Progressive-led government.
The Progressives reacted angrily to the change in ownership, accusing the Democratic Party of having masterminded the sale without following due process.
“The Progressive Party believes it is outrageous and shameful that the oldest Serbian media outlet has changed owner overnight without anyone’s knowledge and transparency,” a statement by the party said.
The statement went on to link the sale to Bogicevic and to another senior Democrat, the outgoing Serbian agriculture minister, Dusan Petrovic.
The United Regions of Serbia, URS, another party in the new government, also maintained that the Democratic Party was “behind the sale”.
The Democrats have issued a statement to deny these claims.
Petrovic also dismissed claims about his involvment in the change of ownership in Politika as “insinuations” and “completely untrue”.
“The reports are “not worth giving any further comment on”, Petrovic told the Tanjug news agency.
WAZ announced its intention to withdraw from the Balkans for economic reasons in June 2010. That year, WAZ sold off some of its main newpapers in Romania and Bulgaria.
In January this year, WAZ sold its three Macedonian newspapers, Dnevnik, Utrinski Vesnik and Vest, to Orka, a local company owned by Orce Kamcev.
WAZ still has 55-per-cent share in another newspaper called Dnevnik, a daily based in Serbia’s northern Vojvodina province.