ISSN 2330-717X

Son Of Fugitive Ex-President Builds Raspberry Fortune In Serbia – Analysis

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Since fleeing a prison sentence in Montenegro in 2016, Milos Marovic, the son of fugitive Montenegrin former politician Svetozar Marovic, has built up agricultural land holdings in Serbia worth more than a million euros, BIRN can reveal.

By Sasa Dragojlo, Marko Vesovic and Vladimir Otasevic

Four years after fleeing a prison sentence in Montenegro, Svetozar Marovic, the first and last president of the short-lived State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, broke his silence in August this year.

Speaking from Belgrade, where he found safe haven despite repeated demands from Montenegro for his extradition, 65-year-old Marovic, once a key ally of Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, said that his family had been “brought to the brink” of financial collapse by the scandal that enveloped him in 2015 when he was arrested on corruption charges.

“My son was deprived of the apartment where he lived and he now has nowhere to live,” Marovic said.

But an investigation by BIRN shows that Marovic’s 37 year-old son Milos is far from hitting rock bottom. 

On the contrary, Milos Marovic is in possession of thousands of acres of land in Serbia with an estimated value in excess of one million euros. Until early 2020, he was also the  owner of an agribusiness with assets worth several hundred thousand euros, according to BIRN’s findings, and is registered as living in a luxury apartment block in the elite Vracar district of the Serbian capital.

BIRN emailed questions to Milos Marovic via his lawyer, Radmila Krstic, who said he was “not currently able to answer” due to the fact a number of his relatives had tested positive for COVID-19. “We will contact you once the situation stabilises,” Krstic wrote.

Serbian safe haven

Arrested in late 2015, Svetozar Marovic signed a plea deal and was sentenced in September 2016 to three years and 10 months in prison on a string of corruption charges linked to his hometown of Budva on the Montenegrin coast and ordered to repay roughly one million euros. Before he fled to Serbia, he had a year and 10 months left to serve in prison.

His son, Milos, also pleaded guilty to involvement in an illegal land sale in a village near Budva that prosecutors said cost municipal coffers 1.4 million euros. He was sentenced to one year in prison and ordered to repay 380,000 euros. Both men fled, however, and reportedly have since lived largely untouched in neighbouring Serbia.

Svetozar Marovic was a co-founder of the Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS, which lost power this year after three decades of uninterrupted rule, and one of the closest allies of Djukanovic. Between 2003 and 2006 he served as president of the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, the last incarnation of an almost century-old union between the two that ended when Montenegrins narrowly voted in favour of independence.

Milos Marovic now holds Serbian citizenship. He had asked to spend his one–year prison sentence in Serbia, but never served a day. Under Montenegrin law, the deadline for him to serve his penalty expired on September 16, 2020, pending a final decision by the Higher Court in Podgorica.

Milos’s legal troubles, however, have left him far from bankrupt.

Significant agricultural land holdings

Since his conviction and flight, Milos Marovic has entered the fruit business in Serbia as owner of around 130 hectares of land in the country’s northern Vojvodina province.

Economists estimate the price of land in Vojvodina, Serbia’s chief agricultural region, at between 9,000 and 10,000 euros per hectare. BIRN found advertisements for land at a price of 10,300 euros per hectare in the Novi Becej municipality of Vojvodina, where Milos Marovic owns 107.6 hectares. At such prices, Marovic’s land is worth more than a million euros.

In 2017, Milos Marovic and a partner, Aleksandar Bulatovic, founded raspberry producer Agro Projekat. Bulatovic had a 20 per cent share and contributed land worth 21,400 euros, according to documents in the Serbian Business Registry. Marovic was obliged to inject 86,000 euros into the company but it is unclear whether he did.

In November 2018, Bulatovic transferred his share of the company to Marovic, making the latter the sole owner. The company’s capital quickly grew by another 176,000 euros, according to a valuation – seen by BIRN – of its raspberry plantation by experts Marovic hired from Belgrade’s Faculty of Agriculture. That year, the company earned around 24,000 euros.

Six months later, with the company’s capital standing at around 314,000 euros, Marovic closed it, according to the Serbian Business Registry. It formally ceased operating in January this year, with almost 270,000 euros worth of so-called cash equivalents at Marovic’s disposal.

Marovic and Bulatovic, however, did not quit business altogether. In October 2018, a week prior to selling his shares in Agro Projekat to Marovic, Bulatovic launched Fruit Universe, which now owns the land on which Agro Projekat began its raspberry plantation.

The same year, Marovic founded another firm called Mattea Agrar. The company still exists but no activities have been recorded so far and so none of its financial reports or activities can be viewed.

The Serbian Ministry of Agriculture told BIRN that none of the three companies had received any subsidies from the state, a fact a number of business people involved in raspberry production said was puzzling given almost anyone starting out in such a sector can receive help from the state merely by applying.

“It’s not at all smart to miss such an opportunity,” said a raspberry producer and long-time recipient of state subsidies who asked to remain anonymous. “It’s strange that they did.”

Reached by phone, Bulatovic said he was willing to speak to BIRN but then failed to respond to subsequent calls and messages.

Elite residence and wealthy connections

Svetozar Marovic’s claim that his son does not have a roof over his head also does not stand up to scrutiny.

Milos Marovic is registered as living in the well-heeled Belgrade neighbourhood of Vracar, in a luxury building owned by several wealthy businessmen, some of them considered close to his father. One apartment in the building is in fact owned by a relative of Svetozar Marovic.

One of the owners of the building is Dusko Knezevic, proprietor of Montenegro’s Atlas Banka and a number of other companies in the country. 

In 2019, Knezevic, who also faces charges in Montenegro of abuse of office but is believed to be living in London, told the media that he had been providing Djukanovic’s DPS with secret funds.     Marovic’s August statement, his first in four years, was made in conversation with Knezevic and streamed online.

Among the other owners of the building are two Serbian businessmen known for their work in Russia – Nebojsa Saranovic, owner of the Cypriot-based investment firm Kappa Star Limited that owns a number of companies in Serbia, and Desimir Medjovic, who made a fortune in construction in Russia.

Neither Svetozar nor Milos are registered as owning any of the apartments in the building. One, however, does belong to Djordjije Prelevic, brother of Marovic’s wife, Djordjina. A mortgage on Prelevic’s loan for the purchase of the 109 sqm apartment was previously owned by the company Tradeunique, which was involved in building the TQ Plazza business centre near Budva, the project for which Marovic and his son were originally arrested.

Tradeunique’s Serbian co-owner, Mirko Latinovic, was also charged but turned witness for the prosecution in the case against Marovic. BIRN contacted Tradeunique regarding this story but received no reply.

Balkan Insight

Balkan Insight

The Balkan Insight (fornerkt the Balkin Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN) is a close group of editors and trainers that enables journalists in the region to produce in-depth analytical and investigative journalism on complex political, economic and social themes. BIRN emerged from the Balkan programme of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, IWPR, in 2005. The original IWPR Balkans team was mandated to localise that programme and make it sustainable, in light of changing realities in the region and the maturity of the IWPR intervention. Since then, its work in publishing, media training and public debate activities has become synonymous with quality, reliability and impartiality. A fully-independent and local network, it is now developing as an efficient and self-sustainable regional institution to enhance the capacity for journalism that pushes for public debate on European-oriented political and economic reform.

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