Serbian National Bank Responds to CIN-Serbia Story

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In a written statement, the National Bank said it had taken unspecified action but would not provide details, citing confidentiality laws. The statement said the bank was responding to questions and a series of articles, “which relate to the fact that the ownership structure of Universal Bank ... is seen to have had the same ultimate owner.’’

A CINS investigative report showed that a series of offshore companies connected to Serbian tycoon Miroslav Miskovic took a large stake in Belgrade’s Universal Bank. In each case the companies, based in Cyprus or the Caribbean Islands, bought about 4.7 – 4.9 percent of the bank’s shares, just below the 5-percent threshold that would trigger the need to disclose true ownership and get National Bank approval.  If the companies were ultimately controlled by one owner, it would have circumvented public disclosure and stock ownership laws.

“As regards to the specific bank, National Bank of Serbia has found certain irregularities in the ownership structure of this bank, and, in accordance with its responsibilities is taking adequate measures,’’ the National Bank statement said. “We stress that … measures that the National Bank of Serbia take are considered confidential.’’

Universal bank released a written statement on Monday but refused to address the National Bank’s findings or comment on any penalties.

“Universal Bank is an open joint stock company; bank shares have traded on the Belgrade Stock Exchange since January, 2006,’’ according to the statement, signed by Universal spokesman Mladen Skenderija. “Shareholders buy and own shares in accordance with stock regulations and procedures, without any influence of the bank. Any change in ownership is registered with the Central Registry, and that data is public.’’

The series showed that Miskovic’s Delta Insurance owned 4.9 percent of Universal Bank Stock, and another affiliate of his Delta Group, Delvel Pro, also owned 4.9 percent of the bank. Additionally, Miskovic’s Belize company, Vanity International, had borrowed about €8 million in 2007 from three Virgin Island based companies. Those companies and their affiliates, including Luce and Right Start Technology, took 4.9 percent stakes in Universal months after loaning Miskovic and Vanity the money.

In its letter to CINS, the National Bank said that no person or entity is allowed to take more than a 5-percent stake in a Serbian bank without disclosing its ownership and getting permission from the National Bank. Delta had previously applied for a larger ownership stake but had been rejected, the National Bank said last year.

Using one or more companies to obtain more than 5-percent is not allowed, the National Bank said in a letter released Friday.

“The National Bank of Serbia will control if there is a relationship between persons/shareholders of the bank, or if they pose as an individual acquirer,’’ according to the statement.

Luce and Right Start Technology no longer own shares in Universal Bank. However, two trusts operating out of the same address in Cyprus as Miskovic’s Delta law firm have each taken a 4.9 percent share in Universal, according to documents filed with the Belgrade Stock Exchange.

About the Project

The investigation of "Mišković's Millions'' was a joint project of the Center of Investigative Reporting Serbia and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. The stories were researched, reported and written by Stevan Dojčinović, Vladimir Kostić, Anđela Milivojević, Dragana Pećo and Bojana Jovanović in Belgrade. Azhar Kalamujic provided additional reporting from CIN in Sarajevo.

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