Five reporters form the Center of Investigative Reporting in Serbia were honored for their investigative series detailing the offshore empire of Balkan businessman Miroslav Misković.
U.S. Ambassador Mary Warlick headlined the sixth annual award ceremony held by the Independent Journalists Association of Serbia, the nation’s largest journalism trade group. Reporters Stevan Dojčinović, Vladimir Kostić, Dragana Pećo, Anđela Milivojević and Bojana Jovanović won the award for the best investigative journalism series by reporters under 30-years old. The winners spent months tracking Misković’s hidden financial dealings that stretched from Belize to Cyprus to Russia and throughout Eastern Europe.
The awards, co-sponsored by the U.S. Embassy, were part of World Press Freedom Day celebrations. Serbia has struggled to build an independent media in the post Milosevic era, with newspapers and television stations often owned by a tight group of oligarchs or advertising executives.
CINS is a member of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), a regional consortium of investigative centers based in Sarajevo that fosters investigative reporting and reporters in countries throughout Easter Europe. OCCRP, which is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Open Society Foundation, sponsored the project.
The series focused on Misković, the Balkans’ richest man and the most powerful landowner and businessman in the country. With his Delta Holding group, Misković has controlled grocery store chains, car dealerships and hundreds of millions of dollars of real estate.
CINS reporters found that Misković had set up an elaborate network of offshore companies in Belize and Cyprus to hide his ownership in $60 million in businesses and assets, the report found.
Misković also used offshore companies to skirt banking regulations by buying up more than 5 percent the Universal Bank. Ownership of more than 5 percent requires approval by banking regulators. The National Bank of Serbia opened an investigation following the series and took undisclosed action against the bank after finding “certain irregularities,’’ the National Bank said.
After the ceremony, Warlick met with the reporters and quizzed them on how they were able to extract so much information from Belize, an island nation with banking secrecy laws so strict that they often confound law enforcement agencies.
The stories are printed in Serbo-Croatian at www.cins.org.rs or in English at www.reportingproject.net.