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News 13 Nov 17

Serbian Energy Boss 'Helped Secure Ruling Party's Loan'

BIRN can reveal that the owner of the energy company that got the controversial contract in 2014 to drain the Tamnava mine, despite denying any ties to Serbia's ruling party, in fact raised a major loan for it ahead of its 2012 election campaign.

Aleksandar Djordjevic, Filip Rudic
BIRN
Belgrade
Dragoljub Zbiljic at the flooded Tamnava mine. Photo: Aleksandar Djordjevic

BIRN can reveal that Dragoljub Zbiljic, the owner of energy company Juzna Backa, helped Serbia's ruling Progressive Party raise a loan for half a million euros ahead of the general election in 2012 – that saw the Progressives come to power.

Documents BIRN has obtained show that Zbiljic was the guarantor for a loan of 55 million dinars [around 500,000 euros] that the Progressive Party took from Univerzal Bank on April 25, 2012, ahead of the elections.

According to the data from Serbia's Anti-Corruption Agency, an independent state body tasked with monitoring election finances, the total campaign income of the Progressives in 2012 was around 5 million euros.

A BIRN investigation in 2015 revealed how the energy company the previous year got the contract to drain the flooded Tamnava-Zapadno polje mine although it lacked references for work of this kind.

Subsequent delays in draining the mine increased the cost of damage by 120 million euros, the investigation showed. This was the estimated cost of the purchase of extra imported electricity and coal.

In a statement made in 2014 to BIRN, company owner Zbiljic denied any connection with the ruling Progressive Party.

Zbiljic refused to comment to BIRN in a telephone interview about the findings concerning the loan. The Progressive Party also did not reply to BIRN’s inquiries about the findings.

After BIRN published its investigation into the draining of the mine, Serbia's then Prime Minister [now President], Aleksandar Vucic, accused BIRN of publishing lies to undermine his government.

Zbiljic’s company, Maneks, took over Juzna Backa in 2014. Today, it maintains most of the infrastructure of Serbia’s national electricity provider, EPS.

Data obtained from the Office for Public Procurements show Juzna Backa signed most of its contracts in 2017 with EPS, while its most valuable contract, worth 2 billion dinars [over 16.5 million euros] was made with the Novi Sad Construction Institute.

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