Miroslav Miskovic. Picture: REUTERS
Miroslav Miskovic. Picture: REUTERS

BELGRADE — Billionaire retail tycoon Miroslav Miskovic, one of Serbia’s most influential figures, was arrested with his son and seven other people on Wednesday, as part of an anti-graft probe, a government official said.

The Miskovic family and associates were suspected of siphoning funds and property from privatised road maintenance companies and making financial gains of as much as €30m, the official, who asked not to be named, said.

Estimated to be Serbia’s richest man, Mr Miskovic has interests in retail, agribusiness, real estate and insurance in Serbia and the Balkan region. He created his Delta Holding empire under late strongman Slobodan Milosevic. The Miskovic family and associates were suspected of siphoning funds and property from privatised road maintenance companies and making financial gains of as much as €30m during Yugoslavia’s bloody collapse in the 1990s, and expanded it after Milosevic was ousted in 2000.

Mr Miskovic was worth $1bn in 2007, according to Forbes, wealth which at the time placed him among the richest 1,000 people in the world. Last year, he sold his Delta Maxi supermarket chain to Delhaize, a Belgium-based retailer, for €932.5m, one of the largest foreign investments ever in the European Union applicant country.

Mr Miskovic has twice been questioned by police in the past 10 days. Delta Holding, on behalf of Mr Miskovic, has denied any irregularities. It employs 7,200 people and earned €1.42bn last year, according to its website.

Mr Miskovic’s son, Marko, was arrested to stop him leaving the country. Also arrested was Milo Djuraskovic, the owner of a now-bankrupt group of road maintenance companies, Nibens.

Over the past few months, police have arrested more than a dozen businessmen, including two former cabinet ministers from the former ruling Democratic Party, on charges of corruption and abuse of office.

Serbia’s six-month-old government, an alliance of socialists and nationalists last in power at the end of Milosevic’s 13-year-rule, says it is serious about rooting out organised crime and corruption as the country seeks membership of the European Union. Following the arrests police stepped up security of Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, tasked with fighting organised crime.

Reuters