Serbia’s top tycoon Miroslav Miskovic goes on trial on charges of embezzlement, tax evasion

A Serbian tycoon pleaded not guilty on Thursday to charges of embezzlement and tax evasion at the start of a trial that the government sees as an important step in efforts to curb corruption.

Miroslav Miskovic, once considered as one of the most influential people in Serbia with close political ties, faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted by Serbia’s anti-corruption court. Also on trial is Miskovic’s son, Marko, and nine others.

The indictment alleges that the group siphoned off millions of dollars from a privatized road construction company in 2005-2010. They are also accused of evading taxes.

Miskovic, one of the richest people in impoverished Serbia, is the owner of Delta Holding, one of the biggest companies in the region. The company has retail, real estate, insurance and agriculture businesses in Serbia and the rest of the Balkans.

When Miskovic was arrested in December, government officials said it demonstrated that no one was untouchable in the anti-corruption sweep. Serbia must fight graft to move closer to EU membership.

Miskovic was released from detention months later after posting a record 12 million euros ($16 million) bail. His legal team has invited foreign experts to observe the trial.

Zdenko Tomanovic, a lawyer for Miskovic, claimed the charges were baseless.

“What these men are accused of is not a crime anywhere in the world,” he said.

Miskovic, 68, created his business empire under the late strongman Slobodan Milosevic in the 1990s, and expanded it after the leader’s ouster in 2000. Miskovic’s wealth in 2007 was estimated at some $2 billion but is believed to have grown since then.

Miskovic briefly served as Serbia’s deputy prime minister under Milosevic in 1990 when the Balkans started sliding into a civil war.