Serbian leaders defend finance minister caught in Pandora papers
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic (2-R), Mohamed Ali Alabbar, President of Eagle Hills (R), Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic (L) and Finance Minister Sinisa Mali (2-L) inspect the Galerija shopping center in Belgrade, October 2020. EPA-EFE / ANDREJ CUKIC
Serbian leaders, including President Aleksandar Vucic and Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, have defended Finance Minister Sinisa Mali, accusing Serbian crime and corruption news network KRIK of lying about him.
The attacks on KRIK came after KRIK uncovered definitive evidence of the Pandora leaks that Mali, a former mayor of Belgrade, purchased 24 luxury apartments on the Bulgarian coast, issuing a relevant document bearing Mali’s signature.
Bozo Draskovic, a former member of the Serbian Anti-Corruption Agency, told BIRN that it is clear that corruption among senior officials will not be properly investigated by Serbian institutions.
âThe institutions in these cases do not control anything. Those in power do not attack their own valuable people, âDraskovic told BIRN.
Documents obtained by KRIK confirm reports that Mali purchased 23 apartments through two offshore companies it owned in the British Virgin Islands in 2012 and 2013.
He bought another one directly under his own name. They have a total estimated value of around 5 million euros, a sum that is several times more than Mali’s declared income.
KRIK first reported in 2015 that the then mayor of Belgrade bought 24 luxury apartments in the Bulgarian resort town of Sveti Nikola. According to KRIK, Mali owned the two offshore companies even after it became mayor of Belgrade, and did not report this to the Anti-Corruption Agency, according to the law.
But Mali accused the media of lying and admitted to having bought only one apartment, the one registered in its name. He claimed he was not behind the two offshore companies that bought the other 23.
Draskovic recalled that he was part of the Anti-Corruption Agency when the affair broke in 2015, and that he directly sought to open an investigation, especially to verify the facts with Bulgarian institutions.
âI doubt this has been verified. We have always forgotten that there are no institutions without people. We need to determine who requested that the matter not be investigated, that is the key question, âDraskovic said.
Mali said on Tuesday that the new revelations were all lies, declining to answer questions about the document bearing his signature which proves it owns the offshore companies. He accused the journalists of focusing on the subject of the 24 apartments because they could not get to President Vucic.
âI urge you to stop lying. It is not a problem to compensate that I have 24 apartments. That’s not the subject, the subject is, “Well, where are Aleksandar Vucic’s accounts?” “He, of course, didn’t have them because they lie about everything, like they have lied so far,” Mali said.
President Vucic, who said several years ago that he would fire Mali if it was proven to own the apartments, has since insisted that nothing has been proven by the media.
âI don’t think you’ve proven it; the court verdict is different from you, but if it turns out to be correct, but not with you as judges, there are no problems, and I will keep my promise, âhe said. he said in a confused tone, without explaining what verdict he was talking about. .
Prime Minister Brnabic said that “it is not true” that Mali bought 24 apartments in Bulgaria in 2012 and 2013.
“Documents without legal interpretation prove nothing and there is nothing new in what has been published, no new information which has not yet been answered and which has not been investigated “she said.
Neither the Serbian prosecution nor the anti-corruption agency reacted.
Despite several well-documented cases in which it has been involved, Mali was appointed Minister of Finance in 2018. From this position, he also controls the Administration for the Prevention of Money Laundering. Since he became Minister, several of the apartments in question in Bulgaria have been confiscated or frozen on the orders of banks and local tax offices.