The Carousel: How a Moscow bank made big loans to its Serbian owners
“Totally abnormal” lending practices
Euroaxis was originally called Wexim Bank, created during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s in order to help Slobodan Milosevic’s then-rumped Yugoslavia to circumvent international sanctions.
Culibrk compared it to a “public-private partnership”, founded by several state-owned banks in collaboration with well-known Serbian businessmen.
The aim was to secure the flow of money and pay the Russian oil and gas bills, but some of those involved afterwards “thought the bank could turn into a good business,” he told BIRN.
With the overthrow of Milosevic in October 2000 and the lifting of sanctions, Wexim became Euroaxis. Its purpose has also changed – to store NBS’s deposits as funding for its owners’ business transactions, which then went through legal scrutiny in Serbia.
Maricic became president in January 2015, ordered to save the bank after he had just bankrupted the Belgrade-based Srpska Banka.
He said he quickly realized the gravity of the situation Euroaxis was facing.
“Loans were made to companies that were under the control of the bank’s management, which is a completely abnormal thing,” said Maricic, who was arrested in December 2017 and later charged with abuse of power. on loans granted by Srpska Banka to prominent Serbian businessman Miroslav Bogicevic.
According to the Russian Deposit Insurance Agency, DIA, which now controls the bank, Euroaxis has granted more than 40 loans to 15 different companies for a total of more than 32 million euros.
At first glance, the companies seem to have no connection. But a separate loan list maintained by the bank and viewed by BIRN shows that a majority was linked to Lazarevic, Sikimic and Spasojevic.
Lazarevic-related companies benefited the most, with nine companies receiving 24 loans totaling around € 20 million. Those linked to Sikimic received three loans amounting to 2.8 million euros while 3.7 million were disbursed in three loans to companies linked to Spasojevic.
The trio blamed themselves on a secretly made audio cassette of one of the last board meetings, called in 2015 in a final attempt to save the bank from impending collapse. A source provided BIRN with a copy of the recording.
At one point, Lazarevic is heard explaining why their companies are not paying back the loans.
“You know that Obrad is working on his things, me all alone, Toplica all alone”, we hear people say. “Unfortunately, things are not going according to the dynamics we were hoping for. “
Regardless of the efforts of Euroaxis management, the Russian Central Bank revoked the bank’s license in May 2016.
Rudnap, ITM Group and Diners Club International, the companies owned by Lazervic, Sikimic and Spasojevic, would all go bankrupt in the next few years. Neither Lazarevic, Sikimic nor Spasojevic responded to repeated requests for comment on this story.