Minister questions Kolubara mine payments

31/01/2013

Past payments issued by state-owned Kolubara coal mining company has caused accusations of corruption.

By Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 31/01/13

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State-owned Kolubara mining basin is the largest coal producer in Serbia. [AFP]

As part of the government's intensified fight against crime and corruption in Serbia, Energy Minister Zorana Mihajlovic has accused the previous management of state-owned Kolubara coal mining company of several abuses and irregularities.

Kolubara mining basin, which is completely state owned, is the largest coal producer within the Electric Power Industry of Serbia.

Mihajlovic pointed out that the industry's previous management, which was appointed by the Democratic Party government, issued 1.2 million euros to Radosav Savatijevic Kene, a controversial businessman and former industry board member, who was arrested in 2011 for irregularities in his road construction company.

The money was given to Kene as compensation for his house in the village of Vreoci in Lazarevac municipality that was to be expropriated for a new strip mine.

The 1.2 million euros was partial payment, according to a directive written by Nebojša Ćeran, then director general of Kolubara. The house was appraised at 3.4 million euros.

Property in Lazarevac municipality, where Vreoci is located, is sold from 200 to 600 euros per square metre, according to local real estate companies.

According to Ceran, everything he did was based on a government document from 2007 that outlined that the whole of Vreoci would be expropriated, and homeowners in the village should be offered an advance payment of 30 percent of their home's value.

Ceran said that Kolubara paid advances to more than 350 people in based on the government directive.

"The government has the authority to determine what's in the public interest when expropriation is necessary for exploitation of mineral resources. The properties may be expropriated or the right to the same can be restricted for a fee, which cannot be lower than the market [value]," Aleksandar Kovacevic, an attorney at the Belgrade-based firm of Kovacevic & Kolesan, told SETimes.

"Ordinary citizens simply can't understand what's to be done with expropriations, who should be punished and how, …who should be paid in advance, how the payments should be done, and in what amount? The government should fix this, and Kolubara should continue working uninterrupted," Vlado Drazevic, a Kolubara miner from Lazarevac, told SETimes.

According to Mihajlovic, the mine also issued salaries to 1,000 to 1,500 non-existent employees and bought equipment for prices three, four, and six times higher than normal.

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"Information related to these irregularities that were delivered to us, [and have] been presented to the relevant state bodies that are authorised for further processing," the energy, development and environment ministry told SETimes.

Cedomir Cupic, Belgrade faculty of political science professor and anti-corruption agency board member, told SETimes that Kolubara is a typical case of large-scale corruption.

Cupic said that all of the Kolubara management, even those that did not receive financial benefits, must be held accountable.

"This is good example for everybody who would like to try to do something like this," he said. "It [sends] the message that they'll be faced with the same."

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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