In the beginning of February, the Tax Administration published the list of major tax debtors in Serbia which did not include some of the major debtors from previous years. Thus, among other things, the public was deprived of information on the companies which had signed reprogramming, that is, deferred payment of their tax debts.
This institution had failed to publish data on debtors for a year and a half, while the change occurred following the request for access to information which the Danas daily filed to the Tax Administration, and upon reaction of Rodoljub Šabić, Commissioner for information of public importance and personal data protection.
The Tax Administration recently refused the request of the Center for Investigative Journalism of Serbia (CINS) in relation to data on outstanding tax liabilities for Pink international company, broadcaster of TV Pink, owned by Željko Mitrović.
The position of the Tax Administration was that this data was business secret, which is why CINS lodged a complaint to the office of the Commissioner for data of public importance.
CINS journalists wanted to check this information having in mind that in 2017 Pink received a € 3.2 million loan from the state Export credit and insurance Agency (AOFI), one of the conditions for granting a loan being that the company has no outstanding tax liabilities. An additional reason to request information was the fact that Pink had already been extended assistance by AOFI, for instance, in the course of 2014, when it was the major tax debtor among media outlets.
From the Pink financial reports which are currently available to the public it may be observed that this company had outstanding tax liabilities in 2013 (about 187 million dinars), 2014 (about 385 million), 2015 (about 131 million), and 2016 (about 238 million), but it is not clear how and under what conditions these debts were paid.
It was the Anti-corruption Council that first pointed to outstanding tax liabilities of Pink in its report on ownership structure and control of media in 2015. The Council discovered that, although according to the official data of the Tax Administration Pink’s debt for 2014 amounted to about 291 million dinars, it was actually three times as much – about 759 million dinars. The difference occurred exactly because of the fact that in 2013 the Tax Administration had granted Pink debt reprogramming, but this piece of information was published nowhere.
CINS has written about the assistance Pink international company has been receiving from AOFI on several occasions; in 2014, the total debt amounted to almost €10.5 million.
The story about the new loan from 2017 was the first one within the project in which CINS investigates media ownership and financing using taxpayers’ money, as well as political and other pressures journalists in Serbia are faced with. Other investigations will be published in the following months.
This project is financed by the European Union through the small grant project “Protection of media freedom and freedom of expression in the Western Balkans” implemented by the Croatian Association of Journalists within the regional project Regional platform for advocacy of media freedoms and safety of journalists in the Western Balkans, six journalists’ associations from the region – Independent association of journalists of Serbia, (NUNS),Association of BH journalists, Croatian Association of journalists, Association of journalists of Kosovo, Association of journalists of Macedonia, and Media Trade union of Montenegro