In his letter sent to George Soros in August this year, Željko Mitrović, the owner of Pink International Company, specified that the amount of almost €4 million, allegedly paid by Soros’s Open Society Fund to non-governmental organizations in Serbia, would be sufficient to build 40 schools, 120 dispensaries or 10 hospitals.
However, Mitrović did not mention what the state could have built for almost €7 million, i.e. the amount granted to his company by the state Export Credit and Insurance Agency (AOFI) in the form of a loan.
Reports obtained by the Center for Investigative Journalism of Serbia (CINS) from Treasury Administration reveal that, during the single month of March this year, Pink International Company was granted almost €3.5 million. The payment was booked under “short-term loans” – an entry covering several payments received by Pink within the last two years. Thus the amounts surpassing €3.5 million were paid to Pink in 2015, and €120,000 in 2014.
More than €9,300 was paid to Pink in February this year, this time being booked as “other investments”.
The above mentioned amounts shed a new light on the financial support the state was providing to Pink through AOFI, not excluding the possibility that the amounts may be even higher. AOFI also used to issue guarantees to Pink which, however, cannot be detected in the reports produced by Treasury Administration.
According to previous agreements published by CINS, the amount of a single guarantee issued in favor of AIK Bank was €2.5 million. This guarantee agreement was signed on 8 August 2014.
In practice this means that the state, namely AOFI, helped Pink by giving a guarantee for their business. If Pink would not meet their contractual obligations – for example, not repaying the loan to the bank – the guarantee would be activated and the bank would draw the money from AOFI’s account.
This was actually the case with the Smederevo based factory “Železara” (now Hesteel Serbia Iron & Steel), which did not meet its contractual obligations to the banks, so AOFI had to pay almost $44 million. Although “Železara” was to return this amount to AOFI, Serbian Government requested AOFI to make a write-off of these receivables.
AOFI refuses to explain their business with Pink
During 2014 Pink was listed at Tax Administration as one of the largest text debtors. At the moment of signing the guarantee agreement in favor of AIK Bank, a postponed payment of a portion of the loan had not yet been approved. Therefore, it remains unclear how this company fulfilled AOFI’s condition that their clients must be free of any tax debts.
Another agreement the CINS had already written about was signed on 10 December 2014, when Željko Mitrović, the owner of Pink International Company and Dejan Vukotić, director of AOFI, arranged for Pink to be granted a loan worth €1.4 million. The agreement enabled financing of contracts between Pink and the companies BH Telecom from Sarajevo and MTEL from Podgorica.
Since last December AOFI has been refusing to submit to the CINS documents referring to their agreements with Pink, as well as information on their other clients, despite having a legal obligation to do so. Although almost ten months have passed since then, access to information is still denied.
Acting upon a complaint, Commissioner for Information of Public Importance issued a decision in favor of CINS, punishing AOFI twice with a total fine of RSD200,000. The Commissioner requested from Serbian Government to ensure execution of the his decision, namely to make AOFI submit the information.
Yet, until the present moment, the Government have neither reacted to any of such Commissioner’s requests, nor have they responded to CINS inquiry referring to this issue.
On several occasions during the previous months, as well as immediately before publishing this story, the CINS journalists requested an interview with the director of AOFI. However, AOFI neither agreed to the interview, nor did they answer the questions sent by e-mail.
Željko Mitrović also refused to talk.
The story has been produced under an EU funded grant, awarded in the Media Programme 2014. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of the Center for Investigative Journalism of Serbia and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the EU.