Serbia's retail tycoon, his son and 8 others detained in government anti-corruption sweep

Serbia’s billionaire retail tycoon and one of the Balkan country’s most influential figures was detained Wednesday in what the nationalist government said is a major anti-corruption sweep.

Miroslav Miskovic, one of the richest people in the impoverished Balkan country, is the owner of Delta Holding company which deals with retail, real estate, insurance and agriculture business in Serbia and the rest of the Balkans.

Police said he was detained along with his son Marko and eight others in connection with privatization of several road-repairs firms in 2005 during which the suspects “gained illegal profit” of about €30 million ($38.98 million), state prosecutors said. They said the suspects will be kept in detention for at least 48 hours for questioning.

Serbia’s nationalist government has launched several anti-corruption probes since coming to power in June, which critics say, were conducted mostly against political opponents and allies of the country’s previous pro-Western leadership.

Serbia must fight graft if it wants to become an EU member.

Miskovic, 67, created his business empire under late strongman Slobodan Milosevic in the 1990s, and expanded it after his ouster in 2000. His wealth in 2007 was estimated at some $2 billion (€1.54 billion), but is believed to have expanded since.

Miskovic was briefly Serbia’s deputy prime minister under Milosevic in 1990 when the Balkans started sliding into a bloody civil war. After Milosevic’s ouster, he was believed to have financed several pro-Western parties and groups, thus playing a crucial role in keeping current nationalist rulers and Milosevic’s former allies out of power for almost 12 years.

Miskovic was earlier this month summoned for questioning over another corruption affair. He has denied any wrongdoing.

His son Marko, the former owner of one of the privatized road-repairs companies, tried to fly to London over the weekend, but was stopped at Belgrade airport and his passport was seized.