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International Information Centre for Balkan Studies



German FM ahead of Serbian elections-We are watching carefully

December 5, 2023

Ahead of the Serbian parliamentary elections, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock expressed “deep concern over the nationalist propaganda tendencies” in Serbia.

There cannot be grey zones in Europe, said Baerbock when asked at a media conference in Ljubljana, Slovenia, to comment on the coming December 17 parliamentary elections in Serbia and Russia’s influence in the country.

At a time when the Russian president, who in his imperial madness is attacking not only Ukraine, but also peace in Europe, it must be clear that we advocate peace, said the German Minister, adding that this was proved by 55 states at a recent OSCE meeting in Skopje and that it applies even more to the European Union (EU). Our cooperation is our life insurance, stressed Baerbock.

Commenting on the Serbian leadership’s attitude toward the EU and its close ties with Russia, Bearbock said: “When we talk about enlargement, it’s crucial that you cannot sit on two chairs at the same time.” Accession negotiations must be accompanied by commitment to peace, security and EU values, she said.

That is why I am deeply concerned over the latest developments, especially in Serbia, regarding the nationalist propaganda tendencies, added the German Foreign Minister.

She explained that Serbia’s position is also affecting its cooperation with the European Union.

That also means that we are carefully watching the new elections in Serbia, said Baerbock, stressing that the Serbian Government must implement the OSCE recommendations regarding democratic institutions and human rights.

She highlighted the failure to guarantee equal access to the media for all political candidates, the pressure on the voters and abuse of public office and resources by the Serbian Government. That is why, when it comes to these elections, it is very important that we carefully monitor these things, said Baerbock.

Source:  https://n1info.rs/english/news/german-fm-ahead-of-serbian-elections-we-are-watching-carefully/

Petkovic-Kosovo’s Kurti playing tricks

December 5, 2023

Head of the Serbian Government Office for Kosovo and Metohija Petar Petkovic said Tuesday that the authorities in Pristina, with Prime Minister Albin Kurti at helm, have clearly demonstrated that they are not interested in any kind of de-escalation and normalization of the situation in the four Serb-majority municipalities in northern Kosovo (Kosovo and Metohija is the official name for what the Serbian authorities consider to be the country’s southern province).

Petkovic said in a media release that this is one of Belgrade’s and European Union’s (EU) main demands, adding that “Kurti’s intention is to continue the terror against the Serbs.”

“This is precisely the reason why Albanian representatives in the Kosovska Mitrovica, Leposavic, Zubin Potok and Zvecan municipal administrations refused to accept a citizen’s initiative for the dismissal of fake and illegitimate mayors, which the citizens submitted strictly adhering to the administrative instructions drawn up by Pristina,” said Petkovic.

He added that the Kosovo Serbs who attempted to submit requests for the dismissal of the mayors of four northern majority-Serb municipalities were questioned, searched and IDed by the Kosovo police “with the clear aim to intimidate them so they would give up on their requests.”

“All this speaks of the fact that Kurti is not only violating the rights of the Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija, but also his own regulations in situations when the Serbs need to be additionally deprived of their rights and harassed,” stressed Petkovic.

He said Pristina’s refusal to accept the citizens’ request for the dismissal of fake mayors clearly shows that “Kurti has been playing tricks all along, in order to deceive the EU as well as to stop the process for the dismissal of illegitimate Albanian local bodies of power in the north of Kosovo.”

Source:  https://n1info.rs/english/news/petkovic-kosovo-s-kurti-playing-tricks/

Serbian Government says progress made on PISA test

December 5, 2023

The results on the PISA test conducted in 2022 show that Serbia has made progress compared to 2018, and is ranked 40th in reading and science, 42nd in mathematics, said the Serbian Government in a press release.

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an international assessment that measures 15-year-old students’ reading, mathematics, and science literacy and 6,413 students from 183 schools in Serbia participated in 2022. PISA began in 2000, it is administered once every three years, and Serbia took part in PISA for the first time in 2003.

The results showed that the average achievement of students from Serbia on the mathematical literacy scale is 440 points (OECD: 472), on the reading literacy scale 440 (OECD: 476), and on the scientific literacy scale 447 points (OECD: 485), said the Government.

The results in science and reading show a slight improvement compared to those obtained in the 2018 PISA survey (by eight and one points, while in mathematics there is a drop of eight points).

Girls have better results in reading by almost 26 points, which is almost one year of schooling. Boys have slightly better achievements in mathematics, and the difference amounts to 11 points. In half of the countries, boys on average had statistically significantly higher achievement than girls.

When interpreting the achievement results, it should be taken into account that, compared to 2018, performance in OECD countries dropped by 10 points in reading and by almost 15 points in mathematics. The results achieved in Serbia under the conditions of Covid-19 give rise to hope that the reforms that were started immediately after the end of the PISA 2018 cycle will continue in the direction of raising the quality of education, said the Government.

The results of PISA 2018, published in 2019, made it possible to reconsider the assumptions embedded in the existing education system, it added.

Source:  https://n1info.rs/english/news/serbian-government-says-progress-made-on-pisa-test/

CoE report says Pristina used excessive force in north Kosovo

December 5, 2023

Media reports said that the Council of Europe (CoE) criticized the authorities in Pristina for the excessive use of police forces in the north of Kosovo.

The media quoted a CoE report on Kosovo’s alignment with that organization’s standards which called Pristina to refrain from police operations that could lead to wider conflicts. It said that the Kosovo authorities favor quick and violent use of special forces to establish order even when there is a risk of the police action causing mass bloodshed and expressed concern over the tendency to use police special forces excessively in the north.

The report said that a greater escalation of violence was prevented by KFOR.

It also criticized Kosovo institutions for failing to respect the independence of the judiciary and abide by court rulings and international agreements.

Source:  https://n1info.rs/english/news/coe-report-says-pristina-used-excessive-force-in-north-kosovo/

Kosovo Serbs’ request to dismiss mayors refused

December 5, 2023

Kosovo Serbs tried but failed to file requests to dismiss the mayors of four northern majority-Serb municipalities, the Kosovo Online portal said on Tuesday.

It said that delegations in Mitrovica North, Leposavic, Zvecan and Zubin Potok brought the paperwork to the headquarters of their municipal administrations where civil servants refused to accept them. The requests are in line with the instructions issued by the Kosovo government to replace the mayors who were elected in a vote boycotted by the Serbs. The election of those four mayors led to violent protests earlier this year.

Members of the delegations told the portal that they were not allowed to hand in the requests. They said that requests would be sent to Kosovo Central Election Commission and that they would inform the European Union and Quint countries.

One report said that the police were called to the municipality headquarters in Zvecan to take down the names of the delegation members.

Source:  https://n1info.rs/english/news/kosovo-serbs-request-to-dismiss-mayors-refused/

Brnabic-SNS will keep Kosovo in Serbia

December 5, 2023

Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said on Tuesday that her Serbian Progressive Party’s (SNS) policy is to keep Kosovo a part of Serbia.

“We will keep Kosovo a part of Serbia, we will continue Serbia’s European path,” she said speaking live on the pro-regime TV Prva. The Kosovo online portal quoted her as saying that 28 countries revoked their decisions to recognize Kosovo while President Aleksandar Vucic has been in power.

According to her, the SNS has clearly defined goals for the future of the country which includes average salaries of 1,400 Euro by 2027 and average pensions of 650 Euro along with the construction of roads and assistance for entrepreneurs.

Source:  https://n1info.rs/english/news/brnabic-sns-will-keep-kosovo-in-serbia/

European Parliament sending observers to Serbian elections

December 5, 2023

The European Parliament is sending a six-member team on a week-long mission to Serbia to observe the run-up to and elections on December 17.

N1 sources said that the delegation are Vladimir Bilcik, Viola Von Cramon, Klemen Groselj, Javier Nart, Andreas Schieder and Malin Bjork. The mission will be in Serbia on December 14 to 19 and will meet with key political players, European Union Ambassador Emanuel Giaufret, OSCE Mission and Council of Europe (CoE) officials as well as local civil society organizations including CeSID, CRTA, Transparency Serbia and others.

They will also meet with all the election ticket leaders, media representatives, the Republic Election Commission (RIK) and the Regulatory Body for Electronic Media (REM). The mission will meet with Aleksandar Vucic as president of Serbia.

Source:  https://n1info.rs/english/news/european-parliament-sending-observers-to-serbian-elections/

Anti-corruption agency denies purge

December5, 2023

The Serbian anti-corruption agency denied that a purge was underway following opposition claims that experts were being replaced by incompetents.

Opposition Serbia Center party deputy leader Tijana Peric Diligenski said earlier that the the authorities were looking for the whistleblower who disclosed that experts were being replaced in the Agency For Prevention of Corruption which answers to parliament.

The Agency replied to N1’s request for comments saying that it was being re-organized to make it more efficient. It denied that anyone had been fired, claiming experts were moved to new jobs.

According to the Agency, new rules on internal organization were introduced which lowered the number of sections from 10 to 8 and the number of civil servants from 13 to 10.

It said that staff numbers remain unchaged at 162.

Source:  https://n1info.rs/english/news/anti-corruption-agency-denies-purge/

IPI-Political interests clash over Serbian media scene

December5, 2023

The International Press Institute (IPI) said that the Serbian Parliament recently adopted two milestone media laws following an unrestrained debate, adding that political interests are clashing over the media scene.

Parliament adopted the Law on Public Information and the Media and the Law on Electronic Media on November 4 after three days of a stormy debate. Both laws were criticized by local and international media organizations for deviating from the national Media Strategy with some positive compromises the removal of the most problematic aspects of the draft laws, the IPI story said adding that a loophole was left in allowing the state of Serbia to legally own media outlets through the state telecommunications operator Telekom Serbia.

“Press freedom advocates fear that this ability for the state-owned telecoms company to purchase and own media will hand the government greater indirect influence and control over the influential television market. This would risk distorting the media market by an uneven playing field for media companies, as well as posing the risk of undue political influence,” the story said. It said that Telekom Serbia has owned media outlets for years such as Euronews Serbia since 2021.

The story said that there is concern that Telekom might abuse its position of control over cable networks to disadvantage independent media outlets such as United Group’s N1. “These concerns underscore the importance of securing a level competitive playing field for all media outlets and the need for a truly independent and objective regulatory framework,” it said.

Source:  https://n1info.rs/english/news/ipi-political-interests-clash-over-serbian-media-scene/

Report warns Global Brands Funding Pro-Kremlin Disinformation in the Balkans

December 5, 2023

The Balkan Free Media Initiative (BFMI) and Center for Research, Transparency and Accountability (CRTA) warned that global brands are funding media outlets disseminating disinformation in the Balkans.

The report by the two organizations said “advertising revenues from major North American and European brands are funding and legitimising media outlets that disseminate disinformation on the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Kosovo and other divisive issues in the Balkans”.

A press release said that the report called policymakers, civil society and the private sector to take concrete steps to ensure corporate advertising strategies strengthen independent media and democracy in the region.

The report titled Defunding Disinformation in the Balkans: How International Brands Support Russia’s Agenda said that major brands from Germany, the US, UK, France and other countries are channeling millions of Euro in advertising to media outlets in Serbia and Bulgaria that spread pro-Kremlin disinformation, denying the Bucha massacre, likening NATO to an ‘apocalyptic group of anti-Russian crusaders’ and attacking the European Union.

“Amid growing concerns over the impact of disinformation on security and democracy in the region, the report issues a stark warning: global brands and advertising companies are inadvertently bolstering Russian influence and exacerbating the fragile political situation in the region through their current advertising practices. This represents a growing risk for brand reputation,” a press release said.

The report named Lidl, Delhaize Group, Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, Bosch and Amazon. “Advertising technology providers Google and Criteo are found to connect brands with online news portals spreading disinformation in the Balkans,” it said.

The press release quoted BFMI Board memer Peter Horrocks as saying that „advertising from major international brands plays a significant role in sustaining media in Southeast Europe and the Balkans. Unfortunately, some of these outlets regularly promote disinformation. Our focus today is to highlight how current funding policies inadvertently supports the spread of Russian propaganda in the Balkans; a fact largely unknown to these brands.”

CRTA Program Director Rasa Nedeljkov said that “the anti-West, pro-Russia and pro-government propaganda machine in Serbia is largely funded and, therefore, legitimised by Western companies. North American and European nations, as well as the EU, must take action now to stop this – otherwise they will continue to foster the Russian playbook in Serbia that pushes our society away from democracy and European values straight into authoritarian rule.”

“The surge of disinformation in the Balkans is stoking ethnic conflict, eroding democracy, and driving the region away from the EU and into Putin’s hands. Global brands, and the middlemen involved in the advertising process, have an important responsibility to ensure their investments do not contribute to the further erosion of media freedom and stability in the Balkans,” the press release quoted BFMI Director Antoinette Nikolova as saying.

Source:  https://n1info.rs/english/news/report-warns-global-brands-funding-pro-kremlin-disinformation-in-the-balkans/

Bosnia's Helez meets Austria's Tanner: BiH's integration into EU is Austria's priority

December 4, 2023

Bosnia’s Deputy prime minister and Minister of Defence Zukan Helez hosted Klaudia Tanner, the Austrian Minister of Defence on Monday, Anadolu Agency reported, adding that Helez was joined by his deputies Slaven Galic and Aleksandar Goganovic.

The Austrian delegation included the Ambassador of Austria to BiH Ulrike Hartmann, Chief of Staff of the Ministry of Defence Major General Friedrich Schroetter, Assistant Brigadier General of the Ministry Martin Selzer, as well as the military attaché of this country in BiH Brigadier Erich Simburger.

Bosnia’s Defence Ministry stated that the interlocutors exchanged opinions on the current political and security situation in BiH and stated that the mandate of the Althea EUFOR mission in BiH was recently extended in a time of increased security challenges, which is extremely important for preserving a safe and stable environment in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

At the meeting, members of the BiH Defence Ministry delegation thanked Tanner for the overall help and assistance that the Republic of Austria provides to BiH on the way to European integration, as well as through numerous projects, the most important of which are education of cadets at the prestigious Teresian Military Academy of the Armed Forces of Austria.

They also praised the contribution to the EUFOR mission where Austria plays a leading role, as well as the country's significant assistance in training of members of the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina, dealing with surplus weapons and munitions, and other important forms of assistance.

Helez informed Tanner about the most significant activities of the Ministry of Defense and the Armed Forces of BiH, with an emphasis on the issue of development and modernization of the BiH Armed Forces, dealing with armaments and munitions, with unpromising military assets, as well as the importance of the NATO “Support Package for Strengthening the Defence and Security Capacities of Bosnia and Herzegovina” (DCB), which was approved at the NATO summit in Madrid last year. It’s implementation has begun, the Ministry said, adding that the results are already visible and beneficial for the Armed Forces of BiH.

Interlocutors also discussed Bosnia’s progress on the Euro-Atlantic path, especially in light of the announced meeting of the BiH delegations in Brussels with the highest officials of the European Union, where they will discuss the country’s progress in fulfilling the set conditions and priorities, which could be a good sign for the opening of negotiations for membership.

Minister Tanner praised the efforts and activities carried out by the BiH Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces of and said that Austria will remain committed to BiH in the future, not only because of the shared history and friendly relations, but also because of the security challenges that the two countries will face together.

“That's why the integration of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the entire Western Balkans region into the European Union is an important priority of the Republic of Austria,” Tanner said during the meeting.

In the end, it was concluded that the current level of bilateral defense cooperation is at an enviable level and said that it will be continued in the future for mutual benefit and satisfaction.

In addition to the Minister and Deputies, the delegation of the BiH Ministry included the Deputy Chief of the Joint Staff of the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Major General Gojko Knezevic, the Minister's military adviser, Brigadier Muhamed Dautovic, the Minister's Chief of Staff, Salko Beba, and the desk for cooperation with Austria, Violeta Kuljanin.

Source:  https://n1info.ba/english/news/bosnias-helez-meets-austrias-tanner-bihs-integration-into-eu-is-austrias-priority/

Tepic-Telekom selling its telecom towers, has no money for salaries

December 4, 2023

Party of Freedom and Justice deputy leader Marinika Tepic told Nova S that Telekom Serbia has “eaten up” its value to the extent that it is now planning to sell its telecom towers in the entire region. This means that Telekom “had no funds for its basic operations,” said Tepic, who is also one of the people heading the Serbia Against Violence election ticket.

“Telekom served as the Serbian Progressive Party’s (SNS) piggy bank that it siphoned money out of, and, on the one hand, the SNS used it to create television channels through the grey zone to choke the media space and simulate the co-called balanced journalism, and, on the other hand, to be the regime’s whip against the opposition, intellectuals, free-thinking people and, of course, to protect the regime. Telekom has eaten up its value to the extent that they are now even planning to sell their telecom towers in the entire region, because they don’t even have the money to pay out salaries,” said Tepic.

“When you have a Telekom Srbija CEO who brags about the company’s excellent results, that reminds me of (Serbian Finance Minister) Sinisa Mali who said that Serbia is doing really well because it has managed to run into debt again. Why are you going into debt if we are doing so well, why are you selling towers if you are doing so well? Why are you making parallel channels if you don’t have a problem with democracy and free information,” Tepic asked.

She noted that she has been engaged in a lawsuit with Telekom Srbija CEO Vladimir Lucic for two years now.

“All this proves to me that I was right about everything I said, because he is suing me for disclosing a trade secret, not for untruth, and is therefore confirming that everything I said is true, but he is trying to find out who is my source. I told the judge that I am not in a business relationship so I cannot give away a secret, but when it reaches me it becomes public interest and I am obliged to talk about it and of course to dismantle, with the others, this system that has buried Telekom, the EPS (the Serbian power company) and all the other big companies,” said Tepic.

Source:  https://n1info.rs/english/news/tepic-telekom-selling-its-telecom-towers-has-no-money-for-salaries/

Forbes-A1 Bulgaria, Vivacom CEOs jointly invested in Telecom Albania

December 4, 2023

The CEOs of two of the three leading telecommunication companies in Bulgaria - "A1 Bulgaria" and "Vivacom", Alexander Dimitrov (acting director) and Atanas Dobrev (director until 2021), have maintained close friendships and, at a certain point, business relations connections (through their wives' companies).

In addition, several months ago Dimitrov was investigated by the shareholders of A1 in Vienna for his wife’s deal with his competitor and friend Dobrev for Telecom Albania („Telecom Albania“). Although no wrongdoing was found, the story is indicative of the informal relationships that pervade the Bulgarian telecommunications industry.

And while Alexander Dimitrov continues to head A1 Bulgaria, Dobrev left his post at Vivacom in December 2021 following the change in ownership of the telecom. In 2020, Spas Rusev and VTB Capital sold Vivacom to United Group, founded by Serbian billionaire Dragan Sholak. At the moment, a tough battle is going on between „A1 Bulgaria“ and „Yettel“, on the one hand, and the new owners of „Vivacom“ because of their attempt to acquire „Bulsatcom“ and thus get their hands on a large part of the telecom sector.

„Integrity is the foundation of our business. Honest. Fair. Transparent.” This is the slogan of one of the leading telecommunications groups in Central and Eastern Europe – „A1 Group“.

However, the request for integrity is in question because of a strange story that came to light this year, related to the executive director of the Bulgarian branch of the group („A1 Bulgaria“) – Alexander Dimitrov . In the spring of 2023, he was investigated by a team of specialists from „PricewaterhouseCoopers Austria“ (PwC), hired by the headquarters of „A1 Group“ in Vienna. The occasion is his alleged secret involvement (through his wife’s companies) as a hidden investor in the purchase of „Telecom Albania“ in 2019 and its subsequent resale to the Hungarian company 4iG in 2022.

The two transactions, officially carried out by the famous Bulgarian businessmen Elvin Guri (of Albanian origin) and Spas Rusev (later replaced by Atanas Dobrev), brought solid profits to the investors. Albanian Telecom was bought for around 50 million euros and resold three years later for between 120 million euros and 150 million euros, according to various sources.

Although PwC’s investigation confirmed most of the facts provided to the team by an anonymous whistleblower, PwC found no „irregularities“ or „criminally relevant misconduct“ on the part of Dimitrov. A1 headquarters in Vienna have also not taken any publicly announced action regarding the alleged personal investments of Alexander Dimitrov’s family.

Austria’s Der Standard and BIRD also obtained access to the whistleblower’s signal and scrutinized it using official open sources.

Personal question

A1 does not officially deny the transactions, but responded to our media inquiry with the comment that it was a “personal matter”:

„The A1 Group and A1 Bulgaria are aware of the information you refer to in your questions regarding potential transactions of the wife of a senior director at A1 Bulgaria. In this regard, an independent international organization was hired to conduct a thorough audit in accordance with the strict and certified internal control rules of the A1 Group. The result of the review showed that there was no violation of the corporate compliance rules and principles, nor a violation of any relevant, applicable laws and regulations. He concluded that the case concerned a personal matter which did not affect A1’s business in Bulgaria or in any other country where A1 operated. Compliance rules are firmly rooted in the culture of the A1 Group and its Bulgarian branch. Adherence to strict compliance rules shapes the behavior and attitude of all managers and employees,” said A1 in the official statement following the sent questions.

The deal: Rusev, Gouri and Dobrev are clearly in it…

The investment in the second largest telecommunications company in Albania – „Telecom Albania“ (renamed to „One Telecommunications Albania“ in July 2020) was made through the Bulgarian company „Albania Telecom Invest“ AD. Officially, the Bulgarian entrepreneurs bought the telecom from OTE Group (part of Deutsche Telekom Group) on May 7, 2019.

Financing for the investment comes from a bank loan of EUR 48.5 million from First Investment Bank (Bulgaria), granted on May 9, 2019. Later (probably in 2021), the loan was refinanced by several banks, including OTP Bank Hungary, DSK Bank Bulgaria and OTP Bank Albania, for a principal amount of EUR 37 million with a repayment term of 10 years.
Initially (toward the end of 2019), the main shareholders in „Albania Telecom Invest“ AD are Spas Rusev (65%) and Elvin Guri (35%), according to the annual financial report of the Bulgarian company for 2020, published in the Bulgarian Commercial Register . After transactions in March and July 2020, the shareholders (as of the end of 2020) are now Elvin Guri (through Guri Enterprises BV – 35%, and through River Styxx Capital in ATI Ltd., Cyprus – 19.2%) and Atanas Dobrev through ATI Ltd., Cyprus – 45.8%.

According to unofficial information from our source familiar with the deal, Spas Rusev is exiting the investment in „One Albania“ as at some point he had to pay back his private loan from Guri and is doing so by selling his shares in ATI Ltd., Cyprus.

Two official commercial registers (those of Bulgaria and Cyprus) confirm that Atanas Dobrev entered into the investment in „Telecom Albania“ in 2020, while he is still the CEO of „Vivacom“ – the main competitor of A1 in Bulgaria.
Dimitrov and Dobrev are two senior employees in the telecommunications industry in Bulgaria and have a 20-year history of friendship. Before joining A1 in 2015, Dimitrov was Chief Commercial Officer of Vivacom for 7 years. Earlier he also worked in „Globul“. Dobrev became CEO of Vivacom in June 2013, but had been with the company since 2008. Both Dimitrov and Dobrev joined Vivacom in 2008 as part of a major management transfer at the time from “ Globul“ (now „Yetel“), where they both worked until 2008.

Dobrev left Vivacom on December 3, 2021, according to the Bulgarian Commercial Register. Spas Rusev acquired Vivacom in 2016 and kept Dobrev as CEO until 2021, before the buyout by Dragan Sholak.

On March 21, 2022, “Telecom Albania” was resold to 4IG, a Hungarian IT company run by people alleged in international media to be close to Viktor Orbán.

…and Dimitrov – through his wife?

The direct participation of Alexander Dimitrov’s wife in „Telecom Albania“ is visible from official open sources, but for a very short time, just before the resale. There are indications that she entered the investment as early as the purchase of the telecom, but this cannot be confirmed from open sources, and can only be suspected.

According to the whistleblower’s report, Alexander Dimitrov used several companies to secretly make the investment in the Albanian telecom – „Malvex Invest“ EOOD and „Malvex Estate“ EOOD. „Malvex Invest“ EOOD was founded in February 2022 by Atanas Dobrev, as the sole owner, who transferred 100% of his shares just two days later to Mariana Nikolova Dimitrova – Dimitrov’s wife.

But according to the contract for the transfer of shares, at that moment the company Malvex Invest already belongs to Mariana Dimitrova.

The official announcement of the resale of „One Telecommunications“ („Telecom Albania“) was on March 21, 2022.
On June 11, 2022, Malvex Invest was replaced as a shareholder in ATI Ltd. from „Malvex Estate“ (Malvex Estate) – which is another company wholly owned by Marianna Nikolova Dimitrova. It acquired it in 2017 from German investors („Residential Park Sofia“), close to the former president of Bulgaria Rosen Plevneliev, according to the Bulgarian media.
While Spas Rusev invests in ATI Ltd., Cyprus, under his own name, Atanas Dobrev participates not only directly, but also through another Bulgarian company – „Adarna“ EOOD, which he fully owns and manages together with his wife Paulina Dobreva.

According to the whistleblower’s report, although the participation of Dimitrov’s wife in ATI through „Malvex Invest“ and „Malvex Estate“ EOOD is only in 2022, it actually precedes this date. According to the report, Dimitrov hid his investment in ATI behind a shareholder loan (in the amount of around 2.5 million euros) from another Bulgarian company managed by lawyers. It was established on April 8, 2019 – just one month before the completion of the deal for the acquisition of „Telecom Albania“ (May 7, 2019). According to the report, on April 9, 2019, the company issued a notarized general power of attorney to Mariana Dimitrova, authorizing her to act on her behalf before all banks (to open bank accounts, take out loans, etc.) and third parties on the territory of Bulgaria.

BIRD has the document, but was unable to verify it, as the notary register in Bulgaria is not public. Public records do not reveal any connection between the said company and the Albanian investment.

An indicator of a possible close business relationship between the families of Atanas Dobrev and Alexander Dimitrov could be the joint acquisition of another company, which they bought from the companies of the Bulgarian businessman Ivo Prokopiev in July 2023 – „Green Power Pro“. According to the Commercial Register in Bulgaria, the new business partners in the company are Malvex Estate, Adarna, Mariana Nikolova Dimitrova and Paulina Ivanova Dobreva.

In 2014, Mrs. Dimitrova and Mrs. Dobreva together acquired 1,500 decares of land in Vrachan district (northwest Bulgaria). From 2014 to May 2018, the two ladies are owners of a joint company – „Polimar Agro“, although it does not report significant business activity. According to Ms. Dimitrova’s LinkedIn profile, she is an interior designer, and according to records, apart from major telecom investments, she has a relatively small business in the real estate sector.
PwC confirms, but A1 sees no problem

The investigation into the possible participation of Alexander Dimitrov in the transactions for „Telecom Albania“ (along with his competitors) was launched after the anonymous whistleblower’s report in December 2022 to one of the two shareholders of „A1 Group“ – the Mexican telecom giant „America Movil“, owned of billionaire Carlos Slim.
The other shareholder of „A1 Group“ through its parent company „Telecom Austria“ is the Austrian government (via ÖBAG – Österreichische Beteiligungs AG, an Austrian state holding company similar to a sovereign investment fund), to which the whistleblower also sent a signal in August 2023.

The most serious investigation into Dimitrov’s possible involvement in the Albanian transactions was conducted by „PriceWaterhouseCoopers“ Austria. The auditors concluded that the facts mentioned in the report could be confirmed, but not the allegations of wrongdoing and/or violations.

„During the course of the investigation, no evidence of criminally relevant criminal conduct was identified,“ the investigation concluded.

The Bulgarian Communications Regulatory Commission responded to BIRD that it had not received any information regarding Mr. Dimitrov’s possible involvement in the investment in Albania. The Commission for the Protection of Competition also has no information on the matter.

BIRD and Der Standard also sent questions to Spas Rusev, Elvin Guri and Atanas Dobrev, but did not receive a response.

Several legal and financial experts we contacted said there was most likely no formal breach of competition law or regulation of the telecoms industry in Bulgaria or even the A1 Group Code of Conduct, although the management contract of Alexander Dimitrov is not public.

The experts could not comment on the financial transactions and taxation issues, as this information is not public and the financial statements of some of the companies for 2021 and 2022 have not yet been published in the official registers.

At the same time, experts believe that the case of A1 is indicative of the need for stricter regulation of private transactions and relationships between senior officials in the telecom industry (like that in the banking sector), so that competition, which is vital to consumers, not to be questioned.

Source:  https://n1info.rs/english/news/forbes-a1-bulgaria-vivacom-ceos-jointly-invested-in-telecom-albania/

Serbia Against Violence coalition representatives visit Kosovo

December 4, 2023

Ahead of the December 17 early parliamentary elections, representatives of the Serbia Against Violence election ticket visited on Monday the town of Gracanica, Kosovo.

Miroslav Aleksic, who heads the coalition’s election ticket, addressed the public in Gracanica saying that the Serbia Against Violence coalition is against the adoption of the Franco-German plan for Kosovo.

He said the people in Kosovo should know that on December 17 they will be choosing a government that will decide on Serbia’s future.

He accused the incumbent Serbian government of handing to the Kosovo authorities, “on a plate,” the police, judiciary, the energy and telecommunications systems and putting the Kosovo Serbs in a very difficult position, Radio Kim reported.

Aleksic said the Community of Serb Municipalities (CSM) has become pointless.

“The CSM should have been formed much earlier, when the Brussels Agreement was signed, when that made sense. Right now, it seems that the CSM is just throwing dust in the eyes, making it look as if the Serbs are getting something, but essentially we will get nothing. Everything needs to be reset and put back on the table,” said Aleksic.

Serbia Against Violence candidate for MP Srdjan Milivojevic said in Gracanica that Serbs living in Kosovo are exposed to both Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic’s and Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti’s terror.

He said Vucic has done more to help the creation of greater Albania than all the commanders of the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army together, reported Radio Kim.

“This is a man who will never admit that he has already recognized Kosovo’s independence. Serbian Parliament MPs never received the content of the Franco-German plan that is being talked about and we don’t know what Vucic signed and where he got the constitutional powers to sign anything,” said Milivojevic.

He added that the opposition in the Serbian Parliament has requested the formation of an inquiry committee that would investigate all facts and circumstances surrounding the September 24 incident in the village of Banjska, Kosovo.

“We never shed light on everything that happened there, the Parliament never discussed it,” Milovojevic said, adding that this incident put the Kosovo Serbs in a difficult position.

The Belgrade-backed Serb List said Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti continues to fully support (Party of Freedom and Justice leader) Dragan Djilas in the coming elections.

“To this end he organized today the unhindered arrival of Djilas’ pals, Srdjan Milivojevic, Miroslav Aleksic, Aleksandar ‘Cuta’ Jovanovic and others, to Kosovo, with the aim to cause divisions among the Serbs here,” said the Serb List.

Party of Freedom and Justice is a member of the Serbia Against Violence coalition.

Source:  https://n1info.rs/english/news/serbia-against-violence-coalition-representatives-visit-kosovo/

Cvetkovic-Slovenia one of ten largest investors in Serbia

December 4, 2023

Slovenia is one of the ten largest investors in Serbia and Slovenian companies employ over 20,000 workers in Serbia, Economy Minister Slobodan Cvetkovic told a meeting with representatives of 20 Slovenian companies operating in Serbia.

Despite the fact that commodity trade between the two countries is at a high level, almost 1.3 billion euros, there are plans to further increase it in the coming period, the Ministry quoted Cvetkovic as saying.

The Minister said that Serbia attracted over 60 percent of all foreign direct investments in the region, or 4.4 billion euros, which is by far the most in the Western Balkans region.

Serbia is characterized by peace and stability, while its political neutrality additionally provides a favorable climate for business expansion, said Cvetkovic.

Source:  https://n1info.rs/english/news/cvetkovic-slovenia-one-of-ten-largest-investors-in-serbia/

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