Carousel: how a Moscow bank made large loans to Serbian owners

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Completely abnormal lending practice

Euroaxis was originally called Wexim Bank, created during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s to help then-Yugoslavia, then Slobodan Milosevic’s major country, bypass international sanctions.

Kulibrk likened this to a “public-private partnership” founded by several state-owned banks in collaboration with prominent Serbian businessmen.

The goal was to ensure the flow of money and pay bills for Russian oil and gas, but some of the participants subsequently “thought the bank could be a good business,” he told BIRN.

After the overthrow of Milosevic in October 2000 and the lifting of sanctions, Wexim became the euro currency. Its purpose has also changed – to keep the NBS deposits as financing of commercial transactions of its owners, which later came under control in Serbia.

Maricic took over as president in January 2015 on a mission to save the bank despite having just brought Belgrade-based Srpska Banka into bankruptcy.

He said he quickly realized the gravity of the situation Euroaxis faced.

“The loans were made to companies controlled by the bank’s management, which is completely abnormal,” said Maricic, who was arrested in December 2017 and later charged with abuse of office on loans provided by Srpska Banka for prominent Serbian businessman Miroslav Bogicevic.

According to the Russian Deposit Insurance Agency, DIA, which now controls the bank, Euroaxis has issued more than 40 loans to 15 different companies for a total amount of over 32 million euros.

At first glance, there seems to be no connection between the companies. But a separate list of creditors kept by the bank and reviewed by BIRN shows that most of them were associated with Lazarevich, Sikimich and Spasoevich.

The companies associated with Lazarevich received the largest profit: nine companies received 24 loans for a total amount of about 20 million euros. Those associated with Sikimic received three loans for 2.8 million euros, and 3.7 million were issued in the form of three loans to companies associated with Spasojevic.

The trio incriminated themselves on secret audio recordings of one of the last board meetings convened in 2015 as a final attempt to save the bank from imminent collapse. The source provided BIRN with a copy of the recording.

At some point, Lazarevich is heard explaining why their companies do not return loans.

“You know that Obrad is working on the realization of his things, I am doing it myself, Toplitsa is doing it myself,” he says audibly. “Unfortunately, things are not developing the way we hoped.”

Despite the efforts of Euroaxis management, the Central Bank of the Russian Federation revoked the bank’s license in May 2016.

Rudnap, ITM Group and Diners Club International, owned by Lazervic, Sikimic and Spasojevic, will go bust in the next few years. Neither Lazarevich, Sikimich, nor Spasoevich responded to repeated requests for comment on this story.



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