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30 days in jail for Serbia's richest man

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DUSAN STOJANOVIC | December 14, 2012 07:51 AM EST | AP

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BELGRADE, Serbia — A judge on Friday ordered the richest man in Serbia to be held in prison for 30 days pending trial on suspicion of corruption, as the government hailed his arrest as proof that no one is above the law in the graft-plagued country.

The arrest of influential billionaire retail tycoon Miroslav Miskovic is part of an anti-corruption sweep that the new nationalist government says is necessary if the country wants to move closer to European Union membership. But critics argue the crackdown is mostly aimed at political opponents and allies of the country's previous pro-Western leadership.

Miskovic, 67, was arrested on Wednesday along with his son Marko and eight others in connection with the privatization of several Serbian road construction companies in 2005, during which the suspects allegedly gained illegal profits of about (EURO)30 million ($39 million).

The judge at Serbia's special court for organized crime ruled that Miskovic, his son and five others must remain in prison during the pre-trial investigation. The rest were freed, with their travel documents seized.

"We are now starting with the investigations," said public prosecutor for organized crime Miljko Radisavljevic. "We will try to collect as much evidence as possible."

Miskovic is the owner of Delta Holding, the largest private company in Serbia, which deals with retail, real estate, insurance and agriculture business throughout the Balkans. Though he is not openly a government opponent he has financed several pro-Western parties that are now in opposition.

He started his business empire under late strongman Slobodan Milosevic in the 1990s, when he also briefly served as deputy prime minister. But after Milosevic fell from power in 2000, Miskovic supported the new, pro-Western authorities and expanded his wealth, estimated in 2007 at some $2 billion ((EURO)1.54 billion) and believed to have grown since then.

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Jovana Gec contributed to this report.