Secrecy for Sale

Published — October 3, 2013 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Offshore firms funneled away millions as Serbian companies lurched toward ruin


Newly revealed documents paint former Macedonian economics minister as backstage player in demise of big employer in Serbia’s heartland.

Serbia has been a land of mystery and rumor in the years since the bloody Yugoslav wars ended and communism gave way to free markets. As the government sold off state-owned companies over the past decade, workers puzzled over the murky identities of the new owners and grieved over the failures of many privatized enterprises.

At Agrohem, one of Serbia’s largest fertilizer manufacturers, word spread that a shadowy figure from Macedonia was involved in the tangle of firms that took over the company a decade ago. His role in Agrohem remained a question mark as the company plowed millions of dollars into deals with offshore companies and lurched into bankruptcy, throwing hundreds of employees out of work.

“We had no idea who was really buying the company,” Milojica Hrvaćanin, a former Agrohem employee, recalls.

Now records obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists establish that Žanko Čado — a banker and businessman who served a scandal-haunted stint as Macedonia’s economics minister — was behind a network of offshore companies that were intimately involved in the acquisition and failure of Agrohem.

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