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15 Feb 2022

Mila Djurdjevic, RFE/RL

Serbia: Chinese sewage treatment project raises transparency & corruption questions, activists warn

Red flags: Chinese project in Serbia raises familiar сoncerns about Beijing's Balkan investments, 10 February 2022

Questions over a Chinese contract to build a multimillion-dollar sewer system in a Serbian city has raised red flags among activists who say it is a microcosm of how Belgrade deals with Chinese entities.

The project in the Serbian city of Kragujevac was issued without a tender or public procurement, raising transparency and corruption questions about how Chinese companies and the Serbian government operate in the country.

Construction of the 360-kilometer new sewage network in the central Serbian city...was directly contracted to the Infrastructure Ministry and then awarded to the China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC), a Beijing-based international construction company, without a tender process for the bid...

In addition to corruption concerns, the direct agreement reached between the CRBC and the Serbian government - as well the absence of a tender process for other companies to submit competitive offers - fits a wider pattern that activists and watchdog groups say is how Serbian officials operate with Chinese businesses...

...Chinese investment in Serbia has expanded rapidly and triggered controversy as Beijing-backed companies have received tax exemptions, been allowed to bypass labor laws, and are given other forms of preferential treatment. Similarly, environmental damage caused by a Chinese-owned copper mine near the Serbian city of Bor has led to complaints and protests over pollution.

A study from the Bulgarian-based Center for the Study of Democracy released in September 2021 also said that Beijing’s growing economic footprint in Central and Eastern Europe over the last decade has coincided with a drop in legal and governance standards across the region, with Serbia being singled out as a leading example...