Firm suspected of breaking Serb embargo

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The Independent Online
Two executives from a company in Cyprus are being refused entry to Britain because officials fear the firm has been dealing with the Bosnian Serbs in defiance of a United Nations embargo.

The two work for East Point Holdings which has an office in Mayfair, central London, and is registered at Companies House. East Point is on the US Government hit-list of companies suspected of busting sanctions which prohibit anything other than food or medical supplies reaching the Bosnian Serbs.

Chris Peacock, of the Department of Public Affairs at the US Treasury in Washington, said East Point was on the federal warning list. "If someone is on the list, all transactions with them by US persons are prohibited and all their assets which come into the US jurisdiction are blocked," he said.

He added that a "very thorough" investigation, relying on information drawn from "all available agencies" had concluded the company had been trading with the Bosnian Serbs.

The US list is published mainly as a warning to banks not to make loans to such companies. No such list is available in this country and firms on the US register are allowed to carry on trading freely. Only if Customs decide to investigate and a prosecution ensues, do they face any ban.

According to documents at Companies House in London, East Point describes itself as a "general trader" and has a turnover of $300m (pounds 190m) a year. On the register, its directors are listed as two Greek Cypriots based in Nicosia. The company recently took out a mortgage with the Cyprus Popular Bank to redevelop new UK premises in Chesterfield Street, Mayfair.

East Point owns 90 per cent of Yu Point, a Yugoslavian company and 51 per cent of M Point in Hungary.

At their existing premises in Albermarle Street, Mayfair, East Point's UK staff are furious at the Foreign Office's refusal to grant their colleagues visas. They deny emphatically ever having themselves broken sanctions. In an eerily quiet office - the phones rang just once during the Independent's visit - they said their business was dealing in "agricultural machinery, metals and oil derivatives - crude oil". They knew they were working for a firm accused by the US of sanctions-breaking. "We can't understand what is going on; it is a problem we can't explain," said the UK manager. He and his two assistants refused to give their names, claiming it would "not be helpful."

While the directors are listed as Greek Cypriots, they admitted the real bosses are Yugoslavs now living in Russia and Cyprus. The three staff in London said they were all Serbs and professed outrage at the Western alliance's treatment of their people.

"Why did the US attack Serbian positions?" As to the horrific attack on the Sarajevo market place which prompted the Nato assault, that was not the Serbs. "The Serbs did not attack the market; it was the Muslims in act of provocation," they explained. Warming to their theme, they said there had been "atrocities on all sides but we never hear of them".

They refused to elaborate on what they are doing in London. "We are just looking for markets, we have no real business here," said the manager. They would like their colleagues to be able to join them and want to move into the new building.

As for the UN blockade, he said, "we hope sanctions will go, so one day we can continue to work". Until then, they stressed, they will not be trading with the people back home.