It is the first time Customs and Excise has successfully prosecuted for sanctions-busting with the former republic and was regarded as a test case. The severity of Borislav Borjanovic's sentence reflected the court's concern that the materials he exported, although apparently harmless, could have been used by the Serbian military.
Judge Gerald Butler QC said at Southwark Crown Court: 'These goods were not supplied for the purpose of military use . . but a moment's thought might have told him that it could have been put to military use. The fact is that the mere supply is of itself sufficient to cause me to take a very serious view.'
Britain has banned all trade with Serbia since June 1992, under the terms of a United Nations security council resolution. However, London, with its big expatriate Serbian community, has remained an important centre for illicit exports. There are two further cases to be heard later this year. One concerns the export of chemicals that could be used for the manufacture of missile propellant.
Borjanovic, 55, came to Britain in 1991 as the representative for a then Yugoslav state-owned import-export business, which has a subsidiary in the UK called BYE Limited.
Stephen Kramer, for Customs, told the court that Borjanovic had pleaded guilty to nine specimen counts of illegal trading with Serbia. His Serbian clients, who were mainly manufacturers of chemical fertiliser, paid him through a personal bank account in Budapest. He supplied them with chemicals and other components, some made in Britain, mainly through Austrian companies.
The value of the goods he supplied or attempted to supply to Serbia was pounds 130,000. Borjanovic was motivated by the desire to keep his company afloat financially after the imposition of sanctions, which had crippled its business. He had been told by his Serbian employers to remain in Britain and do his best to find business.
He then wrote himself a memo in which he described the options: 'I had to adjust myself to the situation in which I found myself . . . however, having the choice between working and not having any problems . . . I have made my decision (to trade illegally) in such a way that there is no risk.'
For the defence, David Cocks QC, said that Borjanovic was 'an admirable man, who overcame enormous difficulties to make a success of his life'.