War in Europe: Serbia's London connection

Revealed: Where the friends of Milosevic live it up - and why their UK firms have gone bust
ABritish company owned by a minister in the Serbian government and close ally of Slobodan Milosevic has gone into liquidation owing pounds 450,000 in taxes. A second company, owned by his wife, has also gone bust, owing pounds 165,000 to the Inland Revenue.

Inquiries by The Independent on Sunday have established that companies run by Bogoljub Karic, minister without portfolio in the Milosevic regime, and his family, have been closed down because of the impact of UN sanctions.

But the family, dubbed the Rockefellers of Serbia because of its wealthy connections, continues to hold an impressive portfolio of properties in Britain, including "Wildwoods" a mansion set in expansive grounds in north London, and another three properties in the Enfield area. The family is said to use its London homes regularly and some of the children have been educated at public schools in London.

The Karic clan, including Bogoljub and his wife Milanka, together with his brothers Zoran, Sretan, Dragomir and a sister Hafa Karic, set up their English operations in 1991.They were a natural extension to their business successes at home; Bogoljub Karic runs Serbia's biggest private business, Braca Karic - "the Karic Brothers".

After the collapse of Communism, the family expanded its interests first to Ireland then Canada, where finally they obtained citizenship. Then in 1992, Bogoljub Karic bought, in his wife's name, the "Wildwoods" mansion, while brother Dragomir bought a luxury detached house in nearby Hadley Wood and brother Sretan a vast home set in 16 acres in Clay Hill, also in the same area.

The 18th century mansion is protected by large security gates with a sign saying "Warning! Guard dogs on patrol". The Karic house, decorated in the Italianate white and gold style, has had many additions over the years. It now boasts a private cinema, indoor swimming pool, a fully fitted gym and a disco for the teenagers. There is an enormous chandelier which was imported from Austria and required a specialist to be flown in to assemble it.

A neighbour in nearby Flash Lane, Enfield, said: "They keep to themselves. But they often have lots of children there." Locals also report that Mercedes limousines are seen coming and going, "but we haven't seen anyone since the Kosovar business started up," said one.

The Karic family are ethnic Serbians from the city of Pec, in Kosovo. The "Barac Karic" - the Brothers Karic - first came to fame as a folk group with sister Hafa on vocals in the 1970s. Even now their company website advertises a recent CD by the family. Zoran plays the bouzouki and Bogoljub, which translated means "Love of God", uncharacteristically, takes the back seat as bass guitarist.

Even under the former Yugoslavian dictator Tito the family were burgeoning entrepreneurs and later liked to portray themselves as martyrs of Communism. As Communism started to crumble they rapidly expanded and in 1988 they set up the Karic Bank, which has been one of the few private banks to survive the last turbulent decade.

The family is close to President Milosevic's clan. One of the younger members of the family, Goran Karic, 24, set up an Irish company with Marko Milosevic, the Serbian President's son. Marko, 25, has recently been accused in the British press of drug and tobacco smuggling.

The Brothers Karic have flourished and now run a conglomerate known as the BK group. They run the BK TV station in Belgrade, which has been at the forefront of criticism of Nato. They also run the mobile phone franchise in Serbia. As one expert remarked, "In order to control his business he [Bogoljub] would have to have reasonable relations with President Milosevic and his wife."

At the same time as the family was moving into Britain, it set up Thriftfine Ltd, an import/export company selling high quality goods such as jewellery and perfume to the elites of post-Communist Eastern Europe.

The company bought an office block in Great Marlborough Street, near Liberty's store in the West End of London, and refurbished it at great cost. It was to be a headquarters for Thriftfine and a second related company, J&K Ltd, set up with Milanka Karic and Sasa Karic, then 21, as directors and key shareholders.

In April 1993 the company received a $3.6m advance on a contract from the Russian government. But then the Karic family's English business plan was hard hit by the disintegration of Yugoslavia into war. As the two companies were Serbian-run they fell under the UN sanctions order imposed in 1992.

By May 1993 the company had to suspended much of its trading and the Bank of England froze the company accounts. At first Thiftfine received financial support from sister companies run by the Karics and based in Cyprus, which lent $3.6m to pay back the Russians. In 1997 the Great Marlborough Street property was transferred to a Cyprus company to repay the loans.

When the family realised that UN sanctions were going to be a long-standing problem they put Thriftfine and J&K in liquidation. The main creditors were the Customs and Excise VAT office, the Inland Revenue and the related company in Cyprus called Yocyco Ltd. Liquidators Kian Seng Tan in north London say that the liquidation are nearly complete. "The only matter outstanding is whether Thriftfine was liable for VAT on the sale of the property," a spokesman said.

A spokeswoman for the Karic family in London confirmed the companies had been liquidated as part of a "restructuring" of the Karic British interests.