Serbia signs controversial $3-B Belgrade property development deal


BELGRADE: Serbia signed a $3-billion (2.7-billion euro) deal on Sunday (Monday in Manila) with an Abu Dhabi-based developer to transform a popular area of Belgrade into an upscale housing and shopping complex, a project opponents have labeled “a scam.”

The project with developer Eagle Hills, dubbed Belgrade Waterfront, is to turn arts and nightlife district Savamala near the city center into a two-million square meter (21.5-million square foot) commercial, business and apartment development.

Included in the plans for the project is a 200-metre tall Dubai-style tower.

According to the agreement signed by Serbia’s Minister of Construction, Transport and Infrastructure Zorana Mihajlovic and Eagle Hills board member Mohamed Alabbar, the project should be completed over 30 years, while at least 50 percent of it must be finished in the next two decades.

Eagle Hills will invest 300 million euros in the development, Serbian authorities said in a statement.

No other details of the deal have been revealed, including how it will be fully financed.

As the agreement was signed, hundreds of protestors gathered in the capital to urge leaders to halt the deal.

“We believe this is a huge scam,” said Radomir Lazovic of civic group Let Us Not Drown Belgrade.

“The project lacks transparency, we know nothing about it. Experts were not consulted,” Lazovic told Agence France-Presse. “It has no economic sustainability study.”

Nearby protesters chanted “Betrayal!” and “We will not let you do this!” Demonstrators also set up a two-meter tall yellow styrofoam duck, which in Serbia symbolizes a scam.

Opponents consider the plans to build and sell more than 6,000 luxury apartments in Savamala unrealistic in a country where the average salary is 350 euros a month.

“An average apartment will cost 400,000 euros. Who is going to buy it?” activist Robert Kozma asked at the demonstration.

Protesters have been opposing the project since it was announced over two years ago as the top political and economic promise of the conservative government led by Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic.

After the signing ceremony Alabbar of Eagle Hills told reporters: “This is an important milestone for the relationship between UAE [United Arab Emirates] and Serbia. We should celebrate it as the beginning of closer ties and the beginning of better economic cooperation.”

Belgrade Waterfront is “the largest project of its kind not only in the region, but in Europe,” Belgrade Mayor Sinisa Mali added.


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