Serbia's police arrest 16 customs officers for tax evasion

BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbian police have detained 16 customs officers and one company director on suspicion of tax evasion and dereliction of duty, the country's interior ministry said on Monday.

The customs officers were suspected of helping at least two private companies to avoid paying taxes and excise duties on cigarettes and other goods such as perfumes in 2015 and 2016, interior minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said in a statement.

"By doing that, they damaged state budget for over 11.5 million euros," the statement said.

The ministry said police also detained an executive of Belgrade-based company Coco Shoping, identified only as D.T.. The company could not be reached for comment.

The ministry said the suspects had allegedly used forged documents to present goods as tax-exempt supplies for foreign embassies and organisations. The goods were later sold on the black market.

Seeking to join the European Union, Serbia has stepped up the fight against corruption and organised crime which flourished during the wars of former Yugoslavia's break-up in the 1990s. Several dozen people have been arrested and indicted for corruption, fraud and abuse of office since 2012.

(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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