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Rio Tinto’s presence in Serbia persists despite speculation of departure, attributed to substantial land holdings

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Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said Sunday that the Rio Tinto company has not left Serbia, because it owns “a significant amount of land” in the country.

“You cannot take that land away from those people (company). If you do that, you have embarked on nationalization. If you opt for nationalization, then there is no legal certainty in this country for investors or for companies,” said Brnabic.

She added she hopes the new government will not try to do anything of that sort.

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The locals in that part of Serbia voluntarily sold their land to Rio Tinto, she said.

“Not one millimeter of the land that Rio Tinto owns is a result of expropriation. They offered some money, and those people sold it. You cannot take that land away,” said the Prime Minister.

Brnabic explained that Rio Tinto came to Serbia shortly before 2004 when mining laws were changed so that when someone has exploration rights, they automatically get exploitation rights.

“Rio Tinto can now sue Serbia on the basis of that,” she added.

Head of the Serbian Republic Statistics Office (RZS) Miladin Kovacevic said that, regarding the contract with the Rio Tinto company, there are two options: either to terminate it or to renew it.

Termination would cost the state “at least half a billion,” he explained, adding that the other option is to “create a strong driver of growth.”

Brnabic said there is no contract “as such,” but that the company has an exploration permit that cannot be issued to anyone else unless Rio Tinto itself decides against using it.

“The state cannot give it to someone else. We don’t have a contract, but that permit is valid. When you issued the first exploration permit in 2004 and then changed the law in 2006, extending exploration rights until 2012, the former government only pushed the state into it,” said the Prime Minister.

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