BELGRADE – Clean shaven, impeccably dressed in a dark suit and tie, Dominique Strauss-Kahn is back in business. On Sept. 17, France's former Finance Minister and disgraced head of the International Monetary Fund officially accepted a post as economic adviser to the Serbian government.
DSK's hosts in Belgrade had a hard time hiding how proud they were of recruiting such a hotshot economist — starting with the country's First Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic: "We are not ashamed to say that he knows much more about economy than all of us. And that in his address book he has more contacts from the world of finance than all of us together."
The 64-year-old will be assisting Serbia"s new finance minister, Lazar Krstic. The 29-year-old Yale prodigy is in charge of relaunching the country's economy and keeping unemployment in check, while at the same time reassuring international financial institutions.
All in all, Strauss-Kahn's private life is of no interest to the Serbians. A couple of days before the Frenchman was nominated as economic adviser, Vucic dismissed questions about DSK's involvement in alleged sexual scandals — which led to his resignation as IMF chief — stressing that the only thing the country was interested in was his competence in economic issues. Still, France had already warned Serbian authorities that Strauss-Kahn's nefarious reputation could potentially be harmful to Serbia's image.
A few months ago, France's Socialist Party (PS) — of which DSK has been a longtime prominent, yet now rather embarrassing member — had even sent out several emissaries to try and dissuade their "Serbian friends" from hiring him.
"The Serbians listened politely, then acted on their own. They wanted DSK — and they got him," a PS official said on condition of anonymity.
Since 2012, Serbia has been governed by a coalition of socialists — allies of late president Slobodan Milosevic — and the center-right, conservative Serbian Progressive Party (SNS). These two parties, although now declaring a push to integrate European values, have sometimes have a hard time convincing their Western partners of their democratic credentials.
But this time, said Western partners are worried about more than just Serbia's image and reputation. "Rather than go through Bercy France's Ministry of Finance, Dominique Strauss-Kahn has been selected due to the intervention of various Russian energy lobbies present in the Balkans," said an unnamed source familiar with the Serbian-French relations. "This prompted our concerns about the economic interests that could be driving this choice."
Since July, Strauss-Kahn has been a board member of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which belongs to the Vnesheconombank (VEB) — Russia's powerful state development bank, formerly the Bank for foreign trade of the USSR. He is also a member of the Supervisory Board of the Russian Development Bank regions (BRDR), best known for being a subsidiary of the oil giant Rosneft.
Within the Serbian government, the choice has also prompted doubts. Members of the financial arm of the Ministry of the Interior — controlled by Socialist Prime Minister Ivica Dacic, a rival of Aleksandar Vucic — have voiced their concerns about the connections at work behind this appointment.
But the key figure behind Strauss-Kahn's new Serbian posting was in Belgrade on the day the economist accepted the job, quietly mingling with a crowd of overexcited reporters and officials who knew neither his face nor his name: Vladmir Mollov, a Bulgarian-born banker living in Paris, where he heads the very discreet Arjil investment bank.
Until now, few had ever heard of the elegant gray-haired man, or of his work as a mediator — except perhaps in Bulgaria, where he crossed paths with a few local oligarchs, including energy tycoon Hristo Kovatchki, from whom he tried to buy shares in the Sofia Municipal Bank back in 2010. The deal eventually didn't happen because of Kovatchki's involvment in an investigation for alleged tax evasion.