Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said on Wednesday that the 2017 memorandum of understanding signed with the Rio Tinto company was “completely non-binding”, adding that “the previous regime” gave permission for the exploration of the potential lithium mine site in the west of the country.
Vucic called a news conference to show documents covering the Serbian state’s dealings with Rio Tinto, including a 2012 document (before his Serbian Progressive Party – SNS came to power) which gave permission to the Rio Sava Exploration to conduct geological resarch and drill exploratory wells in the Jadar area. He also showed the 2017 memorandum of understanding which he claims is not binding. “The only decision concerning the integrity of the land was taken in 2012 when the former regime was in power,” he said.
The Serbian state TV (RTS) apologized for the break in its live broadcast of Vucic’s news conference. “The RTS apologizes to its viewers even though the interruption was caused by someone else,” a statement said and added that an unnamed person deliberately disconnected the power cables.
Vucic also showed what he said was 2004 document allowing Rio Sava Exploration (the local Rio Tinto branch) to conduct geological research in the Loznica area, another dated 2005 which expanded the area to be investigated and several others expanding the area that Rio Sava Exploration was allowed to investigate.
The president said that lithium has a major role in the national Strategy for the management of mineral resources to the year 2030 (adopted by parliament in 2012) and that the exploitation of lithium and borate is a certain investment.
President Vucic said that he had not signed the controversial law on expropriation which has been criticized for favoring Rio Tinto’s plans.