NICOSIA, CYPRUS, JUNE 6 -- Large Yugoslav companies controlled by the government of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic have shifted millions of dollars recently to Cypriot subsidiaries protected by strict banking secrecy laws, according to public records and senior bankers, accountants and traders here.

In some cases the deals have been structured by Milosevic allies in Serbia so that the money is owned in Cyprus by Serbian individuals whose identities are protected, rather than by the government-controlled parent companies in the former Yugoslavia, bankers said.

Yugoslavia's ambassador to Cyprus, Petar Boskovic, said the arrival of Serbian funds here was "not a question of anything illicit" and had been necessitated by the collapse of viable international banking in war-torn Yugoslavia, whose remaining republics of Serbia and Montenegro have been economically isolated by sweeping U.N. trade and financial sanctions.

But Serbian businessmen critical of Milosevic, a former Communist Party boss turned virulent nationalist, questioned whether the Cypriot subsidiary deals have been structured so that public funds controlled by Belgrade can be siphoned off through some of the hundreds of small, private offshore companies opened by individual Serbs here during the last year.

The recent shift of some of the assets of Serbia's larger public-sector companies to Cyprus -- a regional business center that attracts offshore firms with its efficient infrastructure, low tax rates and bank secrecy laws -- is part of a large-scale migration of private and public Serbian money to the island nation since 1991. The total amount of Serbian money moved to Cyprus since war broke out in Yugoslavia last fall is at least several hundred million dollars and perhaps as much as $750 million, according to senior bankers, Cypriot accountants and other sources.

The flood of Yugoslav capital into Cyprus coincides with growing economic chaos and lawlessness in the new two-republic Yugoslavia.

Loot plundered during the violence in the breakaway republics of Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina is on sale in Belgrade flea markets. In a city that prided itself as one of the safest in Europe, car theft, burglaries, murder and street shootouts between heavily armed paramilitary gangs have become commonplace.

The Yugoslav economy's character has been shaped not only by the violent fallout of war but by questionable policies of the Milosevic regime. In one case, it illegally appropriated $1.3 billion from the federal reserve bank of Yugoslavia to pay salaries and pensions in Serbia in advance of a December 1990 presidential election. Diplomats said the raid on the federal banking system helped Milosevic win the election; at the same time, the action outraged other Yugoslav republics and triggered the collapse of the country.

Western diplomats and economists in Belgrade say the Milosevic regime routinely orders state banks to make unsecured loans to bankrupt state enterprises. In the Serbian economy, "everything goes," said Ambassador Boskovic. Behind the Transfers

The movement of Serbian money to Cyprus has been driven in part by the need of both private Serbs and those working for Milosevic to establish hard-currency accounts with credible international banks so that trade deals can be made with overseas partners. But while the need for a sound banking system may explain much of the shift in funds, it does not explain fully why public Serbian companies controlled by Milosevic's formerly Communist allies have placed ownership of Cypriot subsidiaries under individuals and have chosen to conceal the names of shareholders.

Borka Vucic, managing director of the Cyprus branch of Serbia's largest bank, Beogradska Banka, said one reason may be that it is not clear who owns the public-sector companies back home, since large-scale privatization of government-controlled Serbian firms has been disrupted by war and the nationalist policies of the Milosevic government.

Other bankers speculated that the use of nominee shareholders in subsidiaries could have been encouraged by Cypriot lawyers and accountants, who earn higher fees when arranging such deals.

Senior bankers in Cyprus said the structure of the recent deals could permit abuses, since government-controlled firms could now route any amount of cash to their Cypriot subsidiaries and distribute the money through undisclosed shareholders.

Vucic, whose bank holds many of the large public-sector Serbian accounts, said it was "too early to say" whether any theft had taken place.

Asked whether ordinary Serbs should be concerned that major firms controlled by Serbia's government have opened Cyprus subsidiaries in which the names of shareholders are shielded, Vucic said, "Maybe. But I'm not quite sure. . . . It's not clear in our country what is now ownership. It's a very difficult question."

Under Cypriot law, only the Cyprus central bank and the local accountant who organizes an offshore company are permitted to know the names of the shareholders if the company chooses to hide its ownership, as some of the Serbian public companies have done. Senior bankers said that in some cases they have become aware that the shielded owners of the Serbian public-sector companies are Serbian individuals.

"There's a great deal of confusion as to who the owners are of these companies, inside and outside Yugoslavia," said T. Taoushanis, director of offshore banking at Wardley Cyprus Ltd., a Hongkong Bank unit. "In the majority of cases {in Cyprus}, they give the ownership to people, individuals. So you wonder, what is the relationship to the company back in Yugoslavia?"

Although Taoushanis and other bankers said many Serbian public-sector companies have placed ownership of their Cyprus subsidiaries with individuals, it could not be determined how many of the companies have been structured this way since the ownership documents are secret under Cypriot law.

Major Serbian companies that have opened Cyprus subsidiaries recently and have protected the identities of the subsidiary owners include JAT, the Yugoslav national airline; Jugometal, Serbia's largest steel company, and Jugoinspekt, a large weights and measures firm, according to public records in Nicosia. JAT opened its Cyprus subsidiary in February. Jugometal and Jugoinspekt opened theirs in November and October of 1991, respectively. A.K. Cosmoserve, the Cypriot firm listed in public records as representing these companies in Cyprus, did not respond to telephone calls.

In these cases, because of the secrecy laws, it is not known whether the owners of the Cyprus subsidiaries are individuals or corporate entities. Bankers and traders said these companies are among the several dozen large Serbian enterprises that are controlled by Milosevic allies and have subsidiaries in Cyprus.

Some large public-sector Serbian firms shifted assets to Cyprus several years ago to facilitate regional trade, but many others have come in the last nine months. The public-sector companies that came to Cyprus earlier did not generally use secrecy laws to shield shareholders, traders who once worked at the firms said.Private Banks

Cypriot bankers and Serbian businessmen say that in addition to the subsidiary deals involving public Serbian companies, the Milosevic regime has funded and directly sanctioned the operation of two private banks in the rump Yugoslavia that have been collecting up to $10 million daily in scarce hard currency from the Yugoslav street market and individual Serbians attracted by extraordinarily high interest rates of 10 percent to 15 percent per month on dollar and German mark deposits.

Serbian businessmen say they believe some of the money collected by these private banks is being passed back to the Milosevic government for unknown purposes. They say the banks' operations have been aided by large infusions of Yugoslav dinars from the Milosevic government. "They were collecting money for the government," said a Serbian trader closely familiar with the banks' operations.

One of the private banks, Dafiment Bank, has opened an offshore company in Cyprus, although its attempt to obtain a license for an offshore bank was discouraged by the Central Bank of Cyprus, according to Cypriot sources. The Cypriot government is looking into the relationship between the Belgrade bank and its Cypriot trading company, the sources said.

An unknown number of ordinary Serbs, estimated to be at least several hundred and perhaps several thousand, have deposited millions of dollars and marks in Dafiment Bank in Yugoslavia, drawn by promises that they will be credited with interest in hard currency at a compounded annual rate of more than 150 percent.

Vucic, the Beogradska Banka managing director, said of Dafiment, "No bank in the world can earn money paying that interest. It is speculation banking, and speculation banking has very short legs."

Boskovic, the Yugoslav ambassador, said Dafiment's operations reflected the economic chaos imposed on Serbia by the outside world. "In the situation, they are tolerated," he said. Boskovic said Dafiment was "buying and selling foreign exchange like the Albanians" who run Belgrade's street money markets.

A Serbian trader closely familiar with the bank argued that it is being more than tolerated by the Milosevic government. The trader said the Milosevic regime has used Dafiment to soak up scarce hard currency in Serbia, sell it at inflated rates to traders who need dollars for imports, and then pass profits and other funds back to the government.'Clever' Proprietor

The main proprietor of Dafiment Bank is Dafina Milanovic, a longtime accountant at Beogradska in Belgrade. Serbian President Milosevic headed Beogradska during the early 1980s, although it is not clear whether he knew Milanovic.

Milanovic travels regularly to Cyprus and is buying a seaside apartment here, according to her Cypriot lawyer, Christos Zambas. "People worry how can they pay 10 percent, 15 percent per month," said Zambas. "She is very strong, very clever. People {depositors} go there with plastic bags full of money. . . . She knows what she's doing."

Milanovic's trading company here, which she owns with her husband, Dragomir Milanovic, is one of about 425 offshore companies owned by Yugoslavs, mainly Serbs, that have been registered in Cyprus since the beginning of 1991, according to the Central Bank of Cyprus. Many are small, dormant companies started by individual Yugoslavs seeking refuge from war or seeking business opportunities in the Eastern European economy, according to Cypriot bankers and accountants.

The larger public-sector firms that have come to Cyprus recently, such as JAT and Jugometal, are among Serbian companies representing the legacy of Yugoslavia's peculiar socialist economy during the Cold War period, in which major state enterprises enjoyed capitalist-style autonomy. The firms were managed by elite Communist Party members but were said to be owned by workers and "society," although no stock or other ownership instruments were issued.

During Yugoslavia's reformist period of 1989-90, a few state companies were fully privatized, meaning that ownership shares were issued to workers, managers and the public. But when Milosevic came to power, the privatization effort stalled and many of the big firms remained in control of the old, formerly Communist directors. "The Milosevic regime has decided that private enterprise leads to pluralism, which they don't want," said William Crisp, an East European economic analyst at Business International in Vienna.

Yet Milosevic's allies at the large public firms have come flocking to Cyprus during the last year to take advantage of the capitalist culture that prevails on the Greek side of the divided island. With the help of Cypriot accountants and lawyers who travel regularly to the former Yugoslav federation to solicit business, the firms have set up offshore companies and bank accounts.

One effect of the deals is to create an international financial structure in which virtually any amount of public resources in Serbia could at least in theory be routed to shareholders in Cyprus whose names are known only to local lawyers and the central bank.

For example, a public-sector Serbian company could transfer any amount of hard currency to its new subsidiary in Cyprus and distribute the money to its shareholders, whose identities are shielded by secrecy. As long as the subsidiary paid tax of 4.25 percent on its income and disclosed large financial transfers to the Cyprus central bank, such distributions would not violate Cypriot law.

Such diversions would almost certainly be noticed by accountants at the parent companies in Serbia, Serbian businessmen said. But these businessmen added that it is already generally known within the Serbian public companies that Cyprus is being used for offshore banking and for holding hard currency deposits, so international transfers in themselves might not attract attention.

Washington Post correspondent Blaine Harden contributed to this report from Belgrade.