Macedonia’s special prosecutor investigates Skopje 2014 revamp

Macedonia’s special prosecutor investigates Skopje 2014 revamp
By Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje July 26, 2016

The mayor of Skopje’s Centar municipality, Andrej Zernovski, an opposition politician and fierce opponent of the Skopje 2014 project testified to the Special Prosecution Office (SPO) on July 26 in an ongoing probe into the project.

The Skopje 2014 project to revamp the capital started modestly with announced investments of €80mn, but costs have already spiraled to over €600mn, a figure which is not yet final. Most of the monuments were made at Italian artistic foundries; they include the 24.5 metre high Warrior on Horse monument, a statue of Alexander the Great that officially cost €8.3mn.  

The SPO said in an emailed notice to bne IntelliNews on July 26 that it could not reveal any information as the case “is in the pre-trial procedure”, which under the law “is secret”.

The news about the probe broke at time when Skopje is marking the 53th anniversary of the devastating earthquake which leveled the city.

The SPO was established at the end of 2015 to probe crimes by top officials revealed in illegally wiretapped conversations leaked by the opposition Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM).

“I have to express satisfaction that the documents are in the right hands and we expect the justice to come out. There is no way out of the crisis if there is no legal outcome. There must be accountability for the crime committed,” Zernovski was quoted by broadcaster 24vesti after he gave testimony.

Zernovski is from the ranks of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which was a coalition partner of the SDSM in previous elections.

The Skopje 2014 project was officially announced in 2010. It consists mainly of the construction of museums and baroque-style government buildings, as well as the erection of monuments and statues. Around 20 buildings and over 40 monuments were planned under the project.

The Centar municipality, where the most of the monuments are located, ordered audit reports for the Skopje 2014 project when Zernovski was elected mayor in 2013. The reports showed many irregularities and violations of the law, arousing suspicions of possible abuse of power and unlawful activities by some institutions.

The audit reports showed that the contracts for the monuments were signed at one price, but in fact cost several times that amount.

According to 24vesti, the case has been also been under investigation by the country’s financial police for several months.

Aside from the costs in a country with a high level of unemployment and poverty, according to many critics the city has been transformed into a concrete jungle. Monuments built during the project were among those spattered with paint during the recent Colourful Revolution protests. On the other hand, it has reportedly attracted many foreign visitors.

The project is being financed by the government of the conservative VMRO-DPMNE party, which came to power in 2006 and defeated the SDSM in three consecutive elections in 2008, 2011 and 2014.