Macedonia’s Special Prosecution Office (SPO) has asked for the assets of senior officials from the opposition VMRO-DPMNE, including ex-prime minister and party leader Nikola Gruevski, to be seized as it progresses with a probe into suspected illegal funding of the party’s election campaigns.
VMRO officials are accused of using illegal funding from unidentified sources to finance the party’s election campaigns in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. They are suspects in the Titanik case, launched by the SPO, which concerns election fraud and bribery.
Gruevski has been accused of criminal association, abuse of funds and violation of the right to vote.
Other VMRO-DPMNE officials under investigation include Gruevski’s ex-chief of cabinet Martin Protuger, MP Ilija Dimovski and Leko Ristovski, who served as director of former state-run chemical plant Ohis.
If found guilty, the four suspects will have to return a total of €2.2mn to the state, news agency Makfax reported on September 26.
Seizure of assets is just one of the measures requested by the SPO to the criminal court in the election fraud case.
On July 3, the Skopje court ordered Gruevski’s passport to be seized in the same case, but rejected a request from the special prosecutors to detain him. On September 27, the court decided to reject the request filed by Gruevski to return his passport, as “baseless”. Gruevski can appeal the decision.
Titanik was the first probe launched by the SPO, which was established on September 15, 2015 as part of the EU- and US-brokered Przino Agreement aimed at ending the political crisis in Macedonia.
Gruevski resigned in early 2016 after a wiretapping scandal implicated him and other top VMRO-DPMNE officials in criminal and corrupt activities. Indictments were recently filed against the former prime minister in two other cases, Tank and TNT. The TNT investigation relates to the demolition of a €58mn residential complex in Skopje which was owned by Gruevski’s political rival, while Tank concerns the purchase of a Mercedes worth over half a million euros for Gruevski using state funds.
His resignation opened the way for the snap election in December 2016. VMRO won the election but without enough votes to form a government, and it was also unable to secure support from other parties.
Instead, the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), which came the second in the election, formed the new government at the end of May in coalition with two ethnic Albanian parties. This ended the long-standing political crisis in the country and opened the way for the country’s further progress towards the EU and Nato membership.