Macedonia’s Special Prosecution Office (SPO) has launched an investigation into the purchase of a Mercedes worth over half a million euros for ex-prime minister Nikola Gruevski.
This is one of the first investigations launched after the December 11 election was narrowly won by Gruevski’s conservative VMRO-DPMNE, and was announced as the party is poised to strike a coalition deal with the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (DUI).
The SPO was set up to probe high-level crime based on illegal wiretaps, and has so far unveiled nine investigations. The wiretapping scandal, which was revealed by leader of the opposition Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) Zoran Zaev in 2015, implicates high officials in crime and corruption.
The probe into Gruevski’s Mercedes was one of two announced by the SPO on January 24, although suspicions surrounding the purchase had already been raised when the taped conversations were leaked in 2015.
The case, dubbed Tank, involves two former government officials suspected of misuse of power in 2012, when they breached procurement procedures to buy a luxury Mercedes for Gruevski. The car, believed to be a Mercedes-Benz S600 Guard B6/B7, cost €572,780.
According to Mercedes-Benz’ website, the armoured car can withstand small-arms projectiles up to military-grade, and has additional protection from explosives and hand grenades.
“There is a reasonable suspicion that the first suspect, to fulfill the wish of the then prime minister to acquire a special type of car, encouraged the second suspect to use his official position and to illegally favour a certain company for the provision of that type of vehicle,” the SPO said in a statement.
The names of the suspects were not revealed, but according to one of the wiretapped conversations, Gruevski urged Macedonia’s then Interior Minister Gordana Jankulovska to speed up the procedure for the purchase of the new limo, which he planned to use secretly.
According to prosecutors, the technical specifications in the tender referred to a specific manufacturer and trademarks in “order to favour a particular economic operator". Other companies were not given a chance to participate in the tender.
In another wiretapped conversation with Gruevski’s cousin Saso Mijalkov who headed Macedonia’s secret police, Jankulovska said that the Mercedes was “a fantasy” and that the luxury vehicle would be kept hidden in the government’s garage.
“So far we have not sold such a car in Southeast Europe,” Jankulovska claimed to have been told by the company that sold the limo, according to the recording.
In the other SPO case, dubbed Tariff, that was also revealed on January 24, seven people are suspected of misuse of power in the procurement of software for state-owned power producer ELEM.
The suspects enabled a consortium, which later won the deal worth over €4mn, to qualify in the second stage of the bidding process although it did not submit complete documentation.
They were also payments of an additional €456,560 for licenses for software maintenance, which was contrary to the public procurement agreement. The software system, which should have been implemented by February 11, 2013, has never been installed at ELEM.
Ten former and current secret police officials are under investigation by the SPO, concerning the illegal wiretapping, which took place between 2008 and 2015.