Macedonia’s Special Prosecution Office (SPO) has asked for assets belonging to the VMRO-DPMNE party to be frozen as part of an investigation into illegal party financing that names former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski as the primary suspect.
The SPO was established in 2015 to probe high-level crime revealed by a series of illegally made recordings made public by Social Democratic Party of Macedonia (SDSM) leader Zoran Zaev. The revelation sparked a major scandal in the country, which led to mass protests and a snap general election in December 2016. A new government led by the SDSM is expected to be formed within the coming days, ending a decade of rule by the conservative VMRO-DPMNE.
At a press conference on May 22, the SPO also announced three new investigations, “Talir” (Thaler), “Traektorija” (Trajectory) and “Trevnik” (Lawn) related to the misappropriation of funds, money laundering and illegal construction schemes.
“Thaler” - the name of a silver coin used across Europe in the middle ages - concerns suspicions of illegal financing of VMRO-DPMNE between 2009 and 2015. Gruevski is the primary suspect in the case.
The SPO suspects that the party struck 71 agreements to buy real estate paid for by funds which were supposed to be returned to the state budget or used for humanitarian purposes, according to NovaTV.
VMRO officials are also suspected of abuse of power in allowing local firm Beton to pay for most of the party’s new headquarters in downtown Skopje.
The SPO has asked for some of VMRO’s assets to be frozen, after it discovered that €5mn donated to the government from various sources had been transferred to the party account.
Gruevski is already under investigation by the SPO in separate cases. They include the “TNT” case, involving the demolition of a €60mn residential complex built by one of his political opponents, and the “Tank” case concerning the secret purchase of a €572,780 armoured Mercedes for the then prime minister from state funds.
The new “Trajectory” case, also announced on May 23, has been launched against four former senior government officials suspected of causing damages of €155mn to the state budget by avoiding a tender procedure when awarding a contract for the construction of two motorway sections, Miladinovci-Stip and Kicevo-Ohrid. The probe also concerns a loan from Chinese Exim Bank.
In the “Lawn” investigation, several people are suspected of building weekend houses near Skopje in the period 2010- 2013 without the required permits. One of them, according to media, is Dragan Pavlovic-Latas, editor-in-chief of broadcaster Sitel, which was very supportive to VMRO-DPMNE.
Meanwhile, special prosecutor Katica Janeva urged the new parliamentary majority, led by the Social Democrats, to extend the deadline for filing indictments, which expires at end of June.
Under VMRO-DPMNE’s rule, the work of the SPO was obstructed, but this is expected to change under the new government. The functioning of this institution is one of the priorities of the SDSM and the three ethnic Albanian parties which are in talks with SDSM to form a new government, as well as of the international community.
Article 22 of the law on the special prosecutor’s office envisages a timeframe of 18 months for filing indictments, which is due to expire soon, even though only 45% of the recorded conversations have been processed while the remainder have yet to be investigated. Now, special prosecutors are asking for the article to be annulled or amended.
“I think I’ve gained trust with my work done so far and I assure you that me and my team will continue to perform our duties in the most professional way,” Janeva was cited as saying by media at a press conference in Skopje.
Janeva also urged anyone who has evidence related to the wiretapped conversations to submit them to the SPO.