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News 19 Dec 17

Macedonian SJO Includes Ex-Ministers in New Probes

Macedonia's Special Prosecution, SJO, in charge of investigating high-level crime, on Tuesday said it was opening seven new investigations into 17 people, including some former ministers.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje
Macedonia's Special Prosecutors at press conference in Skopje | Archive Photo: MIA

Macedonia's special prosecution body has opened seven investigations into, among others, former ministers, MPs, executives and journalists.

The first new investigation, codenamed “Stranski Sluzbi” [foreign services], is probing a former deputy interior minister and an employee in the secret police for suspected misuse of office for faking a tendering procedure for procurement of police equipment late in 2014.

Special prosecutor Fatime Fetai said the two suspects in November 2014 commissioned a “false” report from the foreign company that would confirm the thesis of the then government about the illegal wiretapping allegations, revealed in 2015 by the then opposition Social Democrats.

Former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski at that time claimed he had not ordered the illegal wiretapping of thousands of people – and that unnamed foreign services had carried out the eavesdropping using “yellow vans” equipped with surveillance equipment. The incriminating material was then supposedly given to the opposition in order to destabilise him.

According to the prosecution, the foreign company that wrote the report backing Gruevski’s thesis, just one month later, in December, won a fake tender for the procurement of the police equipment.

Fetai said the suspects carried out the fictive tendering procedure involving three bidding companies in record time, in just over five days, and “the preliminary findings suggest that they [the bids from the companies] were written by one person”.

The second investigation, codenamed “Drumarina” [road toll bill], is probing a former MP from the former ruling VMRO DPMNE party, Silvana Boneva, for fraud.

She is suspected of illegally acquiring some 100,000 euros from the state budget during her term from 2011 to 2016, by misreporting her travel costs from her residence in the town of Strumica to parliament.
 
The third investigation, codenamed “Roentgen”, is probing a former health minister for misuse of office back in 2012 and again in 2014.

The minister, Nikola Todorov, was a senior member of VMRO DPMNE. He is suspected of favouring one of the firms that put in a bid for a tender in 2012 for procurement of roentgen units and other equipment for health institutions.

The SJO said it suspects that the minister broke the law for a second time in 2014, when the affair reached the media, linking the ownership of the winning company to a prominent Macedonian journalist and her mother.

“Instead of annulling the entire tendering procedure, he [the minister], against the law, made a contract with the second-ranking company, gaining 860,000 euros for himself,” Fetai told the press conference.

The fourth investigation, named “Producent” [Producer], suspects a former Agriculture Minister, again from the ranks of the former ruling party, of misuse of office back in 2009.

He is suspected of directly paying 50,000 euros to a to a private communications and consulting company, Smart Centar DOOEL Skopje, which used the money to produce the TV show “The Color of Money”, aired on Sitel TV from 2009 to 2012.

The law allows such direct payments without tenders only to radio or TV stations, but not to other private companies, the prosecution said.

The fifth investigation, codenamed “Leaders”, suspects a private investor of constructing a building near an embassy in Skopje without a proper permit, the prosecution said.

The codename of the investigation, the prosecution explained, originates from an incriminating wiretapped conversation between leaders of two political parties regarding this case. The two political leaders, whose names were not disclosed, are not suspects in this case as yet.

The sixth and seventh investigation, codenamed “Tariff 2” and “Transporter 2”, are in essence a continuation of ongoing cases that the prosecution previously raised.

“Tariff 2” suspects an employee in the state power-producing company, ELEM, of misuse of office by paying more than 218,000 euros to a Czech firm to modernize ELEM’s IT systems, which it never completed.

“Transporter 2” furthers an ongoing court case against the former mayor of Bitola, Vladimir Taleski, who was earlier accused of misusing 360,000 euros of budget money that was given to the municipality to pay for the bus transport of school pupils for two school years.

The new investigation also suspects Taleski, as well as the former town secretary, five transport company representatives and three elementary school principals, of involvement in the scheme that continued for several years.

The SJO was formed in 2015 as part of an internationally sponsored agreement and tasked with investigating allegations of high-level crime that arose from illegal wiretaps revealed that year by the then opposition Social Democrats.

After its formation in 2015 as part of a crisis agreement, the SJO was given only 18 months to press charges, however. The deadline expired this June. By then, the SJO had pressed charges in 20 high-profile cases.

In November, the chief Special Prosecutor Katica Janeva said her office was still working on about 100 pre-investigative procedures into possible crimes, despite the expiry of the deadline.

She hopes the status and future of the SJO will soon be resolved, and that they will be able to raise fresh charges.

Even if this is not the case, many experts believe there is no obstacle stopping the SJO from continuing to work, and passing cases to the regular prosecution, which has no such time limit to press charges.

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