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News 17 Apr 14

PM Bribe Claim Electrifies Macedonian Election

After the Macedonian opposition on Thursday released a phone recording - on which it claims Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski can be heard discussing the illegal sale of a bank to a Serbian businessman for a bribe - the ruling party dismissed the tape, saying the voice was clearly not Gruevski's.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje

Macedonian PM, Nikola Gruevski | Photo by: gov.mk

The recording released amid a tense election campaign in Macedonia comes a day after opposition Social Democrats accused Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski of taking a bribe of €1.5 million for expediting the sale of Makedonska Banka AD to Serbian businessman Jovica Stefanovic, aka “Gazda Nini” ["Boss Nini"] in 2004.

The first part of the recording contains what appears to be a telephone conversation between Stefanovic and an unknown middleman in which they discuss financial matters concerning the sale of the bank, including pament of a bribe in cash and in monthly installments.

Later, the lengthy audio contains two separate conversations between the middleman and what is alleged to be Gruevski, in which the middleman reports what has been agreed and they both agree a legal strategy to obtain approval for the sale of the bank from the Macedonian Central Bank.

“I remind you that former Prime Ministers from the region have already ended up in jail for criminal sales of banks,” the head of the Social Democrats, Zoran Zaev told the media on Thursday.

“Changes have happened all over the region, in Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Albania. Only in Macedonia does the criminal network push the state towards full dictatorship and collapse,” he added.

Gruevski’s VMRO DPMNE party issued a flat denial on Thursday, denouncing the telephone audio recordings as phoney and manufactured.

“Zaev’s allegations are completely false and made up. This is a classic montage of something that for the most part does not even resemble the voice of Nikola Gruevski. The montage contains many flaws, contradictions and details that overturn one another and are completely illogical… This will not pass,” the ruling party said in its reaction.

“If Zoran Zaev thinks he can win a few more votes in the elections through these manipulations and that the people and the country will succumb to these fabrications, lies and montages, he is deeply wrong. He will get the answer from the people on April 27 [the election day]” VMRO DPMNE said.

VMRO DPMNE previously said that its leader will file slander charges against Zaev.

During 2004, when the alleged transactions took place, Gruevski’s party was in opposition.  Gruevski became Prime Minister in 2006 and has run the government ever since.

On Wednesday, the opposition launched the affair by producing documents of financial transactions as well as legal papers from Macedonia’s Central Bank that approved the sale of the bank’s shares. The SDSM said the papers contained clear evidence of wrongdoing.

Documents reveal that a total sum of some €900,000 were paid to the accounts of “Sabiko Limited England”, “Archway Engineering Limited England”, “Natural Planet Limited England” and “Silver Universe Limited England” as well as to two companies from Skopje.

“Within a period of four months, most of this money had been withdrawn in cash under Nikola Gruevski’s warrant, for which we also have evidence,” Zaev said.

Zaev said that apart from this sum, which according to the documents was approved by the then bank governor, Ljube Trpeski, Gruevski and the Serbian businessman arranged for an additional sum of €1.5 million to be “paid illegally in cash directly to Gruevski”.

By combining the official and unofficial sum for the sale of the bank, the opposition party alleges that Gruevski cashed in a total of €2.4 million.

“The way the bank was sold not only broke Macedonian laws but harmed the budget as well,” Zaev said, additionally accusing Gruevski of evading some €225,000 in taxes.

The opposition has in recent months presented various documents that it claims incriminate ruling party officials, but the latest accusation is the first directed personally at Grueveski.

The accusations come in the midst of a tense election campaign. On April 27, Macedonians will vote on the second round of the presidential election and in an early general election.

The affair could damage the standing of Gruevski, who is otherwise the clear favourite to win the elections and whose party emphasizes honesty as a key virtue.

Jovica Stefanovic, Nini, is a controversial figure in Serbia. He was arrested in November 2012 on suspicion of causing damage to the pharmaceutical company Srbolek which he helped to buy in 2005. The trial on the case is still ongoing.

He was also involved in the controversial privatization of the Zrenjanin-based pharmaceutical company, Jugoremedija, in September 2002.

The Jugoremedija case is cited as one 24 controversial privatizations that the EU wants Serbia to resolve.

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