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News 23 Apr 14

Macedonia Ruling Party Queried Over Real Estate Spree

Opposition Social Democrats accuse ruling party of using questionable funds to buy up a massive amount of real estate ahead of this month’s elections.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje

Macedonian PM Nikola Gruevski arrives at a party rally in Skopje | Photo by: VMRO DPMNE

Days before Sunday’s early general and presidential elections in Macedonia, the opposition Social Democratic Party, the SDSM, has presented documents from the land registry that it says show the ruling party recently purchased over 20 apartments, office spaces and building lots worth some €1.6 million.

According to the presented documents, listing the ruling VMRO DPMNE party as owner of the freshly acquired real estate, the purchases took place on several occasions in November, December and January.

“How come only you [Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski] and your officials from VMRO DPMNE succeed in getting rich beyond any reasonable logic? Is it with honesty that you bought real estate worth millions in just a few days?” the SDSM head, Zoran Zaev, asked.

In November 2013, for example, according to the documents, the ruling party acquired real estate worth some half a million euro over three consecutive days.

On December 23, over just one day, the party purchased real estate worth an additional €800,000 million.

In January 2014, the party bought additional property worth €300,000.

According to the documents, the new assets of the ruling party are scattered in the capital, Skopje, as well as in the towns of Pehcevo, Probistip, Stip, Ohrid, Vinica, Radovis, Strumica, Kavadarci, Veles and Berovo.

The SDSM leader demanded to know where the party got the money to buy the real estate when just three years ago, in its own financial report filed after the 2011 elections, it declared it owed some €3.5 million.

“Today, only three years later, in a feudal manner, this party is becoming owner of everything it can get its hands on in Macedonia,” Zaev said.

In a press release, VMRO DPMNE did not deny the purchases but said there was nothing illegal in buying real estate to use as party HQs.

The ruling party said the real estate had been paid for “with money of the party acquired according to the law”, but failed to give more details.

“For all the purchased HQs, VMRO DPMNE possesses valid documents and agreements. Tax has been paid for all the purchased real estate,” VMRO DPMNE said.

“The SDSM and Zoran Zaev are obviously bothered by the fact that VMRO DPMNE has its own HQs in the bigger Macedonian towns. If that bothers them, we are prepared to give up those HQs and hold our meetings out in the open, in squares,” the ruling party said.

The affair comes amid a tense election campaign in Macedonia and it is the latest in a series of corruption allegations published by the opposition.

Earlier this week, the Social Democrats filed corruption charges against Gruevski, accusing him of taking a bribe of €1.5 million to expedite the sale of Makedonska Banka to Serbian businessman Jovica Stefanovic, aka “Gazda Nini”, ["Boss Nini"] in 2004.

The party presented documents and a telephone recording on which the opposition claims Gruevski's voice can be heard discussing the illegal sale.

However, since the publication of the audio on YouTube, mainstream media outlets in Macedonia have ignored the entire affair.

On April 27, Macedonians will vote in the second round of the presidential election and in an early general election. Gruevski, whose party emphasizes honesty as a key virtue is considered the clear favourite to win the elections.

Gruevski has won all the elections in the country since 2006.

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