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News 03 Oct 16

Macedonia Ruling Party Ducks Questions About its Wealth

Macedonia's ruling VMRO DPMNE party has declined to answer questions about a recent media investigation, which suggested it has become one of the richest parties in Europe.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje
The new VMRO DPMNE party HQ in Skopje opened in 2015. Photo by: BIRN

The head of communications for Macedonia's ruling VMRO DPMNE's party, Ivo Kotevski, has declined to confirm whether the party owns some 60 million euro of real estate, as an investigation by SCOOP-Macedonia published last week claims.

"I suppose that it [the media report] is commissioned [and based on a] lump assessments," Kotevski said.

He added that "it would take some time to conduct an assessment of the entire party's property", so that it could clarify how much it is worth.

The SCOOP investigation, published in video format on YouTube, says the party, which has held power since 2006, has accumulated tremendous assets in real estate, more than some much more prominent parties in Europe, in much richer countries.

According to the investigation, the party legally owns 33,000 square metres of office space, farmland and pasture spread across 93 sites.

The total market value of the portfolio is estimated at 60 million euros, SCOOP said, adding that only the new party headquarters in Skopje alone cost some 40 million euros.

This puts VMRO DPMNE, in wealth terms, way ahead of the Centre Party in Sweden whose property is estimated at 53 million euros and Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, CDU, in Germany, which owns property worth some 50 million euros. The UK's main opposition Labour Party owns property worth only 9 million pounds.

Ana Janevska Deleva, head of Transparency Macedonia, an NGO, says the ruling party's wealth should have been investigated long ago.

"The Public Prosecution and Anti-Corruption Commission have legal authority to ask the party to prove the origin of the money it used to buy property. But in our conditions, it is hard to expect this to happen," she said.

The Public Prosecution and State Anti-Corruption Commission on Friday did not reply to queries from BIRN about whether they would investigate the claims about the party's wealth.

The second largest party in Macedonia, the opposition Social Democrats, SDSM, according to the same investigation, has 14 registered properties and owns a total of 4.120 square metres.

In 2014, in the wake of that year's early general and presidential elections, the SDSM accused the ruling party of launching a property-buying spree using illicit funds.

The SDSM presented documents from the land registry that it said showed that over only three months in 2013 VMRO DPMNE purchased over 20 apartments, office spaces and building worth some 1.6 million euros.

In its reply, VMRO DPMNE did not deny the purchases but said there was nothing illegal in buying real estate to use as party headquarters. No investigation was launched into the case.

According to SCOOP, VMRO DPMNE's property portfolio boomed from 2006 onwards, after it took power under its current leader, the former Prime Minister, Nikola Gruevski.

The former leader of VMRO DPMNE from 1990 to 2003, Ljubco Georgievski, on Friday said he was surprised by the alleged hike in the wealth of his former party.

"We left several offices in Skopje and in some other towns," Georgievski recalled about the time when he stepped down. "But if these numbers are correct, it is certain that there was a drastic increase in the [party's] capital."

The ruling party's webpage provides no insight into its finances, nor into the amount and value of its properties.

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