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News 11 Mar 14

Macedonia Opposition Says EU Highway Cash 'Missing'

Opposition party claims some of the funds approved by the European Union for motorway construction in Macedonia have disappeared.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje

SDSM spokesperson, Petre Silegov

Macedonia's opposition Social Democratic Party, SDSM, claims at least €3.5 million of €290 million, mostly of which is EU funds, approved for the construction of the highway from Demir Kapija to Smokvica, has gone missing through questionable cash withdrawals.

On Monday, the SDSM spokesperson, Petre Silegov, held up alleged bank documents, showing several cash withdrawals of significant sums from the bank account of the Skopje branch of AKTOR ADТ Greece, the Greek construction company hired to build the 28-kilometre stretch.

“Where did this money go? Did it stay in the country or go to Greece?” Silegov inquired, saying the party suspected criminal links between the company and the government.

The cash withdrawals, the opposition claims, were made by several Greek citizens from a Macedonian bank in Negotino, near the border with Greece, last May, June and July.

The party said it has information that the people who collected the cash did not report any significant cash sums to the Macedonian border authorities while leaving the country, which suggests that the money stayed in Macedonia.

The government started constructing the last remaining stretch of Macedonia’s busiest motorway, part of the pan-European Corridor 10, two years ago.

It is being built with funding worth a total of some €290 million, which makes it one of the biggest infrastructure projects in Macedonia in recent years.

About €130 million are a loan from the European Investment Bank, €107 million came from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development while another €45 million was granted under the EU's Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance.

The Macedonian government has put in €6 million.

During a recent visit to the construction site, Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski said construction was going well, adding that €46 million had been spent on construction so far.

However, the SDSM claims that bank records show the company has been paid only €32 million, raising questions about where the rest of the €46 million went.

“The Prime Minister should tell us how much money has been paid to the firm so far… We are talking about Macedonia’s image before European institutions and about money that Macedonian citizens will one day have to repay,” Silegov said.

The ruling VMRO DPMNE party on Monday replied that the motorway's finances were in order, describing the allegations against the government as politically motivated, designed to coincide with the start of the election race for the April general and presidential elections.

“All state institutions in charge respect Macedonian laws and the international standards set by our European partner institutions,” the party said, adding that it was not responsible for the way the firm AKTOR spent the money.

“Silegov should ask the firm that won the tender, which was verified by all the relevant European Institutions, if he suspects their work. There is a procedure to report that to institutions, and they will respond,” VMRO DPMNE said.

The State Office for Prevention of Money Laundering on Monday did not respond to queries by Balkan Insight as to whether it has taken or will take interest in the case.

The Greek company, Aktor has also not commented so far.

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