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News 29 Nov 13

Skopje Revamp Probe Claims Financial Misuse

A probe into the ‘Skopje 2014’ revamp, which claims the former chiefs of Centar municipality illegally spent at least 8 million euro on memorials, has been dismissed by the ruling party.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Presentation of the report | Photo by: opstinacentar.gov.mk

A municipal review commission, tasked with probing the finances of the government-sponsored revamp of the capital called Skopje 2014, says it has detected illegal public procurements worth at least 8 million euro.

It says the administration of former mayor Vladimir Todorovic, who lost local elections six month ago, favoured two Italian firms for casting bronze and marble statues even though their offers were much costlier than those of rival bidders.

“Offers that were more than 220 per cent costlier than the true price were selected,” the current mayor of Centar, Andrej Zernovski, said.

The companies in question are the Ferdinando Marinelli foundry and the Pietro Bazzanti art studio, which cast the largest monuments in the city revamp.

These include the 22-metre-high equestrian staue of Alexander the Great and that of his father, Philip.

“This is a textbook case of illegal, rigged tendering procedures,” Zernovski said, adding that he would hand the report to the state prosecution and the courts.

Macedonia's ruling VMRO DPMNE party dismissed the claims as biased, defending the financing of the project that was partially channelled through government donations to the Centar municipality.

“If Zernovski has evidence of wrongdoing, he should immediately sue the persons in charge… and not call press conferences,”  the ruling party said.

The review commission was formed in May, shortly after power changed in the Centar municipality in the local election.

Unlike the former mayor, Vladimir Todorovic, who supported the revamp and received almost 60 million euro from the government for monuments, the new opposition mayor is firmly against Skopje 2014.

During his campaign, Zernovski accused his opponents of money-laundering and said he would investigate municipal involvement in the project for evidence of financial crime.

His first order as mayor was to call a halt to further work on the project, pending a probe.

However, this had had little effect on the ground and construction has continued under the supervision of other government bodies.

Since its launch more than three years ago, the Skopje 2014 project has sharply divided the public.

Opponents criticize the chosen faux-Classical style, the cost, and the transparency of the contracts given to the architects and designers. Supporters say the project is dignifying the face of a careworn and uninspiring-looking city and giving it a more monumental look.

While the government this year said it had spent a total of just over 200 million euro so far on the revamp, the opposition insists the real sum may well be over half a billion euro, which they say is far too much for one of the poorest countries in Europe.

In its preliminary report, published in August, the municipal review commission said the previous leadership of Centar also broke the Law on Memorials by erecting large-scale memorials and monuments in Skopje without the approval of parliament, which alone has the right to approve the erection of such monuments.

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