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News 11 Aug 17

Renewed Call to Seize Former Macedonian Ruling Party’s Assets

Macedonia’s Special Prosecution to challenge court’s refusal to freeze the assets – including a vast property portfolio - of the former ruling VMRO DPMNE party.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje
Macedonia's Special Prosecutors. Archive photo: MIA

The Macedonian prosecution team tasked with investigating high-level crime has confirmed it intends to challenge the Skopje Criminal Court decision not to freeze the assets of the former ruling party VMRO DPMNE before the Supreme Court.

The Special Prosecution, SJO, had requested that the party’s assets be frozen in connection to an investigation into alleged money laundering and other financial irregularities.

The SJO said it is preparing all documents needed to file a so-called "request for protection of legality" to the Supreme Court in which it will renew its request to freeze the party's assets.

"The Special Public Prosecution expects the Supreme Court to accept the request for protection of legality in this case and to send it [the case] back for revision. Thus we expect the assets of the political party in question to be secured [seized]," the SJO said on Thursday.

In May, the SJO opened an investigation in allegations against senior VMRO DPMNE members that was dubbed Talir – or ‘old silver coin’. Prosecutors suspect 11 VMRO DPMNE members, including former prime minister and VMRO DPMNE leader Nikola Gruevski, of illegally financing the party by money laundering and of misuse of office.

The SJO alleges that in his capacity as VMRO DPMNE head, Gruevski accepted 4.9 million euros in illegal donations to his party between 2009 and 2015, when he was prime minister.

The SJO claims that instead of returning the money to the national budget, as should have been done when it comes to illegal donations, he used the money to illegally finance his party.

The prosecution suspects illegal donations were disguised as individual donations or membership fees and that illegal money was injected into the party's account using various forms of money-laundering.

In addition, the SJO suspects the money was used in 78 contracts to buy real estate to the party and has filed 12 requests to freeze those assets. However, the Skopje Criminal Court rejected those requests.

In response to the allegations, VMRO DPMNE officials and Gruevski denied all the charges and dismissed the case as politically motivated, claiming the current ruling party – the Social Democrats – intend to destroy VMRO DPMNE.
 
"This is a classic political and anti-Macedonian construct" aimed at taking down the VMRO DPMNE's top leadership, the party told BIRN on Thursday.

In September and October 2016, SCOOP-Macedonia published an investigation that claimed that VMRO DPMNE, 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.

The investigation, to which VMRO DPMNE at the time declined to offer answers, said that the party, owned 33,000 square metres of office space, farmland and pasture spread across 93 sites.

The total market value of the property portfolio, which includes its lavish, recently finished HQ in central Skopje, was estimated at 60 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.

Formed in autumn 2015 as part of an EU-sponsored crisis agreement, the SJO has so far pressed charges in 20 cases but is also working on more than 120 investigations and pre-investigation procedures.

Most of them concern officials from the former ruling VMRO DPMNE party, which held power from 2006 until this May.

The Talir case is still in the investigation phase, so charges have not yet been laid.

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