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Macedonian prosecutor implicates former political leaders in money laundering and extortion

Staff Writer |
A wide-ranging corruption investigation by the Macedonian special prosecutor has unearthed new evidence of wrongdoing in dozens of deals by VMRO-DPMNE, the right-wing party that ruled the country between 2006 and 2017.

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The prosecutor alleged that the party illegally collected at least 4.6 million euros in a money laundering and extortion scheme, accepted illegal donations to construct its lavish “White Palace” headquarters in Skopje, and illegally purchased at least 68 other properties across the country worth 17.5 million euros in total.

The allegations are part of two indictments charging party officials including former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, who fled to Hungary in November with money laundering and abuse of their official positions.

Gruevski has been convicted and other party officials charged in related cases as part of a broader government corruption probe.

An analysis by reporters from the Investigative Reporting Lab Macedonia, OCCRP’s Macedonian member center, used public records and documents from prosecutors to pinpoint the 69 party-owned properties at issue, some of which have no obvious links to VMRO-DPMNE functions.

This report marks the first time the detailed property list has been published.

At the time of the purchases, which included fields, pastures, apartment buildings, and private houses, such party ownership was forbidden under Macedonian law.

Prosecutors have not disclosed who, if anyone, used the real estate.

The Skopje Criminal Court, acting on a request from the office of the special prosecutor, froze the 69 properties on October 31, 2018, including the White Palace headquarters.

The action came after party leader Hristijan Mickoski told reporters that VMRO-DPMNE was short of funds and might have to sell or rent its headquarters.

The freeze means that the party cannot sell or mortgage the White Palace or other properties.

The questionable land deals and allegations that party officials ran an extortion and money laundering scheme came to light as part of a broad investigation that Special Prosecutor Katica Janeva and her colleagues have been pursuing for more than a year and a half.

This part of the widening probe into corruption is known as Talir, named after a centuries-old silver coin.

Janeva was appointed special prosecutor by Macedonian lawmakers in 2015 after pressure from the European Union.

After president Gjorge Ivanov halted probes into more than 50 public figures embroiled in a wiretapping scandal (including Nikola Gruevski), protesters took to streets in Skopje and other cities in the summer of 2016 in support of the special prosecutor, who had been working on the case.

Information from the wiretapped conversations has helped prosecutors bring indictments for a wide range of questionable deals in areas including real estate and government contracting.

In a prelude to the most recent indictments, deputy special prosecutor Lence Ristoska said at a news conference in 2017 that evidence pointed to “real estate purchased on behalf of the political party, but not used for party purposes,” a violation of Macedonian law.

She added: “We noted that there are no party features at all on those properties.

In some cases we have properties that are not marked [with a party insignia] and we have situations where there are pastures or fields, which are obviously not used for the purposes of the political party.”

The indictments allege a complex web of donations and deals that violate Macedonian law.

Prosecutors believe Gruevski and Kiril Bozinovski, the party secretary-general, gained a disproportionate benefit for VMRO-DPMNE in the deal to construct the White Palace party headquarters, they said in a news release.

The party paid only 815,323 euros for a building that is now valued at 14 million euros, meaning it could reap a huge profit if sold.

In July, the new Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) government and Parliament eased restrictions on property ownership by political parties, allowing them to own land and other real estate and rent out their properties.

But the new law does not affect the pending criminal cases because it isn’t retroactive.

VMRO-DPMNE didn’t respond to questions emailed by the Investigative Reporting Lab Macedonia about the new charges and the party properties under investigation.


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