Sunday, April 18, 2021

Former North Macedonia PM linked to new money laundering probe

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The Organised Crime Prosecution in North Macedonia on Monday confirmed the arrest of Risto Novacevski – the best man of fugitive ex-prime minister Nikola Gruevski – naming him as one of several suspects in a case of money laundering and the illicit purchase of building lots. They are seeking 30 days of detention.

The prosecution said it had launched an investigation “against six persons” – starting with Gruevski – “for which there is substantiated suspicion that they have committed a criminal act – money laundering” – and through which they illicitly purchased a large piece of land near Skopje’s elite residential area on Mt Vodno.

Gruevski, named in the press release only as former “leader of a political party”, and the first suspect in the case, is accused of using the scam to obtain “at least 1.3 million euros” between 2006 and 2012, when he was prime minister and leader of the then ruling centre-right VMRO DPMNE party.

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He is suspected of illegally taking the money either “in person or through the municipal committees” of his party. The money was intended as party donations, and he allegedly failed to report it in the party’s financial reports.

“Between October 2012 and September 2013, he put the sum obtained through a criminal act into circulation by buying building lots in Vodno,” the prosecution recalled.

The transaction was allegedly done through an offshore firm registered in Belize.

“The second suspect, [whom the prosecution did not name] although knowing that the money was obtained through a criminal act, contacted the owner of the offshore firm in Belize and asked for the documentation, stamps and bank account of the firm to be given for his disposal,” the prosecution press release stated.

Gruevski’s best man from his first marriage, Novacevski, named as the third suspect in the case, was manager of the Belize firm’s daughter company through which the transactions passed.

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The other suspects named in the case are Gruevski’s cousin, the former secret police chief Saso Mijalkov, the businessman Orce Kamcev, Kamcev’s mother, Ratka Kamceva, and one other person, Nenad Josifovic.

Although the prosecution has only just opened an investigation into this case, the affair which has been dubbed “The Vodno Apartments”, dates back to 2015.

This was when the opposition Social Democrats, who are now in government, presented covertly recorded tapes that they claimed showed Gruevski was involved in the fraudulent acquisition of lucrative land in Vodno.

In some of the tapes, what appears to be Gruevski’s voice could be heard talking to then Transport Minister Mile Janakieski about changing the urban plan for the area to make the state-owned land that he allegedly intended to buy suitable for building, and so more valuable.

“So this is on the edge of the urban area and no one can build above us, right? In such case we are definitely buying it,” what was allegedly the voice of Gruevski says in one recording. “Fine then. I will give you a definite offer,” the voice said to belong to Janakieski replies.

These, along with thousands of other wiretaps that the Social Democrats claimed were leaked from the secret police, were later handed to the now defunct Special Prosecution.

Formed as part of a political crisis agreement in 2015, this body was tasked with investigating the many allegations of wrongdoings arising from the tapes.

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All of the Special Prosecution cases and ongoing pre-investigations and investigations are now in the hands of the regular prosecution against organised crime.

Back then, Gruevski and his party claimed that unnamed “foreign secret services” were behind the entire wiretapping scandal in order to harm him. He never confirmed or denied the authenticity of these and other wiretaps, but repeated that the tapes had been doctored.

The authoritarian figure whose party ran the country from 2006 to 2016 fled to Hungary in 2018 to avoid serving a two-year jail sentence in another case in which he was convicted of the illicit purchase of a luxury limousine.

Meanwhile, the Skopje Criminal Court, in a first-instance verdict this September, found Gruevski guilty in another case – of inciting a mob attack on an opposition-run municipality in 2013, for which he received an additional year-and-a-half in jail.

Gruevski remains out of reach in Hungary, however, where he has obtained political asylum.

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