Amid a tense election campaign in Macedonia, the main opposition party has claimed that the Prime Minister expedited the sale of bank to a shady Serbian businessman for a hefty bribe.
Macedonia’s opposition Social Democratic Party, SDSM, has accused Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski of selling Makedonska Banka AD to a controversial Serbian businessman, Jovica Stefanovic, known as “Gazda Nini” [“Boss Nini”] for a bribe.
The sale was transacted “through four off-shore and two local companies that were in possession of 51 per cent of the bank’s shares and were under Gruevski’s control”, the SDSM head, Zoran Zaev, claimed on Wednesday.
In January 2004, Nini paid more than €900,000 to the companies’ accounts and made an additional payment of €1.5 million directly to Gruevski, Zaev alleged.
Gruevski who became Prime Minister in 2006 after his VMRO DPMNE party won a general election denied the accusations and said he would file slander charges against Zaev.
Presenting documents of financial transactions as well as legal papers from Macedonia’s Central Bank that approved the sale of the bank’s shares, the SDSM said they contained clear evidence of wrongdoing.
Documents reveal that a total sum of some €900,000 were paid to the accounts of “Sabiko Limited England”, “Archway Engineering Limited England”, “Natural Planet Limited England” and “Silver Universe Limited England” as well as to two companies from Skopje.
“Within a period of four months, most of this money had been withdrawn in cash under Nikola Gruevski’s warrant, for which we also have evidence,” Zaev said.
Zaev said that apart from this sum, which according to the documents was approved by the then bank governor, Ljube Trpeski, Gruevski and Nini arranged for an additional sum of €1.5 million to be “paid illegally in cash directly to Gruevski”.
By combining the official and unofficial sum for the sale of the bank, the opposition party alleges that Gruevski cashed in a total of €2.4 million.
“The way the bank was sold not only broke Macedonian laws but harmed the budget as well,” Zaev said, additionally accusing Gruevski of evading some €225,000 in taxes.
The opposition has in recent months presented various documents that it claims incriminate ruling party officials, but the latest accusation is the first directed personally at Grueveski.
“What is Gruevski’s moral credibility to make spectacles out of arrests, accusations and drastic punishments of people for overdue VAT payments… when he personally received 1.5 million euro in cash from Nini, which directly broke the law and directly damaged the Macedonian budget?” Zaev asked.
Gruevski’s party dismissed the charges.
“Gruevski has never taken any money from anyone. He neither bought nor sold Makedonska Banka,” a press release from VMRO DPMNE read.
The accusations come in the midst of a tense election campaign. On April 27, Macedonians will vote on the second round of the presidential election and in an early general election.
The affair could damage the standing of Gruevski, who is otherwise the clear favourite to win the elections and whose party emphasizes honesty as a key virtue.
Jovica Stefanovic, Nini, is a controversial figure in Serbia. He was arrested in November 2012 on suspicion of causing damage to the pharmaceutical company Srbolek which he helped to buy in 2005. The trial on the case is still ongoing.
He was also involved in the controversial privatization of the Zrenjanin-based pharmaceutical company, Jugoremedija, in September 2002.
The Jugoremedija case is cited as one 24 controversial privatizations that the EU wants Serbia to resolve.