Macedonia Special Prosecution Probes Skopje Revamp

The Mayor of the Skopje Municipality of Centar, Andrej Zernovski, a known opponent of the government revamp of the city, is to testify on Tuesday before the Special Prosecution – which is investigating possible crimes related to the makeover.

Macedonia’s special prosecution, SJO, has confirmed that it has summoned Centar Mayor Andrej Zernovski while probing possible wrongdoings in relation to Skopje 2014, the city-wide makeover launched by former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski.

Skopje 2014 Alexander the Great by Robert Atanasovski 11
                                                                        Skopje, Macedonia

“The case is in the pre-investigation phase, and if we commented we would breach the secrecy of the procedure,” the SJO noted.
Ever since he became Mayor of Skopje’s Centar Municipality, three years ago, Zernovski has claimed that the revamp, carried out in part by his predecessor, Vladimir Todorovic, was riddled with illegal acts.
In 2013, a municipal review commission tasked by Zernovski with probing the finances of Skopje 2014 said that Centar, while led by Todorovic – who supported the revamp – received almost 60 million euros from the government to build monuments.
The commission also said it had detected illegal public procurements worth at least 8 million euros, as well as other inconsistencies.
Since then, the regular prosecution has remained silent on the case, and has not opened any formal investigation.
Mayor Zernovski hopes the SJO will finally unravel “this criminal project”, the Municipality of Centar said.
Since it was launched in 2010, the controversial revamp has seen the erection of dozens of monuments, buildings, bridges and facades at an estimated cost of over 640 million euros.
The Municipality of Centar was just one of the participants, receiving government money to carry out the revamp. The rest was spent directly by the government or by the Ministry of Culture.
A former member of Macedonia’s Anti-Corruption Agency, Dragan Malinovski, who was part of the commission that completed the municipal probe, told BIRN that their work had uncovered various crimes such as misuse of office, exceeding authority and illegal work by institutions.
“The authors’ fees were unreasonably high and in breach of the foreseen criteria. The public procurement procedures for casting the monuments, mostly in Italy, were very badly done. This resulted in high damage [to the budget] of over 8 million euros, just in terms of casting the monuments,” Malinovski told BIRN.

Wiretapped conversations revealed last year by the opposition Social Democrats allege that former PM and VMRO DPMNE leader Gruevski masterminded the entire project. His voice is heard in the tapes giving orders to subordinates on what to do and how.
“I cannot say whether hypothetically Gruevski could be prosecuted in relation to this case but our probe, as well as the wiretaps, suggest that he was the central figure in the Skopje 2014 project, so I am sure he bears responsibility,” Malinovski told BIRN.
Gruevski and the VMRO DPMNE party have denied wrongdoing, insisting that the still ongoing Skopje revamp was a vitally needed investment in the future. They have called the Centar probe politically motivated.
Since the start, Skopje 2014 project has 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 a careworn and uninspiring-looking city and giving it a more monumental look.

The SJO was formed last year as part of the EU-brokered deal aimed at ending a deep political crisis that revolved around illegal wiretapping claims and tasked with investigating claims of high-level crime related to the wiretapped materials.

Balkan Insight
26 July, 2016