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Macedonia Opposition: Covert Tapes Reveal ‘Economic Chaos’

Macedonia's opposition leader said covertly-recorded conversations between senior officials proved the government was concealing its economic mismanagement, wild spending and soaring debt.
Macedonian Finance Minister Zoran Stavreski | Photo by: vlada.mk

Opposition leader Zoran Zaev on Monday released the latest in a series of covert tapes, which he said were recordings of conversations between Finance Minister Zoran Stavreski and police minister Gordana Jankuloska that proved that the government was lying about country’s finances being stable.

SDSM party chief Zaev told a press conference in Skopje that the tapes “confirm the chaos in the budget and the catastrophic economic condition” and undermine government claims that public debt is modest and expenditures, in the wake of the effects of the global financial crisis, are reasonable.

Zaev said that the wiretapped conversations, which he claims to have received from Macedonian intelligence service sources, had taken place mostly during the consultations for the 2012 budget rebalance and the projections for the 2013 budget.

In the conversations, Stavreski appears to complain to Jankuloska that he cannot find money to cover the most basic expenses in the budget for wages and running costs.

“Budget revenues are a disaster,” the alleged voice of Stavreski says in one of the conversations. He accuses Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and other of repeatedly making “megalomaniac requests”. “I am no magician,” Stavreski adds.

“It’s a tragedy that I have five per cent of the budget spent on culture… let’s buy what we need and stop constructing buildings and monuments,” he says, referring to the ongoing government sponsored revamp of the capital dubbed Skopje 2014 that the opposition claims costs Macedonia hundredth of millions of euros.

“We are constantly adding new [budget] expenditures. Even the United States could not withstand this… pedestrian tracks, aqua parks, this and that… this is insane! We are lunatics! We are spending on chocolate when we don’t have bread,” the voice purported to be that of Stavreski says.

In another section of the conversation, Stavreski and Jankuloska agree that the government order of some 100 paintings for the new archaeological museum, which opened last year, was irrational when many public offices cannot even pay their heating bills.

Stavreski later describes Gruevski as a man “who has lost the sense of reality”.

Zaev said that the conversations reveal that in private, these two high-ranking ministers were Gruevski’s biggest critics. He said that this was the reason why these two were high among the surveillance priorities for Gruevski and secret police chief Saso Mijalkov.

The publication of the conversations is the sixth part of the so-called political “bombshell” of wiretapped recordings that the opposition launched last month against Gruevski’s government and in a bid to force him to resign. More are to follow, Zaev has said.

Police Minister Gordana Jankuloska | Photo by: vlada.mk

The voice that the opposition says is Stavreski’s goes on to admit that state debt is piling up while the Prime Minister is preoccupied with the businesses close to his cousin and the secret police chief, Mijalkov.

“This is repulsive. It makes me sick when I speak about it,” he tells the Police Minister, to which Jankuloska’s alleged voice replies: “The term ‘devious’ that the Commies [Zaev’s opposition SDSM] are using [to describe Gruevski’s government] is precisely correct.”

The size of Macedonia’s overall government debt, which includes external debt and money owed to domestic creditors, has long been a source of contention. The opposition has accused the government of concealing the real figure.

In another conversation, Stavreski tells Jankuloska that Transportation Minister Mile Janakieski and Vice President in charge of economic issues, Vladimir Pesevski are about to sign “a deal with a chinese company that will build roads [motorway stretches] without a tender.”

According to the conversation, Janakieski and Pesevski were reluctant to sign the contract for which Stavreski says it was illegal. However, the contract for the two motorway stretches worth more than half a billion euros was signed on December 12, 2013 with the Chinese company „Sinohydro Corporation Limited“.  It was signed by Pesevski, Janakieski and the then head of the public roads enterprise, Ljupco Georgievski.

In one conversation, Jankuloska complains about being questioned by the EU ambassador to Macedonia, Aivo Orav, regarding the June 2013 siege of Skopje’s Centar Municipality which is run by the opposition.

In the incident, a violent mob surrounded Skopje’s Centar municipality building, breaking windows and protesting against the mayor’s alleged plan – which he denied – to demolish a church. Although theruling VMRO DPMNE denied it, some media reported that the protests were secretly staged by the ruling party against mayor Andrej Zernovski. They also reported on a weak police response that allowed the mob to penetrate the building perimeter and harass those inside.

“He [Orav] told me that this is unheard of anywhere in the world. Luckily, the police had intervened a little so I told him that they did everything according the law. What could I do?” Jankuloska says to Stavreski.

The two voices on the tape continue by expressing fear about not being able to hide the government’s undemocratic behaviour from the people and from the international community in the longer run.

“At the end the situation will be like that with [Turkey’s Recep Tayyip] Erdogan [who faced demonstrations and Western discontent]. Before long they [the international community] will have enough,” Stavreski tells Jankuloska.

Zaev told the press conference that it was still not too late for Stavreski and Jankuloska to resign, as it has become obvious from the conversations that they were well aware that the Prime Minister was leading the country astray.

Zaev warned Gruevski not to make attempts to destabilize Macedonia in order to avoid responsibility. “Now ‘the emperor has no clothes’ and it is up to him whether he will make it easier on us all [by resigning sooner],” he said.

The SDSM held its first press conference about the telephone surveillance on February 9, when it alleged that over 20,000 people in the country of two million had been wiretapped. Zaev alleged that both top government figures and stark opponents have been subjected to massive eavesdropping orchestrated by Gruevski and Mijalkov.

Five more press conferences have been held since then at which the opposition released further batches of tapped conversations, in some cases conversations about alleged wrongdoing by senior officials, including Gruevski.

Gruevski, who has been in power since 2006, has denied the wiretapping allegations, blaming the scandal on an unnamed “foreign secret service” collaborating with Zaev.

Before he first made the wiretapping allegations, Zaev was also accused of blackmailing state officials in order to come to power.

Zaev has denied collaborating with foreign spies, insisted that all the conversations that he received originated from people who work in the domestic intelligence services.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic