Prime Minister Asking a 15 Million Euro Bribe in Highway Construction
SDSM President Zoran Zaev released fresh wiretap materials last Thursday revealing direct involvement of the Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski in four separate corruption schemes. The conversations confirm his political meddling in public procurement and decision-making procedures, as well as straightforward bribe demands.
1. Several conversations referred to the controversial highway construction agreement that the Government signed with the Chinese company Synohydro Corporation Limited. Contrary to legal provisions, the 580 million Euro deal (206 million for the Miladinovci-Stip highway and 373 million for the Kicevo-Ohrid highway) was not awarded through an open public procurement procedure but via a special law passed in Gruevski-controlled Parliament.
During the parliamentary debate, the opposition criticized the lack of transparency and competition that led to a price much higher than previous estimates. Namely, a previous study carried out by the Public Enterprise for Building and Maintenance of Roads estimated the construction of Kicevo-Ohrid at 270 million Euro, significantly lower than the final price of 373 million Euro.
The leaked conversations reveal the reason behind these discrepancies. After arranging the construction of the first highway from Miladinovci to Stip, Gruevski ordered the Transport Minister Janakievski to cut a deal with the same company (the Chinese Synohydro Corporation Limited), to build the second highway from Kicevo to Ohrid.
Although two Chinese companies were initially contacted, Gruevski is heard instructing Janakievski to proceed with negotiations with Synohydro only. “Let’s go with it, the one we know already,” Gruevski decides. In the crucial conversation, the duo can be heard discussing taking 5 per cent on the cost in kickbacks, or “15 to 18 (million Euro) following our projections on their bid” for the Kicevo-Ohrid highway only.
“Will they accept this much?” Gruevski inquires. “Well, they will, if we tell them to. It’s nothing. They did last time,” Janakievski appeases his chief. “Try 15, see how they’ll react and then call me,” Gruevski decides.
The assumption is that “following the same logic and conditions” as PM Gruevski says in the recordings, he solicited a total of 25 million Euro as bribe for awarding them the two construction contracts.
2. Another two tapes reveal talks between Gruevski and Janakievski scheming to fix the tender for construction of the railway line from Kumanovo to Beljakovce on the rail corridor linking Macedonia to Bulgaria. Speaking in codes when discussing the country of origin of bidding firms, Gruevski tries to pinpoint one of four they could contact and negotiate with directly. “Even if we reach out to someone in the meantime, it might turn out that we cannot fix the deal at the end ….We should avoid talking to someone and then telling him that he has flaws. In that case, he will start blabbing,” Gruevski cautiously observes. Construction of the railway line was eventually awarded to a German company for a 50 million Euro deal.
3. Another recording reveals a conversation between Gruevski and the head of the State-owned Power Company ELEM, Zivko Cingovski whereby the Prime Minister instructs Cingovski how to fix a tender for coal extraction in favor of Goran Ivanov, the owner of Sitel TV, a prominent pro-government television station. “I think you should see them and organize the deal, so that everyone is satisfied… You know why the man from Kratovo (small town in Macedonia, city of Ivanov’s origin, n.a.) is so important to us, right?” Gruevski pushes.
4. The final conversation of the day reveals the lengths PM Gruevski went in order to convince Janakievski, contrary to legal provisions, to sign a document for Baroque revamping of two facades in downtown Skopje, one of them owned by Gruevski’s close business associate.
Janakievski reluctantly agrees to Gruevski’s pressures to issue an opinion in favor of an increase in the building footprint, contrary to the adopted urban plan. Gruevski convinces him that he “ can’t be accountable in a Criminal court for an issued opinion” and reassures him that in case of a problem, the blame will go to the final signatory, an employee in the municipality of Centar.
“Do we need more evidence to realize the true character behind the man that has been leading our country for full 9 years? ” Zaev asked, yet again calling Gruevski to resign willingly and release Macedonia.