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Macedonia - Corruption

Combating corruption is one of the government,s toughest challenges. Very few high-profile corruption cases have been successfully prosecuted, with even fewer cases involving a significant sentence as a sanction. The public generally views the police, courts, higher education, and healthcare sector as the most corrupt public institutions. Instances of selective prosecution have compounded public mistrust of government institutions.

In February 1997, a nationwide pyramid scheme collapsed leading to the loss of $60 million among an estimated 30,000 people. The scheme’s collapse was attributed to government corruption and an increase in organized crime. Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski calmed public protests and survived a vote of no-confidence by promising a war against corruption and compensation for citizens who had lost their savings.

Transparency International ranked Macedonia in 69th position out of 176 countries, giving it a score of 43 (on a 0 to 100 scale where 100 is least corrupt) from the new method of scoring in the 2012 Corruption Perception Index. Transparency International gave the country a score of 3.9 (on a 1 to 10 scale where 10 is least corrupt) on the 2011 Corruption Perception Index, a drop from a score of 4.1 in 2010. Though most of the necessary laws are in place, enforcement is weak and the public is skeptical of the government's willingness to prosecute corrupt officials within its ranks.

Macedonia was ranked 104 of 159 countries in the 2005 Transparency International annual corruption perception index (CPI) report. It dropped several places compared to 2004, although its overall score remained the same, at 2.7 out of a possible 10 (10 being least corrupt).

United States investors and businesspeople have reported being solicited for bribes. Corruption frequently is related to lack of capacity, as regulators and bureaucrats, not fully understanding their own duties and responsibilities, have been reported to feign reluctance to act until a bribe or other incentive is offered to justify their taking the "risk" of fulfilling their duties. Transparency International gave Macedonia a score of 3.9 (on a 1 to 10 scale where 10 is least corrupt) on the 2011 Corruption Perception Index, a decrease from Macedonia's score of 4.1 in 2010.

The government has reduced opportunities for corruption by adopting "e-government" systems for managing international cargo transport licenses, for issuing export/import licenses, and for managing public procurement. The Customs Agency in particular has improved services through internal reforms and adoption of electronic customs clearance solutions. The simplified and automated processes enable businesses to monitor the status of their applications in these areas. Such systems are an improvement, but businesses frequently report that processes still are not completed quickly and that they are under-utilized in the case of public procurement.

The Law on Criminal Procedure criminalizes bribery and abuse of official position. Other anti-corruption laws include the Law on Money Laundering Prevention and the Law on Corruption Prevention, which provide for penalties including prison and confiscation of illegally-obtained property. Macedonia has signed the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's (OECD) Convention on Combating Bribery. Macedonia ratified the UN Convention Against Corruption in early 2007, and has ratified the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.

In 2005 and 2006, senior executives then employed at Magyar Telekom, including its Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, organized, approved, and executed a plan to bribe government officials in the Republic of Macedonia to delay or prevent the introduction ofa new competitor to Magyar Telekom' s subsidiaries operating in Macedonia and to obtain certain regulatory benefits. Magyar Telekom, through its subsidiaries in Macedonia, made payments of €4.875 million during 2005 and 2006 to an intermediary under the guise of bogus "consulting" and "marketing" contracts that did not have any legitimate business purpose. All or a portion ofthe proceeds would be offered, promised or paid to Macedonian government officials. In return, the officials would agree to adopt regulatory changes favorable to Magyar Telekom's business and prevent a new competitor from entering the market. The former executives also offered or promised Macedonian political party officials a valuable business opportunity in return for the party's support of Magyar Telekom's desired benefits.

The fight against corruption was one of the greatest priorities in 2006 of the newly elected Government of the Republic of Macedonia which summarized its position in the slogan “zero tolerance for corruption”. In this sense the Program of the Government planned a completely new approach in the fight against corruption.

The normative and the institutional measures for fight against organized crime and corruption remain to be high priority of the Government of Republic of Macedonia through continuous upgrade and improvement of the anti corruption legal frame, by embedding the latest international standards in this area, as well as the continuous implementation of the laws in terms of prevention and decrease of corruption and conflict of interest, as well as enhancing the capacity of the state institutions for fight against corruption. In order to achieve the set goals an inter-institutional coordination in the execution of the Government’s anti-corruption policy continues to be focused on attaining the activities deriving from the Action Plan of the Government for fight against corruption 2007 – 2011 and implementation of the recommendations by the Group of nations against corruption – GRECO, the Council of Europe.

Continuous implementation of the legal obligations of the State Committee for Corruption Prevention [SCCP], especially monitoring the conduct of activities set in the National Programme for prevention and repression of corruption; attainment of the Action Plan from the National Programme for prevention and decrease of the conflict of interests, monitoring the property situation of the elected and appointed holders of function; conduct of activities from the Public Relations Plan, further enhancing of the overall cooperation between the signing organization of the Protocol for cooperation for prevention and repression of the corruption and conflict of interests.

The activities for corruption prevention are conducted continuously based on the Action Plan for corruption prevention in the Customs Administration. The Action Plan is aimed at improving the system for preventive action and fighting the corruption in the Customs administration. The same has been aligned with the recommendations from the National Programme for prevention and repression of the corruption, as well as the obligations and principles that derive from the international conventions. The fight against organized crime is based upon the conduct of the Customs Administration legal obligations, implementation of the established procedures, and further use of mechanisms for cooperation in the area of information exchange for detection and prevention of customs fraud and breaking the customs legislation. Further use and reinforcement of the available human and technical resources, based on the improvement of the use of risk assessment techniques and effective implementation of the information technology, as well as the permanent forms of education and introduction of best practice during controls is a continuous effort and strategic determination.

There were credible claims during 2011 that the government interfered in high-profile cases involving abuse of office or misuse of official position to coerce government officials and party members or to intimidate key opposition leaders. A number of current and former government officials faced charges of misuse of position or abuse of office, while other officials and opposition leaders reported threats that they would face such charges. Police and judicial corruption were problems. During the year 2011 the Judicial Council removed seven judges for unprofessional and unethical conduct and initiated disciplinary action against at least eight others. Of the eight cases, three were dismissed as unfounded.

During the year 2011 retrials continued for Vasil Tupurkovski, a former deputy prime minister and director of the Agency for Reconstruction and Development, who had been convicted of corruption, and for former prime minister and former minister of defense Vlado Buckovski, who had been convicted of abuse of office.

In mid-June 2010 the Anticorruption Commission (ACC) filed misdemeanor charges against 220 public officials for failing to submit financial and conflict of interest statements. Of these, as of December 2011, 169 cases were resolved. The court sentenced 128 public officials to fines ranging between 50 and 1,000 euros ($65-1,300), and 29 public officials received reprimands. Ten officials were acquitted, and in two cases the courts dropped the charges.

Following the 2011 amendments to the anticorruption law, the term of office of the previous commission expired in the spring of 2010. In April parliament selected seven new members for the ACC. The opposition accused the ruling majority of politicizing the ACC by electing government affiliates, some of whom reportedly lacked the qualification required by law. The new ACC become operational on April 11, and Vosilav Zafirovski, a retired Ministry of Interior official, was elected president by a majority vote of the commission’s members.

The ACC was responsible for investigating complaints submitted by citizens. During the year the ACC received 908 complaints--267 of which referred to citizens’ allegations of corruption and/or conflict of interest in all different areas and 641 related to the June early parliamentary elections--issued opinions on 641 election-related motions, and reviewed a total of 1,357 complaints and motions, which included some from the previous year. The ACC dismissed 2,914 complaints for lack of jurisdiction and 198 complaints as unfounded. The ACC transferred one complaint to state organs for further investigation and recommended disciplinary action in three cases.

During 2010 the chairman of the ACC requested that the public prosecutor charge five current and two former mayors with violating the law on public procurement. Each mayor was involved in separate events in which public money was allegedly spent without proper tendering and open calls for bids. At year’s end the prosecutor’s offices dismissed two of the cases as unfounded and another one because the statute of limitations had run. Four of the cases were remained review by the Prosecutor’s Office.

On 31 October 2011, ACC President Zafirovski announced the commission would request the Prosecutor’s Office to press criminal charges against opposition Social Democratic Alliance of Macedonia (SDSM) and A1 Television for election campaign finance irregularities. Based on the parties’ financial reports, the ACC as a loan it received from Komercijalna Bank. The ACC also found that A1 Television violated the allowed donation threshold by giving overly generous advertising discounts to some parties. In their reaction, the SDSM accused the ACC of taking a selective approach and acting as an instrument of the government. The SDSM pointed out that the ACC report stated that the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO) had a financial shortfall. The ACC also found that the largest television broadcasters--A1, Kanal 5, and Sitel--were the largest political party election campaign donors because they granted abnormally generous advertising discounts. The ACC also found that no budgetary funds were misused for election campaign purposes.

On 22 March 2013, a trial court acquitted former deputy prime minister and director of the Agency for Reconstruction and Development Vasil Tupurkovski for the second time on corruption charges. The court first convicted Tupurkovski in 2009 for corruption and sentenced him to three years in prison, but the Skopje Appellate Court overturned the sentence before Tupurkovski entered prison. The prosecution appealed the March 22 acquittal and the case was awaiting review by the Skopje appellate court.

On 01 July 2013, a court in a retrial convicted former prime minister and former minister of defense Vlado Buckovski of abuse of office. Authorities originally charged Buckovski in 2007, and the court convicted him and sentenced him to three years in prison in 2008. The appellate court overturned the conviction in 2009 and returned the case for retrial. The retrial conviction was pending appellate court review at year’s end.

Rule-of-law analysts cited the Tupurkovski and Buckovski cases as examples of politically motivated prosecution and the judicial system’s lack of capacity to prosecute high-level corruption efficiently and effectively.

Although most of the necessary laws are in place, legal enforcement is weak and the public is skeptical of the government's willingness to prosecute corrupt officials within its ranks. The public generally views the police, courts, higher education, and health care sectors as the most corrupt public sectors. Instances of selective prosecution have compounded public mistrust of government institutions. Investors and businesspeople have reported being solicited for bribes, particularly when participating in public procurements and government projects. Corruption frequently is related to lack of capacity, as regulators and bureaucrats who do not fully understand their own duties and responsibilities have been reported to feign reluctance to act until a bribe or other incentive is offered to justify their taking the "risk" of fulfilling their duties.

Following the disclosure of wiretaps in 2015 that appeared to implicate high-level officials in wrongdoing, the four largest political parties agreed to establish a Special Prosecutor’s Office to investigate possible violations in connection with those recordings. During the year 2015 the Public Prosecution Office opened investigations against high-level government officials for illegal wiretapping, violation of privacy, and allegations of corruption, based on criminal complaints filed by the opposition SDSM party.

The Public Prosecution Office had 17 prosecutors reviewing 24 criminal complaints filed by SDSM, although it did not file criminal charges against any of the alleged suspects during the year. In November, the Public Prosecution Office turned over materials related to those cases to the Special Prosecutor. On December 4, the Special Prosecutor announced that she accepted jurisdiction over 22 of the 24 cases filed by SDSM and was reviewing and prioritizing which cases to prosecute at year’s end.

On 10 March 2015, the Ministry of Interior pressed charges against opposition leader Zoran Zaev for allegedly soliciting a 200,000 euro ($220,000) bribe from a Strumica businessman. Zaev called the charges politically motivated and filed a criminal complaint against the businessman for allegedly spreading false and malicious accusations. On June 4, the Public Prosecution Office indicted Zaev on bribery charges. On July 1, at Zaev’s request, the Basic Court Skopje 1 held a public hearing to review the indictment. On November 18, the Basic Court Skopje 1 confirmed the bribery indictment against Zaev, and the case was scheduled for trial in January 2016.





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