Russia Is Not Cooperating With the Macedonian Investigative Authorities Regarding the Construction of the Russian Gas Pipeline worth 33 Million Euros
For the “Gift” case, international legal assistance is still awaited from the Russian Federation, from where the evidentiary material for the construction of the Russian gas pipeline should be delivered. Russia has never once responded to the requests of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, so this case, which was opened by the former SPO, has been stuck at a dead end for four years. Former ministers Zoran Stavreski and Mile Janakieski and the ex-director of MER AD Skopje are suspected in the case worth 33 million euros
Author: Meri Jordanovska
The case with the code name “Gift”, for which there are serious indications that the Macedonian budget was damaged by 33 million euros, and Russia was “treated” at its expense, will probably meet a dead end. The Russian Federation does not cooperate at all with the Macedonian investigative authorities, so the case remains under investigation, according to PPO for Truthmeter. Whether it will even be possible to file an indictment against ex-Minister of Transport Mile Janakieski, ex-Minister of Finance Zoran Stavreski, and ex-Director of “Macedonian Energy Resources” Krste Miladinov, without the cooperation of the Russian side, remains unknown.
The investigation into this case was opened in 2018 by the Special Public Prosecutor’s Office (SPO). Stavreski, Janakieski, and Miladinov are suspected of obtaining a property benefit of almost 33 million euros for a Russian company from Moscow, after concluding an agreement for the construction of a gas pipeline, which would regulate the Russian debt from the former USSR to the former SFRY in the part of obligations to N. Macedonia. In this case, we are talking about one of the highest amounts for which the SPO determined that the budget was damaged, as much as 33 million euros. When the Public Prosecutor’s Office stopped functioning, the case ended up in the Public Prosecutor’s Office, which is led by Gavril Bubevski, the current head of the Skopje Public Prosecutor’s Office, and a former prosecutor in the Special Public Prosecutor’s Office. This actually means that the case has been under investigation for exactly four years, of which three years have been in the Public Prosecutor’s Office.
In the “Gift” case, international legal assistance was requested from the Russian Federation, from where the requested evidential material should be submitted. Considering the situation there, the prosecutor’s office is still waiting for the action on the submitted request, the prosecutor’s office told Truthmeter.
However, Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine began in February of this year, and the period for submission of the documents by the Russian investigative authorities is much longer than that. More precisely, three and a half years longer.
There is no legal deadline by which the investigation should be completed, and the crimes for which the persons are charged will not become obsolete in the near future. However, in this case, there are two obstacles – Russia’s non-cooperation and the fact that in this case the so-called “bombs”, i.e. the recorded audio materials cannot be used as evidence, given that for the investigations opened after 2017, the “bombs” are valid only as clues and cannot be used as evidence in court. If we also add the fact that the Public Prosecutor’s Office has not taken many actions on this case (only Miladinov has been summoned for questioning so far, and on one occasion Stavreski was also noticed by the financial police, but it is not known whether for this case), we can note that this case will be closed in the drawers of the prosecutor’s office for a long time.
For this case, according to our information from the Public Prosecutor’s Office, there is only one audio recording between Stavreski and Janakieski, where they agree on the details of the contract. However, even that cannot be used as evidence, but only as an indication of a committed crime.
Russia received an expensive gift from Macedonia
According to what SPO announced from the investigation, Stavreski and Janakieski were authorized representatives for the implementation of the intergovernmental agreement, concluded on June 19, 2010, in St. Petersburg between the two governments, the Russian and the Macedonian. The agreement regulated the Russian debt in the amount of 60,560,242 US dollars, which was to be closed through the delivery of goods, services, and execution of works. In the negotiations, Stavreski and Janakieski agreed that this sum would be covered by the construction of the main gas pipeline, section “Klečovce – Block station 5” for a total amount of 75,700,303 US dollars or 55,647,292 Euros, whereby Russia was to participate with 80 percent, and Macedonia with 20 percent.
Previously, by order of the Ministry of Transport and Communications, a Feasibility Study was prepared for the construction of the gas pipeline section Klečovce – Štip, which was longer by almost 36 kilometers compared to the previously mentioned contract for the section “Klečovce – Block Station 5”.
According to the study, the cost of construction of the section would be between 30 and 35 million euros, so the suspects Stavreski and Janakieski were aware that the real price was much lower than the one agreed with the Russian side. However, in spite of that, Stavreski and Janakieski closed the entire Russian debt by providing a service – the construction of a gas pipeline, performed by the Moscow company OAD Stroytransgas. Thus, at a closed government session, with the presence of the suspected ministers, the government made a decision to accept the offer of the Russian company and to sign the final contract. Then, the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova accepted the government’s proposal and in a shortened procedure passed a law on the construction of the gas pipeline, while the facts from the Feasibility Study were hidden from the deputies, according to which the real cost is far lower, or only 378,626 Euros (for one kilometer gas pipeline).
According to SPO, the suspect Krste Miladinov, as the director of “Macedonian Energy Resources” accepted the unrealistically high price of the service from the Agreement, even though he was familiar with the Feasibility study, hence the real price of the construction of the gas pipeline. On July 9, 2014, in Skopje, he concluded the contract with the Russian company, which, according to the SPO, was provided with an illegal property benefit of 32,664,672 Euros, from the budget of N. Macedonia.
In one sentence, Macedonia actually paid for the gas pipeline with its own funds, because it participated with 20 percent in the contract, which is approximately the entire (real) amount of the cost, and Russia’s debt to Macedonia, in fact, remained a “gift” for Russia, said SPO in 2018.
Diplomatic relations, according to the MFA, between N. Macedonia and the Russian Federation were established on January 31, 1994. On the website of the Macedonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs can be found all the areas for which N. Macedonia and Russia have concluded agreements subject to ratification. The agreements do not mention cooperation in relation to the part of investigations in case of suspected crimes.
Sources from the Public Prosecutor’s Office testify to Truthmer that so far, on several occasions the Macedonian investigative authorities have needed cooperation with the Russian Federation in relation to certain investigations, but they have almost never received a positive response.
Many questions, few answers
On the website of the Ministry of Finance, the address of the then Minister Stavreski from February 2012 is still available, when he boasted that the gasification project was being considered, road infrastructure priorities were being determined and the Corridor 8 concession project was being restructured.
Regarding gasification, the Economic Council made a decision that the Republic of Macedonia should implement as a priority the route from Klečovce through Štip to TPP Negotino with the funds provided by the Clearing Debt, i.e. the funds that Russia owes Macedonia. The intention is that with the first leg built of the gas pipeline, we will cover about 96 kilometers in length in a section that is strategically significant to bring gas to the central area of Macedonia, to bring energy that is ecologically clean and thus to create conditions for the transformation of the Negotino thermal power plant from fuel oil, as it is currently operating, to gas, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Stavreski said after the session.
He then mentioned that there is already a specific offer from a Russian company, which has been determined by the Government of the Russian Federation to be Macedonia’s partner in the realization of this project, which means that the phase of technical discussions has already been completed, where the route will pass and how much it will cost.
While the Parliament was voting on the Law on the realization of an infrastructure project for the construction of the main gas pipeline, section “Klečovce – Block Station 5”, several questions were unclear for the MPs from SDSM.
Why is it that with the money from the closing of the clearing debt, the project will be realized only as far as Štip, while the plan was for the gas pipeline to reach Kavadarci. Macedonia’s obligation is to participate with 15 million dollars. Where will they be paid from and is that the final price?, asked the then deputy Jani Makraduli, but he did not receive a concrete answer.
In addition, the company managed by the third suspect, Krste Milandov, Macedonian Energy Resources, was immediately followed by controversies after its establishment in 2010. Namely, from 2011 to the end of 2014, this joint stock company had an accumulated loss that reached almost 90 percent of its share capital.
“Macedonian Energy Resources” or better known as MER, a state joint-stock company registered for “pipeline transport” for three years has an accumulated loss of 25.6 million denars, which represents almost 87 percent of the company’s share capital, which is 29.44 million denars. Despite the fact that MER has not had any income from sales in three years of operation, it regularly distributes salaries and in the period from 2011 to 2014, the number of employees increased from 7 to 11 people! Perhaps this state-owned joint-stock company is the only company in the country that has not had any income since its establishment, but it is continuously increasing the number of employees, as shown by the available data of MER from the audited financial statements published on the website of the Macedonian Stock Exchange, wrote Faktor in 2015.
Furthermore, it was also written that although it was announced that the company will be the Macedonian partner of the Russian company in a transnational gas pipeline that should pass through Macedonia, it has a basic activity of pipeline transport. However, this company does not have a license for any activity related to gas that should be issued by the Regulatory Commission for Energy (RKE), the only authorized body for issuing energy permits.
Now, the company has been renamed to National Energy Resources, and on their website, one of the successful projects is the construction of the main gas pipeline Klečovce – Block station 5, where it is written that according to the agreement of the Macedonian and Russian governments and according to the calculations related to the commodity exchange between the former USSR and the former SFRY, the construction of the section began in the first quarter of 2015, and ended in June 2016.
This project may be characterized as a success, but, nevertheless, the clearest presentation of this would be if a proper investigation was carried out, and for that, cooperation with the Russian side is also necessary, since it is one of the highest sums for which the former Special Public Prosecutor’s Office determined that the budget was damaged – 33 million euros.
The idea that this case is facing serious obstructions is also shown by the fact that on the same day when the investigation into the “Gift” case by the SPO was disclosed, several other investigations were disclosed as well. All of them, except for the “Propaganda” case, which is still under investigation, according to the data provided by the prosecutor’s office, have some sort of epilogue.
So, on June 30, 2021, an indictment was filed against four accused in the “Design” case. The case is in court proceedings for one accused, after the other three have been convicted with alternative sentences – conditional sentences. For the case “Harmony” (where one of the suspects was Stevče Jakimovski, the current mayor of Karpoš), and a total of three people were suspected, in 2020 an Order was passed to stop the investigation procedure because the acts that charged to the suspects are not criminal acts that are prosecuted ex officio. With the Decision of the Council for the Assessment of Indictment dated 14.10.2022, the Indictment for the case known to the public under the name “Patient” was approved, which includes 14 persons accused of having committed several criminal acts (the investigation was stopped only for the then Minister of Health, and the current Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bujar Osmani).
Only the “Propaganda” case involving nine suspected perpetrators of multiple crimes is under investigation, just like the “Gift” case. The prosecutor’s office says that during the proceedings so far, extensive evidentiary material has been collected that is the subject of an expert examination, and after receiving and analyzing the findings of the expert examination, the public prosecutor will make a decision on the further course of the procedure.