Former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski dismissed reports from the OCCRP investigative network that he was trying to create an off shore financial zone in Macedonia. OCCRP, which has focused on reported alleged abuse on the part of Gruevski during the Colored Revolution, published a new report claiming that a London based company was working in 2014 with the then Macedonian Government to allow financial companies to operate under a self-regulated zone in Skopje.
Gruevski adopted a policy that Macedonia is open for business, and over a decade, manage to bring dozens of automotive and other manufacturing companies in a number of pre-prepared industrial zones, which reversed the trend of industrial decline and are now Macedonia’s main exporters and job creators. But, his plan to extend these principles in the financial services and to use Macedonia’s low tax and labour costs to attract white collar jobs never came to fruition, largely because of the Colored Revolution and the international pressure which brought down his Government and renamed and greatly redefined Macedonia.
OCCRP claims that the financial zone, planned in the capital Skopje, would’ve “allowed companies to be created without oversight from ‘North’ Macedonian or international authorities. Instead, the registry and the trade park would be run like a mini-state within a state”. The news site cites leaks from a London based company Formations House that OCCRP claims was involved in creating the regulation for the would-be financial zone, that also required amending Macedonia’s Constitution in order to allow laws and regulations from other countries to be applied within a limited territory near Skopje. According to OCCRP, this would have been used by money launderers and suspicious businessmen from around the world.
Gruevski responded to the allegations in a Facebook post, in which he claims that the plan was never to attract companies by using lax regulation – instead the low costs of Skopje would’ve been the main drawing factor.
The idea and the vision was to get multinational companies to move their headquarters to Macedonia, which would’ve benefited Macedonia greatly. We wanted to work on the basis of credibility and trust, as well as attractiveness, and we would’ve applied the regulatory laws of England or Luxembourg in the zone. There were competing proposals, but the prevailing one was to use English regulations in the zone. Of course, our attractiveness would’ve been in the far lower costs of operations compared to London. Both of these countries are EU members, their regulations are aligned with the European ones and I’ve not heard they are considered money laundering centers or off shore destinations. We were planning to bring former central bank governors or their deputies from England, SEC members, highly esteemed judges and other credible and competent persons of integrity to manage the regulatory institutions of this zone. We hoped that will allow the zone to be considered credible and internationally respected. We needed to amend the Constitution for this purpose so that laws from a different country would apply to a part of our territory, Gruevski writes.
He adds that he met experts and consultants from Germany, Switzerland and other countries, and that some of them may have been from London, as OCCRP reports, but that the basis for the idea was prepared in Macedonia. “I can’t say if some of them maybe had dishonest intentions, but our intentions were honest, and if the project were implemented, Macedonia would’ve got serious added value in its financial services, a steady source of income, and hundreds if not thousands of new, well paying jobs”.
For its part, OCCRP cites then opposition leader and organizer of the Colored Revolution Zoran Zaev, who is now an outgoing Prime Minister and himself faces allegations of racketeering and ties with the marijuana business, as being “shocked” when he heard about the financial zone plan. “I thought it was a joke. So it seemed very bold in the given state of affairs to go and say, ‘Oh we want to make an offshore zone right here, guys, what do you say about it?’ I was astonished” Zaev told OCCRP.