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Macedonia: Detentions Follow Collapse Of Pyramid Scheme

  • Jolyon Naegele

Prague, 1 April 1997 (RFE/RL) - Last week a mayor of a southern Macedonian town was arrested on charges of being linked to a pyramid investment scheme. Several other people were also detained before in a sweep of detentions, suggesting Macedonia's determination not to allow the country to follow Albania's example.

The Albanian government's tolerance and even cooperation with several such schemes came to haunt it after the schemes had collapsed earlier this year, plunging the country into anarchy.

World Bank and IMF officials have called on Albania to impose a strict ban on pyramid investment schemes. And Albanian Finance Minister Arben Malaj pledged to reveal the truth as soon as possible.

Across the border in Macedonia, the Interior Ministry says an investigative judge has ordered the arrest of Bitola's Mayor Siljan Michevski and his wife Violeta on suspicion of abuse of official position in connection with the failed Bitola-based TAT savings bank.

The Macedonian news media says Michevski, a member of the ruling Social-Democratic Alliance, pressured treasury officials into depositing large sums with TAT to keep the company afloat.

But TAT collapsed, entailing the loss of about $60 million to some 30,000 depositors.

Deputy Interior Minister Dimedjurev arrived in Bitola over the weekend to investigate the TAT case.

Meanwhile, Minister for Construction and Ecology Yorgo Shundovski has denied reports (Belgrade BETA news agency citing Skopje's A1 TV) that he has been forced to resign over his alleged involvement in TAT's insolvency. In his words, "neither I nor my family are participants in the TAT affair."

But Radio Bitola said there are "authentic documents," revealing that Shundovski's wife Nada had deposited DEM 40,000 and $40,000 dollars with TAT in January. The radio said the money was still on her accounts in the bank. Another member of Shundovski's family, his mother Marija, has also allegedly placed Macedonian currency in a 12-month TAT account last August.

The deputy governor of the central bank, Tome Nenovski, has been since early last month in detention in connection with TAT's failure. TAT's owner Sova Nikolovska and her business partner Julia Atanasova are also in custody.

The Macedonian news agency, MIC, has said that the governor of Macedonia's central bank, Vorko Stanoveski, saw Nikolovska in Bitola prison last week (March 27) in an apparent attempt to determine the extent of TAT's operations. But Nikolovska is reported to have remained silent.

Meanwhile, Macedonia's opposition parties accuse five cabinet members and at least 12 Social Democratic lawmakers of being linked to the TAT scandal and have called for the government to resign and allow early elections.

Last week, Macedonia's parliament gave Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski's government a vote of confidence following a lengthy debate about the TAT scheme.

TAT was not the first Macedonian bank to collapse. Three smaller banks have already gone bust. TAT is so far the biggest.