KEY PLAYERS IN THE MEDIA BUSINESS: WHO OWNS THE MEDIA IN MACEDONIA?
The majority in the Macedonian Parliament, without much debate and deliberation, turned down the bill on reforms in the media just days before it was dissolved. The proposal, comprised under the advice of ex-mediator Peter Vanhoutte, was expected to be seriously addressed by MPs because of their leaders’ signature of the Przino Agreement. But with the rejection of this proposal another unfulfilled obligation remained ahead of the early parliamentary elections on 5th June. Media organizations as proponents are once again disappointed by the lack of political will to finally regulate the media sphere in Macedonia.
It is necessary to reform the media sector in a period when the political crisis is culminating. This opens several questions: who owns the media in Macedonia and thus the largest share in shaping public opinion? Do private media take into account the public interest or they are only means for realization of the specific interests related to political and economic power centers?
SCOOP investigated the ownership structure of major media, detecting the major players in the media sphere who have the largest share in shaping public opinion in Macedonia.
FROM DIPLOMACY VIA AFFAIRS IN THE MEDIA
Wider public knows Dr Srgjan Kerim not only for his presidency of the UN General Assembly, but the engagement in the Macedonian media business. In 2003 he became a representative of the German Media Group WAZ, General Director of “Media Print Macedonia”, which publishes the three most widely circulated daily newspapers in Macedonia, “Dnevnik”, “Utrinski” and “Vest” and later he was appointed as representative of WAZ in Belgrade. He has performed a similar function in Croatia.
In the media there was news that Srgjan Kerim, the longtime CEO of MPM Group, owned by “Graphic Center”, which publishes the largest newspapers “Vest”, “Dnevnik” and “Utrinski”, was retiring from this office. But although running for UN Secretary-General, yet he has not given up ownership of the newspapers. According to documents from the Central Register, his company “Mirex Plus LLC” still has the same stake in the ownership structure of “Graphic Center” as well as “Orka Holding” and “Internet Group Investment LLC”.
Although Kerim may seem moderate and is known for his diplomatic vocabulary, however, he has had string of scandals in his exceptionally rich career. Back in his ministerial and ambassadorial days Kerim was criticized in the media, reportedly because of his indulgence. In 2010, the scandal “bottle” “burst” in the public, which, as reported by the media, involved Kerim’s driver, in whose vehicle at the Hungarian border, according to the media, 750,000 Euros were found in a bottle. Although the tax authorities in Macedonia launched an investigation into this case, the procedure was closed as a clear case.
Kerim does not publicly hide the closeness of the media he manages with the ruling party. “Dnevnik” has an editorial policy that is oriented towards the Government policy. “From our three newspapers, two are against the government, one is pro-government. Who to defend the government from? The Government is a government of political parties. They go to the elections and are elected. They have their voters behind it. If a newspaper has such orientation, what is wrong with that? As it is not wrong that you have media that write against the government and disagree with it”, Kerim said in an interview with TV 24 News published last year, emphasizing that each media should follow the editorial policy of the house. In the interview he added that “they do not need to waste paper to publish bombs (of the opposition) but that it is enough to publish political information about it”.
AT THE TOP OF THE BUSINESS, IN FRIENDSHIP WITH THE GOVERNMENT
Forty-six-year-old businessman Orce Kamcev is one of the owners of the three most widely circulated newspapers “Utrinski Vesnik”, “Dnevnik” and “Vest.” He also appears in the ownership structure of the number of companies in many areas. Grown in the shadow of his father, Ilija Kamcev, former director of “Makedonija sport”, who in the Macedonian business broke through the company that later became the brand “Orka”.
In recent years young Kamcev has expanded his business. He is a co-owner in the hospital “Acibadem Sistina”, “ZIK Pelagonija Bitola”, “Beton Stip” and one of the owners of MPM, which owns the newspapers “Dnevnik”, “Utrinski Vesnik” and “Vest.”
In the Central Registry Orce Kamcev appears in the ownership structure of only three companies: Company for production and trade “Dairy Zdravje Radovo LLC”, Association Boxing Club “Jordan Mijalkov” and Foundation “Saint Demetrius of Thessaloniki Skopje”. In the dairy “Zdravje Radovo” Kamcev is co-owner along with the famous Russian businessman Sergei Samsonenko and one of the founders of “Pelisterka”, Cvetan Pandeleski.
Pandeleski owns a majority stake in “Pelisterka” through his trade company for employment of disabled persons in manufacturing and trade “CIP Product LTD Skopje”.
Kamcev occurs as a founder of the boxing club “Jordan Mijalkov” and he is in company of the head of “Macedonian Telecom” Zarko Lukovski, with the ex-director of the secret police, Sasho Mijalkov, as well as with other two members of his family, his son Jordan and his brother Vladimir Mijalkov.
Kamcev appears as the owner of the Foundation “St. Demetrius of Thessaloniki”, where also appears the name of the ex-director of the secret police, Sasho Mijalkov, as well as his brother, Vladimir Mijalkov.
The number of companies where his company “Orka Holding” occurs in the ownership is much larger: Association for Hospitality and Tourism “Archi DOO Skopje”, the company for advertising, marketing, trade and services “OK Idea LTD Skopje”, company for production, trade and services “Mont Ltd Skopje”, “Acibadem Sistina”, the company for construction, trade and services “OK Hotel LTD Skopje”, company for trade and services for medical equipment, “Acibadem Sistina Medical Company”, the company for catering, trade and services “OK Restaurants & Bars LTD Skopje”, the company for production, trade and services “BET COM CO. LLC Skopje”, travel agency “OK Travel Ltd” Skopje and others.
Kamcev is considered to be one of the richest people in Macedonia. But not long ago his name was constantly dragged in the media for alleged tax evasion, which Kamcev described as a smear campaign against him and his company Orka, he was even arrested and later paid the tax of 20,000 Euros. Ten years ago Kamcev was accused of tax evasion in the amount of one million Euros.
In the book “Democracy Under a Rest” by NGO Transparency Macedonia it is stated:
“In 2004, Public Prosecutor’s Office filed a series of criminal charges against the leadership of “Orka Holding” for allegedly forging documents and declaring false bankruptcies in February 2003, and then reaching the bankruptcy liquidation of several of their companies (“Hildebrands”, “Nasca”, “Teks-Teks”, all established in 1998/1999). Through allegedly falsified documentation of companies, the owners from the Kamcev family (mother Ratka, daughter Kristina and son Jordan) allegedly evaded 3.7 million Euros tax to the state, allegations for which the Kamcev always claimed to be with a political background. Towards the end of 2004, next to Kamcev’s jeep, parked in front of the block of flats where he lived, two hand grenades exploded. It was never found who had thrown the bombs in Skopje neighborhood where other well-known businessmen and politicians live, but in the public this explosion was apparently interpreted as a warning to the businessman by some “Russian Circles” for unsettled business accounts. Some time before the explosion of the bombs it had been shot in another vehicle (Porsche), owned by the Kamcev family, but the incident was not resolved and Kamcev claimed that such incidents were “the work of a structure in the police”.
In 2005, as the media reported, investigations for avoiding millions of tax were again raised against “Orka Holding”, this time in the period 2002-2004 for various transactions during the construction of the factory “Orka” in Skopje Zajcev Rid and the hospitals “Sistina” and “Mala Bogorodica” and other companies from Skopje and Demir Hisar. The case became known under the name of “Tax pyramid”.
“The state accused “Orka Holding” for not reporting employees, selling goods without declaration and huge amounts (3-4 million Euros) of illegal VAT refunds to the detriment of the state. Skopje prosecutor said he issued the arrest warrant for Orce Kamcev, but it could not be implemented because he was abroad. After returning to the country and after 12 hours in custody and payment of 60,000 Euros, 30 days detention was lifted, with the opportunity to bail. Complaining about the prosecution’s allegations, the Kamcev family claimed that the criminal charges were “politically motivated” and that it was “a long smear campaign conducted against the company”. In May 2006 there were media speculations about Kamcev that in 2002 in suspicious manner he bought an attractive state-owned land in the center of Skopje for only 25 Euros per square meter, in agreement with the then officials of DUI from the coalition government of SDSM. But Kamcev denied it, according to the book “Democracy Under a Rest”.
As it is said in the book, in July 2006 further criminal charges were raised against Jordan Kamcev for VAT refunds from the state due to the fictitious export of military uniforms in the United States of the supplier “Global Finance Group” from Newcastle. Allegedly, exports never happened.
The outcome of the so far submitted criminal charges against Kamcev remains unknown to the public. Apart from the business relations with representatives from government, Kamcev is often seen in company with them, and the media constantly inform about it.
COMPUTERS, TELEVISION AND OFFSHORE
Macedonian public learned about Veselin Jevrosimovic, Serbian Bill Gates, at the time of becoming the owner of TV Alfa.
In late 2012, Macedonian media reported that Jevrosimovic became owner of TV Alfa, where he bought the majority share. At the same time, the media reported that Kamcev sold a half of the shares of MPM to a partner from Serbia.
“Shortly after the purchase of MPM, already in late August 2012, Kamcev sold 50% of his newly gained property to the “strategic partner” from Serbia, the company “Internet Group” which owns the electronic portal” Telegraf “(www.telegraf.rs). In this portal the company presents itself as “specialized in different aspects of online business, from content creation through care for the performance of major brands online, to the development of large Internet projects. From Kamcev’s company, however, in a statement to the public, they informed that the sale of half of the ownership of the publishing activity was to consolidate all Kamcev’s companies into one – which would be named “Telegraf MKD” – and which would deal with the creation of electronic online platform of all print editions of MPM Group and their electronic versions”, says the book ” Democracy Under a Rest “, describing current affairs in the media.
The ownership structure of TV “Alfa” is related to the Netherlands Antilles. Owner of the television is the company “Alfa Skop LLC” from Skopje, which, according to documents from the Central Register, has the same address with the TV itself. This company, however, has four owners: Makosped AD Skopje, Tehnometal Vardar, Ad Europe and “CHS Invest Group”, which has majority equity in the company. From March 25, 2013, the Official Gazette of the Republic of Serbia states that the company “Comtrade Holding NV, Curacao” from the Netherlands Antilles is a hundred percent owner of the company “CHS doo” from Belgrade, which is founder of the company with the same name in Macedonia.
Otherwise, as manager of the company Alfa Skop LLC, which is one of the owners of TV Alfa, occurs Simonida Kazic, who is the manager of “CHS Invest Group LTD” whose owner “CHS DOO” in Belgrade is registered at the same address, Savski Nasip No. 7 in Belgrade, as well as “Internet Group doo” from Belgrade, owner of “Internet Group Investment Ltd” from Skopje, which appears as one of the owners of “Graphic Center”, publisher of the “Vest”, “Dnevnik” and “Utrinski Vesnik “.
In connection with the new owners of TV Alfa and MPM Group, the then Broadcasting Council announced that it would examine the possible media concentration but later found no such thing. The explanation which was then given to SCOOP was that “Jevrosimovic has submitted a statement certified in First Primary Court in Belgrade that he does not violate the provisions of Chapter III of the LBA and no illegal media concentration is created”.
The Serbian tycoon Veselin Jevrosimovic occurs as the owner of “Komtrade”, which through the Macedonian company “CT Computers MK” won the project “Computer for every child”. For this project, the Deputy Minister of Information Society and Administration, Aleksandar Kiracovski recently came out with allegations that behind the project was a crime worth over 200 thousand Euros.
The media wrote that Jevrosimovic was close to the head of the Macedonian Telecom Zarko Lukovski.
(The story was is supported within the NED project “Raising Awareness about Corruption through Investigative Reporting”)
In part three: Between personal gain and public interest: are the media also to blame for the crisis?