Profile – Orce Kamchev: A chronicle of spectacular transformation from a defendant to a victim of corrupt institutions
- In 2016 Kamchev was named the richest Macedonian by the prestigious magazine Forbes.
- One of the defendants in the Empire case is the businessman Orce Kamchev, accused of criminal association and money laundering of more than 10 million Euros.
- But the events regarding the Racket affair have given him a completely different status of a witness – victim.
Author: Svetlana Unkovska
From a defendant in the Special Prosecutor’s Office (SPO) Empire case, Orce Kamchev got the status of one reporting and even being a victim of racketeering. These days he went to the head of the Organized Crime and Corruption Prosecutor’s Office Vilma Ruskoska, where he was called to testify as a witness.
Empire in status quo, Kamchev with his passport in his hands
While waiting for the Empire case to continue, 49-year-old Kamchev is a free citizen after his home detention was lifted and his temporary passport is valid until October. In the meantime he went abroad several times, there were rumors he went to Croatia where he met VMRO-DPMNE leader Hristijan Mickoski, then to Serbia as well as Bulgaria.
In the meantime Kamchev has stepped down as director of Orka Holding and is no longer a member of the Board of Directors. Kamchev-owned Pelagonija Agricultural Combine put up for sale the biogas plant Pelagonija Energy in Bitola village Logovardi for 6.7 million Euros. Three years ago, when it was officially launched, it was said that 20 million Euros had been invested.
Kamchev, who was named the richest Macedonian in 2016 by Forbes magazine with 22.8 million Euros, owns several companies. In addition to Orka Holding, he is co-owner of Acibadem Sistina Hospital, ZIK Pelagonija Bitola, co-owner of Lozar-Pelisterka, owner of Beton Stip, the firm most involved in the Skopje 2014 project.
He was in the ownership structure of Zdravje Radovo dairy factory along with the prominent Russian businessman Sergey Samsonenko and Cvetan Pandeleski, but due to unpaid credit, the dairy was put up for sale.
The number of companies in the ownership structure of his company Orka Holding is much higher:
Stopanska banka Bitola
Hotel Management and Tourism Company Arhi Doo Skopje
Advertising, Marketing, Trade and Services Company OK Idea DOOEL Skopje
Production, Trade and Services Company Mont DOOEL Skopje
Construction, Trade and Services Company OK Hotel DOOEL Skopje
Medical Equipment Trade and Services Company Acibadem Sistina Medical Company
Restaurant Service, Trade and Services Company OK Restaurants & Bars DOOEL Skopje
Production, Trade and Services Company BET KOM KO DOO Skopje
Travel agency “OK Travel DOOEL” Skopje etc.
Kamchev was one of the owners of the top three newspapers by circulation Utrinski Vesnik, Dnevnik and Vest and all three closed at once.
The Empire case opened by the SPO also revealed Kamchev’s offshore firms, one of the most successful being Eksiko, registered in Albany, USA.
A man followed by affairs
Kamchev is considered to be one of the richest people in Macedonia. But not long ago, his name was repeatedly dragged in the media for alleged tax evasion, which Kamchev described as a hoax against him and his firm Orka, for which he was arrested and later paid the 20.000 Euros tax. About ten years ago, Kamchev was also charged with tax evasion in the amount of a million Euros.
In the book “Captured Democracy” of the NGO Transparency Macedonia it is stated:
“In 2004 the Public Pprosecution filed a series of criminal charges against Orka Holding’s management for allegedly forging documents and declaring fraudulent bankruptcies in February 2003, followed by the bankruptcy of several of their companies (Hill-debrands, Naska, Tex-Tex, all established in 1998/1999). Through allegedly falsifying company documentation, owners of the Kamchev family (mother Ratka, daughter Kristina and son Jordan) allegedly evaded a 3. 7 million Euros tax from the state, allegations for which the Kamchev familiy has always claimed to have a political background. In late 2004, two hand grenades exploded near Kamchev’s jeep, parked in front of the building where he lived. It was never disclosed who threw the bombs in the Skopje settlement where other prominent businessmen and politicians live, but it was widely interpreted as a warning to the businessman by some “Russian circles” for unsettled business. Some time before the bomb blast, another vehicle owned by the Kamchev family was shot at, but that incident was also not resolved, and Kamchev claimed those incidents were “a work of a police structure”.
In April 2005 investigations into tax evasion of millions were again launched against Orka Holding, this time between 2002 and 2004 for various transactions during the construction of the “Orka” factory in Skopje Zajcev Rid, as well as for the hospitals Sistina and Mala Bogorodica and other companies from Skopje and Demir Hisar. The case became known as the Tax Pyramid. On this occasion, the state also accused Orka Holding of not reporting employees, selling goods without a declaration and huge sums (3-4 million Euros) of illegal VAT refunds to the detriment of the state. The Skopje public prosecutor said he had issued an arrest warrant for Orce Kamchev, but it could not be executed due to his stay outside Macedonia. After Jordan Kamchev’s return to the country and after 12 hours spent in custody and bail of 60,000 Euros, his 30-day detention was abolished, with the possibility to defend himself. Appealing to the prosecution’s allegations, the Kamchev family claimed that the criminal charges were “politically motivated” and that it was about “a long-running hunt against the company”. In May 2006 it was speculated in the media that Kamchev in 2002 suspiciously bought an attractive state-owned land in downtown Skopje for only 25 Euros per square meter, in agreement with the then DUI officials from the SDSM coalition government. The Minister of Transport and Communications at the time was Agron Buxhaku, who was then appointed Ambassador of the Republic of Macedonia to France.
In 2007 the municipal majority of VMRO-DPMNE by voting for changes to the municipal urban plan increased the original height of the projected building on this parcel by 7 meters, increasing the value of the planned facility by 4-5 million Euros.
In 2008 a large office building was begun to be built on that plot and it was speculated that Kamchev’s companies and people close to the top of VMRO-DPMNE were behind it. Following the completion of the building’s construction in April 2011, that building, valued at 33.8 million Euros, was “swapped” with three other smaller buildings in downtown Skopje owned by Makedonski Telekom, in which the state (represented by VMRO-DPMNE), along with Deutsche Telekom, was a co-owner of nearly 35 per cent of the shares. Deutsche Telekom agreed, despite the divestiture of its three buildings – for which it allegedly lacked complete property documentation and which was not a problem for the new owners – valued at 17.2 million Euros, to pay the owner of the facility in the center Skopje another 16.6 million Euros. That wrapped up another lucrative “story” about the connection of business and politics in Macedonia’s economic-political transition.
In July 2006 another criminal charges were filed against Jordan Kamchev for VAT refunds as a result of a fictitious export of military uniforms to the United States by Global Financial Group supplier from Newcastle. The export allegedly never happened.
The outcome of the criminal charges brought against Kamcev so far remains unknown to the public.
“Racketeering” the Empire case
The “Racket” case is practically linked to Empire, in which Kamchev is charged with criminal association, fraud and money laundering along with Saso Mijalkov, Cvetan Pandelski and dozens more. It is estimated that around 10 million Euros of damage was caused. Five of them ended up in detention, including Kamcev, and two weeks later Saso Mijalkov was detained. The two remained in custody until December 27, 2018, after which SPO replaced it with house arrest, Katica Janeva‘s first move that stunned the public.
Two months later, in February 2019, Kamchev gave Bojan Jovanovski, known as “Boki 13,” a million and a half Euros neatly wrapped with a rubber band and with the specification, seen on the footage released by La Verita. The recorded conversation between Boki 13 and Kamchev was a little amazing and unusual because of the way the racketeer and the victim talked. Kamchev, who gave a million and a half Euros in a Louis Vuitton bag, joked and laughed with Boki 13 and sounded like he was talking to his biggest friend, not like someone who demanded 8 million Euros from him. All this was recorded by Kamchev and, as journalist Branko Geroski claimed in one of his columns, was done through the secret service of a neighboring country. Geroski then, not giving a name, called him a witness-victim.
The footage that was subsequently leaked by Italian journalist Laris Geisser, also a little strange and unknown about how they came into his hands, caused the atmosphere to boil. Boki 13 and Zoran Milevski Kiceec were first detained, followed by the SPO chief Katica Janeva, thus breaking down the SPO symbol as a fortress of justice and dealing with crime in the country.
Is Kamchev a witness only?
Lawyer Zvonko Davidovic tells Inbox7 that Kamchev currently has the status of a witness because he was traded with influence to gain another position in the Empire case he is accused of. However, he says, it does not mean that by providing other evidence, the procedure will end like that and that Kamchev will play such a role.
“I see what is in the public, there is a lot of speculation, a lot of people are asking the same question but only the prosecution can answer that. No one else has jurisdiction to qualify for one’s action and to prosecute or not prosecute. But what is the fact? If someone has given money to ease their standing in the case in which they are charged and no blackmail threat has been applied, then the big question is what it is about. Is it a bribe, is it a racket, is it something else”, Davidovic asks.
However, he expects the case to be completely cleared up, all involved to be held accountable, and the prosecution to work transparently. “This is a matter of public interest that is affecting the foundations of the state and the legal system. The cases opened by the SPO, including the Empire case in which one of the defendants is Kamchev, will have to continue even though it will be pursued by another prosecution”, Davidovic adds.
“Those cases have to go on, charges have been brought, though because of the situation and what happened to Katica Janeva they create confusion among people and a little downtime. But the fact is that there is a legal proposal and they must be completed, either pursued by the SPO under the auspices of the regular Public Prosecutor’s Office or some other prosecution office otherwise called that will be in charge of these cases, they are filed charges and must have a judicial outcome”, Davidovic says.
President Stevo Pendarovski reiterated these days that a quick and thorough investigation is necessary into the Racket case, which will have no impact on anyone.
“Let’s be patient, let’s see what the investigation will show. Now at this point I would not like to comment on how things are going. It is important that they have moved forward. We want to see a quick and thorough investigation where no outside influence will be felt, neither from the business community nor politicians. If you ask me, I will generally say in one sentence that in the country there is generally an environment where politics does not interfere in the courts and prosecution offices and I hope it will stay that way”, the president said.