Good afternoon. Yesterday, the U.S. Treasury Department designated Jordan “Orce” Kamcev under Executive Order 14033 for corrupt acts and criminal offenses. I hope recent actions from Washington have made it clear that the United States can and will continue to use any and all tools at its disposal to hold accountable those individuals and organizations whose criminal activities undermine the security, stability, and governance values of North Macedonia, regardless of position, political affiliation, or timing of the abuses. The United States, by law, takes a whole of government approach to accountability regardless of whether designations come from the State Department, Treasury, Commerce, or other branches of our government.
The abuse of office, money laundering, bribery, and other offenses Mr. Kamcev participated in not only eroded public confidence in North Macedonia’s justice sector, but also represented a significant betrayal of the people of this country. The public deserves institutions that can be trusted to follow democratic principles with transparency and without compromise. For North Macedonia to overcome the challenges ahead and achieve its goal of a prosperous, productive, and valued member of the European community, corruption cannot go unchecked. Corrupt actors must and will be held accountable, as this designation demonstrates.
Under U.S. law, the Department of the Treasury must designate an individual when presented with strong evidence of corrupt acts and criminal offenses. The same is true of the Departments of State and Commerce. The subsequent decisions of law enforcement, the judiciary, or other government officials to take further action is up to them and their decisions should be based on the laws of North Macedonia. But corruption—in whatever form it takes—should not be tolerated in this country. Those who have undermined the rule of law for personal gain and at the expense of the people of North Macedonia should come to understand that corruption has consequences.
And it is my hope that the people of this wonderful country will demand integrity from those with influence.
I am happy to take questions.
Press: Thank you for the opportunity, Ambassador. A quick short question. Can we expect extending of this kind of blacklist and who is next? I know it’s still early but I must ask.
Ambassador Aggeler: As we’ve mentioned in the past and I’ve talked with so many of you about various designations and sanctions, this is an ongoing process. I can’t tell you who is next because I literally don’t know.
The process in Washington, whether it’s the Department of the Treasury, whether it’s State or whether it’s Commerce is a very, very thorough and very careful legal process that takes place to ensure that the evidence is there to support these designations.
This is a very serious designation under the Treasury Department as you all understand. This has very broad financial and property implications for individuals designated under this particular law. So it is not something that is done lightly. It’s done very carefully and thoroughly. But I can tell you at any given moment our team here is in continuous conversations with those offices in Washington who follow these sorts of things. That there are a number of individuals and organizations under consideration at any given moment.
Press: Two weeks ago Mr. Merko was blacklisted, I will use that term.
Ambassador Aggeler: Your term, not mine.
Press: Are you satisfied with the response of the political parties from those [responsive] to it? Because he froze his activities [inaudible]. He’s still Mayor of Struga. Would you maybe start — Are the people in this country taking these measures seriously? Because even now Mr. Kamcev has serious ties with the political parties in our country.
Ambassador Aggeler: The important thing I would note for all of you in terms of any of these designations, whether it’s from State Department, whether it’s from Treasury, whether it’s from Commerce, is the fact that for us this is 100 percent not personal and not political. As I mentioned in my comments, we are required by law that when those departments are presented with this evidence, they must find, they must designate these individuals and fine them under these provisions of law. This is our US law.
What the individuals here in this country do in reaction to that, as I also said, is completely up to them. I believe that the media and the public in this country have a role in that as well. If they believe there are actions that should take place I hope that citizens, I hope that journalists like you ask of individuals here if they believe they should take follow-up actions.
We’re not going to come to North Macedonia and arrest anybody or start a legal case against them, but it is interesting to see which follow-up actions might take place.
Press: I’d like to continue the question of [inaudible] about Mr. Merko and comment from your side about the responsibility of the institutions [inaudible] check and balance of the cases of Merko and it’s like 30 cases from 2006 until now. Comment about the responsibility of the follow-up our institutions take action about that.
Ambassador Aggeler: Again, I think that’s a great question. It’s not for me as the American Ambassador in Skopje to tell any institutions what they should do as a follow-up. I do note, as others have noted, that we were able to find sufficient evidence to find these individuals to be responsible, to hold these individuals accountable, and we were able to do that and provide that information gathered here in this country. This isn’t based on information we gathered in Washington, DC. So the information is available. We worked with institutions here in this country to develop those cases as did our colleagues in Washington, and so how and when and if they choose to follow up rests with authorities here.
I hope, as I said. These people hurt the citizens of this country. Corrupt activities hurt the people of North Macedonia. It is they and you as journalists, my wish, to follow up and ask those hard questions of those who do have the authority here.
Press: [George Stefan] with [Inaudible].
From the proximity to this [inaudible]. [Inaudible] and leave it, keep the corruption [inaudible] to America and the authorities. [Inaudible] Macedonia for [inaudible] gather facts and evidence.
Ambassador Aggeler: Thank you. I didn’t realize he was speaking Albanian. I was like, I can’t understand. It’s because I don’t speak Albanian. Thank you.
The sanctions team that visited last year, late last year, they visit regularly. But the main bulk of the information that we gather is through our justice here at the embassy and through [inaudible]. We work very closely with investigative organizations in this country to work with various members of the judiciary as well as to gather that information, to provide that to Washington. So it’s very much an interactive process, and it’s a lengthy process. It’s something that’s important for us to do as it is — as you all know, there are designations across the Balkans that fall under this particular law as our embassies in other countries do as well.
But yes, they come back regularly. So I assume they will be back at some point in the next year.
Press: Can you please explain what are the sanctions about Mr. Kamcev mean to the other Macedonian companies that cooperate with his firms? Are they going to be affected somehow? Is it going to have an impact on their businesses?
Ambassador Aggeler: That’s a very good question, and let me say what I should have said at the outset. For any more technical questions about how this process works, I would encourage you, and our team can help put you in touch with them, that you talk with the Offices of Foreign Assets in Treasury, because they have the more technical answers. And I confess, I don’t have a lot of those technical answers for you. But I can say that as part of this particular law it also includes those with whom any individual sanctioned under this particular law of Treasury, those who have worked with them on some of these activities can also be found to be connected.
It means that assets are frozen a lot, as they said. As many of you know, a great deal of international banking goes through the United States, through major banks in the United States. So the implications are actually very significant.
What the actual impact will have here, I don’t know, and frankly I don’t think we’ll know for a little while potentially. Great question.
Ambassador Aggeler: It’s an interesting question because there’s — again, for us it’s very clear. And I understand that this is a little difficult. We are, our department, are required by US law to take these sorts of actions, to designate these people. And to follow up where it affects the United States.
Again, what we’re not empowered to do is to suggest that this person should no longer be in this position. That’s not for us to decide. That is something — there are hard questions that I believe when these designations come forward it does offer the opportunity for journalists, for citizens of those cities, of this country to ask about some of these cases and what actions will take place. But in terms of the consequences here on the ground, that is not for us to dictate.
Press: Corruption disrupts our society and I want to ask you about one ongoing case. Some people in the [Inaudible] region of [Inaudible] are against opening the mines in his region. Said that some politicians and people from the administrative court are corrupted in the decision for opening the mining, that region of Macedonia. Can you say something about this issue?
Ambassador Aggeler: I know what I’ve read, what you all have written about in this case and understand a little bit about some of the concerns.
The laws here are good. You have excellent laws in this country. But excellent laws don’t do anybody any good unless they are implemented and used. So whether or not certain legal actions should have been taken or must now be taken in this particular case, or frankly, in any given case before the judiciary, is something we watch very carefully, but we don’t influence.
What I hope is that this case and other cases are handled in such a way that the people of this country, when you write about them, when you cover them in your television shows, that people can say okay, I understand why this happened. Or this seems wrong to me. I’m glad that somebody is prosecuting it now. Or I understand that this particular case that has been sitting before whatever court lost its appeal or won its appeal because it should be explained.
The judicial system should explain to the people of this country how and why things happen. That’s their role, and that’s certainly the case in this as well.
Ambassador Aggeler: I did see both of those, thank you. I know that, and you all know DAS Escobar well and know that he knows this country and this region very well. And it is his hope that the countries in the region do all they can to help move this country towards EuroAtlantic integration and EU accession.
I also saw President Radev’s remarks, and I would just say that although there are many things said in this country, in Bulgaria, in other countries in the region that they have said and I take them at their word, that they want to see this country move swiftly towards EU accession. I will take them at their word.
I do know, and you all know I’m sure, that Gabe Escobar wants that very, very much. He’s spent a lot of time talking to people here about that. So I will simply take them at face value. I haven’t talked to Gabe since his testimony. And I haven’t talked to President Radev. So I think it’s important to not focus so much on what they are saying, but to focus on what is being done here and how is that — because at the end of the day if people here are committed towards moving towards the EU, it doesn’t really matter what Gabe Escobar or President Radev say.
How about one more question?
Ambassador Aggeler: Again, for us it is not political and it’s not personal. This has nothing to do with the individuals, this has to do with the evidence of their activities. And these are criminal offenses that we have found. Their role here, even if there is a public role here as you say, does not change that decision. It’s simply, for us it’s a very clear legal question. And when the burden of proof has been met and when the evidence is overwhelming, then an individual is designated under a particular area as well. So what their role is is really, it’s not something that’s taken into consideration necessarily, depending on which type of sanction it is. Because some are targeted more at different individuals and offices. Does that help?
Thank you so much for coming today.
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