The Macedonian community of Malta has apologised to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat in the wake of a leaked phone conversation in which the secretary general of the Macedonian government described the Maltese as “crooks”.
“On behalf of the Macedonian community, let me apologise for the comments and insults directed by the secretary general of the government in Skopje to you and the entire Maltese people,” Macedonian community president Maximilian Kazakov wrote.
“We stress that this was not, nor will it ever be, the opinion of the Macedonian community in Malta about you and the citizens of Malta. Indeed, we have reacted to this insult by demanding an apology from the relevant institutions in Skopje. It is extremely frivolous and unprofessional for such a high-ranking functionary to pass such unfounded insults about the Maltese people.”
Kazakov said that Macedonians remain grateful to Malta for recognising its country’s name as Macedonia, and not as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, when diplomatic relations between the two nations commenced in 2017. Following a recent landmark deal between the Baltic nation and Greece, Malta now recognises its name as North Macedonia.
“We will never forget the kindness you have shown us…Malta’s recognition of Macedonia under its constitutional name is ingrained in the memory of every Macedonian. We Macedonians in Malta remain loyal to your country and we deeply hope that this insult will not affect the good co-operation that we have established and that we will jointly continue working together in order to improve the lives of all citizens living in Malta.”
The phone conversation between secretary general Dragi Raskovski and Nikolche Taseski, President of the Macedonian air traffic control providers M-Nav, took place on 18th October 2018 but was recently leaked to the Russian video streaming service Rutube.
It appears to show the two officials planning to grant a tender funded by a European development bank to the Italian aerospace company Leonardo on the grounds that its bid would be cheaper, which meant that the Macedonian government could pocket the remainder.
At one point, Taseski can be heard saying that, during a recent visit to Malta, he found out that the Malta Air Traffic Services (MATS) had purchased an air traffic management system from Leonardo but had declared it as an “upgrade” so as to avoid having to issue a call for public procurement.
At this remark, Raskovski can be heard laughing and stating that: “The Maltese are crooks as well”.
“Their system is very similar to the one we should buy,” Taseski responded. “The Maltese CEO told me ‘Nick, remember one thing…you will not sign a commission until the very end when every issue has been cleared. The moment you sign, it’s over, and Leonardo won’t come back.’ They [the Maltese] have now written to the Italian embassy to flag serious omissions in the installation of the system.”
MATS CEO Kenneth Chircop has vehemently denied suggestions that he had advised Taseski on how to pocket bribes or that a complaint had been filed with the Italian embassy.
Cover photo: Left: Maximilian Kazakov with Joseph Muscat, Right: Members of the Macedonian community outside Castille in 2018