Malta’s honorary consul in Skopje, North Macedonia, has been banned from entering the United States over his alleged involvement in “significant corruption”.

Kocho Angjushev, the former deputy prime minister of North Macedonia, immediately had his position terminated by the foreign ministry, upon receipt of Times of Malta’s questions.

Angjishev had been heading Malta’s consulate in Skopje since October 2021 following approval by the Maltese government.

According to a statement published on Tuesday by the US Department of State, Angjushev is ineligible for entry into the United States after he abused his official position while serving as deputy prime minister to benefit his private business interests, undermining the confidence of North Macedonia’s public in their government institutions and public processes.

“Today’s action demonstrates the United States stands with those in North Macedonia who seek accountability of corrupt public officials,” the statement read.

“This designation reaffirms the US commitment to counter corruption, which harms the public interest, hampers countries’ economic prosperity and curtails the ability of governments to respond effectively to the needs of their people,” the statement read.

Angjushev served as deputy prime minister in charge of economic affairs from 2017 to 2020 in the government led by Zoran Zaev, who was the leader of the SDSM party at that time.

Angjushev is the founder and owner of local group Feroinvest. He describes himself as a “sincere friend” of Malta.

In reply to questions, a foreign ministry spokesperson said the ministry never received any negative information about him since his appointment in 2021.

“In light of such developments, the ministry is terminating his appointment with immediate effect and is following closely the latest developments,” he added.

Angjushev to appeal decision

When contacted, Angjushev said he planned to appeal the decision and that there was no basis for restricting his entry into the United States.

“I strongly deny all the doubts expressed in the document published by the honourable State Department and I want to announce that I will appeal the decision and will use all the legal remedies specified in the document itself in the direction of withdrawing this decision, which I consider unnecessary within the framework of the commitments to our friends, the United States of America, to fight corruption.”

He said he had always worked within the law during his time in government and that his companies had recorded reduced revenues and profits while he held public office.

Angjushev was last in Malta in April where he met Foreign Minister Ian Borg.

In a story published in the Macedonian press about the meeting, the purpose of Angjushev’s official visit to Malta was “to establish contacts to connect Macedonian and Maltese companies and to open a new market for the Macedonian economy”.

Angjushev was received by Borg who thanked him for the consular engagement that he carries out on behalf of Malta in North Macedonia.

During their meeting, the two discussed the political situation in both countries as well as the impact of

global geopolitics on the economic situation in Europe. Borg was also said to have welcomed the commitment of the honorary consul to strengthen economic cooperation and establish a bridge between economies.

In Valletta, Angjushev met several economic entities and had talks with Malta’s Agency for Foreign Investments.

The move by the United States comes almost exactly two years after a similar travel ban was slapped on former minister Konrad Mizzi and ex-chief of staff Keith Schembri.

Both men were also sanctioned due to their “involvement in significant corruption”.

Corruption has been a long-standing issue for Macedonia, which is trying to enact reforms as it strives for membership in the European Union, for which it applied in 2004.

Earlier this year, the US AID agency said corruption in North Macedonia “continues to erode trust in institutions, weakens accountability and transparency, obstructs economic growth and contributes to political fragility and instability”.

The European Commission said in a report last month that corruption remains “prevalent in many areas and is an issue of concern” and that “no progress was made” on the issue in recent months.

In Transparency International’s 2022 Corruption Perception Index, North Macedonia scored 40 out of 100, ranking it 85th among 180 countries in the survey, just above Belarus and Moldova.

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