SKOPJE (Reuters) - Macedonian police have arrested media tycoon Velija Ramkovski and 14 employees of his private A1 television channel, the TV station said on Friday.
The arrest follows a government fraud investigation in November when Ramkovski’s three independent newspapers were closed briefly and the channel’s operations were disrupted.
Police spokesman Ivo Kotevski confirmed that around 15 people had been arrested but declined to give details.
“I cannot comment on the reasons for their arrest until they have been taken before an investigating judge,” he said.
Private television stations Kanal 5 and SITEL have reported that Ramkovski is suspected of evading taxes worth 4 million euros ($5.25 million) since 2005.
Ramkovski’s lawyers were not available for comment. A1 television said on its website www.a1.com.mk that the channel’s general manager was among those arrested.
A1 editor-in-chief Mladen Cadikovski said Ramkovski was arrested outside the television station in the capital Skopje late on Thursday, while others were taken from their homes.
“There was no need for such a spectacular police action, involving special forces, when Ramkovski was available to the police at any moment,” said Cadikovski.
In November, police said they were investigating other firms registered in the same location as A1 television and did not target media businesses.
“Now it appears that A1 is the main target of the investigation,” Cadikovski said. “But we will not allow the station’s operations to be affected, regardless of the situation, which really is dramatic.”
Macedonia gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1991 and is a candidate for European Union membership, but its progress has been hindered by a dispute with EU member Greece over Macedonia’s official name.
Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Zoran Radosavljevic and Maria Golovnina