By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
The group that coordinated last year’s mob attack on Macedonia’s parliament was stationed on the eighth floor of the VMRO DPMNE party’s headquarters, a trial heard on Thursday.
A key defendant in the trial of those involved in last year’s attack on the Macedonian parliament has claimed the ruling party organised the whole event from the eighth floor of its Skopje headquarters.
The defendant, Aleksandar Vasilevski “Ninja” said the entire event was prepared and coordinated by then high-ranking officials in the then ruling VMRO DPMNE party.
In his testimony to the Skopje Criminal Court that lasted for two hours, Vasilevski alleged that former government secretary general Kiril Bozinovski, former uniformed police chief Mitko Cavkov, former deputy justice minister Biljana Briskovska, former transport Minister Mile Janakieski and others were all part of the command structure.
Cavkov and Briskovska are also among the 30 defendants in this case, while Bozinovski and Janakieski are in detention for other, unrelated cases instigated by the Special Prosecution.
Vasilevski said that these four persons issued the commands and were coordinating activities on the ground on April 27, 2017, when supporters of VMRO DPMNE stormed the parliament building and injured some 100 people in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent the election of a new speaker and the formation of a new government.
He said they were part of the “command and operative HQ of VMRO DPMNE” and that on the day of the violence they were stationed on the eighth floor of the VMRO DPMNE building in central Skopje.
Vasilevski, who claimed to have visited this headquarters on the day of the violence to receive instructions, claimed nobody but him had the chance to directly see where the orders were coming from.
He said the drift towards violence began with the launch of a series of pro-government protests, called “For United Macedonia”, in which VMRO DPMNE supporters and right-wing associations denounced the expected formation of the new government that they deemed treacherous.
However, he said no one on the ground at that time knew what exactly was going to happen.
During the day of April 27, before the violence erupted that evening, Vasilevski said he received a telephone call from the then secret police chief, Vladimir Atanasovski.
“At 12.30 I received a call from Atanasovski. He told me to be in Skopje because there was information that the SDSM [the then opposition Social Democratic Union] was preparing something…
“The info I got was that the SDSM would elect a new speaker. [VMRO DPMNE official and former Labour Minister] Spiro Ristovski called me and told me to go to the HQ. I also had a contact with [then secret police chief] Saso Mijalkov who called me and told me, Ccome to the HQ.’ The HQ was the Hotel Marriott [in Skopje] and the VMRO DPMNE headquarters,” Vasilevski said.
Former VMRO DPMNE strongman Mijalov was also recently detained in relation to another case, codenamed “Empire”.
Vasilevski said that he arrived at the party headquarters at 6.10pm and that, “by habit”, he immediately took the elevator and went to the eighth floor.
“I arrived on the eighth floor. The toilet is on the left and the small kitchen is at the end [presumably of the corridor]. I left my cell phone on the chair and entered the hall. Mijalkov was not inside but there were other people. I noticed the command-operative of VMRO DPMNE HQ, Biljana Briskovska, Kiril Bozinovski, Spiro Ristovski, Mitko Cavkov, Mile Janakieski. The TV was on and they were watching what was happening in parliament on TV Nova [a then pro-government TV station],” Vasilevski said.
“I sat at one table while they were talking on their cell phones. Briskovska was communicating with [then outgoing parliament speaker] Trajko Veljanoski and he was giving her input about what was going on inside [the parliament]”.
“Janakieski and Ristovski were communicating with Batman [the codename for Bogdan Ilievski, a leader of the protests], while Bozinovski was calling all the municipal [party] committees to come to Skopje under VMRO DPMNE’s directive.”
The defendant said the then uniformed police chief Cavkov, who was criticized for not sending police to deal with the crowd immediately, had been on the phone at that time, communicating with his police subordinates and added that after a while, secret police chief Vladimir Atanasovski also arrived in the room.
After describing these details, Vasilevski said that, “everything that happened in April 27 was coordinated, and, as the crowd moved towards the parliament, the orders were becoming more and more direct”.
Vasilevski also said that, according to his information, the rampage should have resulted in President Gjorge Ivanov declaring a state of emergency later that night and bringing the army on the streets, thus preventing the formation of the new government. This allegedly did not happened because of strong international pressure on Ivanov not to do so.
Vasilevski said that he got this information from the former senior secret police employee Goran Grujevski, whom he met in the park opposite the parliament later the same night. Grujevski fled the country in July 2018 after a court ordered his arrest in relation to the wiretapping scandal. He was shortly arrested in Greece but was not extradited to Macedonia.
President Ivanov has denied any allegations about his cabinet’s involvement in the parliament rampage.
Vasilevski is a known figure from the Macedonian criminal underground who in the past had connections with the police. He was detained in June after he turned himself in, after several months in hiding.
His brother, Blagoja, was one of former PM Nikola Gruevski’s bodyguards who, on the day of the violence, accompanied Gruevski on his visit to Vienna.
Like the other defendants, he is also accused of “terrorist endangering of national security” for his participation in the events.
The State Prosecution is still investigating the events and has yet to file charges against any possible masterminds behind them.