By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Macedonia’s Special Prosecution, SJO, tasked with probing high-level crime and corruption, on Thursday said it was raising its first criminal indictments.
Fourteen persons are indicted for “enticement and carrying out a criminal act against public order”, while the other case concerns seven people employed in the secret police, for “illegal destruction of documentation”.
The SJO has not not yet revealed the names of those who face criminal charges. However, one of the cases, involving former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, is already known to the public.
This relates to the wiretapped conversations released last year that suggest that former Prime Minister and VMRO DPMNE party leader Gruevski in 2013 ordered an attack on the opposition mayor of Centar municipality in Skopje, Andrej Zernovski [which he evaded], during protests in front of the municipal HQ.
“Fourteen people are indicted for violence, five as instigators and nine as executors [of the violent acts],” deputy special prosecutor Fatime Fetai told a press conferrence in Skopje.
She said that from the content of the wiretapped audio materials and from the further investigation the SJO had carried out, “it was established that the first indicted intentionally asked the second indicted [to organize the violence] and the second indicted accepted [this request] without objections.”
Fetai said they had established that the motives of the giver of this order were “solely lucrative, for the preservation of the business interests of the political party establishment and of their friends” that were related to an announced change to the municipal urban plan.
She said the indictees decided to prevent the municipal session from changing the urban plan, by organizing violent protests against the plan, which they alleged including the demolition of an Orthodox church. [The Mayor denied this was part of the plan.]
In June 2013, shortly after Zernovski won the mayoralty of Centar in local elections, a mob surrounded the municipal building, breaking windows and protesting against the alleged plan to destroy the church.
One municipal employee was injured and the Mayor had to be evacuated. Gruevski’s ruling VMRO DPMNE party insisted at the time that it had nothing to do with the incident.
While the opposition accusations the protesters of being undercover ruling party activists, VMRO DPMNE and most of the protesters themselves insisted that they gathered spontaneously, outraged by the Mayor’s alleged plan.
In April 2015, the opposition Social Democrats presented covertly-recorded tapes that they said proved that Gruevski was behind unrest in Centar in June 2013.
On one tape, Gruevski’s voice allegedly can be heard ordering the then Transport Minister, Mile Janakieski, to stage an attack on Mayor Zernovski.
“I am thinking that he [Zernovski] should take five to six slaps in front of the cameras on Friday,” a voice identified as Gruevski’s can be heard saying.
“Let the citizens enter [the municipal building] and one of them should slap him three times, hard,” the same voice tells Janakieski. He then replies: “We could arrange a scenario.”
The second indictment against the seven secret police employees for “illegal destruction of documentation” relates to a previous investigation codenamed “Fortress”.
This concerns the alleged illegal destruction of equipment that was used for large-scale illegal wiretapping.
“The goal of the destruction of official documentation was to destroy the records of the unlawful wiretapping,” Fetai explained.
The SJO launched the “Fortress” investigation in March. Among other matters, it said it suspected a former Interior Minister, as well as senior officials in the secret police, were part of a scheme to destroy equipment that had been used illegally to eavesdrop.
The then Interior Minister was Gordana Jankuloska. However, the SJO has not revealed whether she is among those freshly indicted for the destruction of documents as well.
The alleged illegal destruction of documents and equipment took place in March, April and May 2015, the SJO said, only months after the opposition publicised its allegations about mass illegal surveillance.
Gruevski has long insisted that the tapes were created by unnamed “foreign secret services” in collaboration with the opposition in order to destabilise the country.
The first indictments against high ranking officials come as the SJO marks the first year of its existence.
The SJO, which was formed as a result of the internationally brokered crisis agreement reached last summer, has officially launched six investigations, but many more cases are in the pre-investigation phase.