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News 01 Sep 14

Foul Play Alleged in Macedonia PM Slander Case

The defence criticised the court for rejecting as evidence an audio recording during which, the opposition claims, the Macedonian PM discussed the illegal sale of a bank.

Sinisa Jakov Maruic

The court hearing Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski’s slander case against opposition Social Democrats leader Zoran Zaev refused on Monday to accept the recording of the telephone call as evidence.

It also refused to question Gruevski’s former associate Den Doncev, a potentially key witness for the defence, whose voice is also on the tape, the opposition alleges.

The opposition claims that Doncev posed as a middleman in the alleged illegal sale of Makedonska Banka in 2004 to Serbian businessman Jovica Stefanovic, aka Gazda Nini (‘Boss Nini’), whose voice it also says can be heard on the tape.

The court on Monday did however question Stefanovic, who said that he knew neither Gruevski nor Doncev personally.

Zaev’s defence lawyer Miroslav suspected foul play.

“Without Doncev… and without the audio recording, Jovica Stefanovic is irrelevant for the [trial] procedure. Having in mind that the key evidence has been rejected, the refusal leaves a blank space and the court will know exactly what to ask Stefanovic,” Vujic told media outside the court.

During his testimony, Stefanovic confirmed he had bought shares in Makedonska Banka some ten years ago but denied any crime, insisting that the sale had been legally conducted through a broker’s house.

“I do not know the plaintiff [Gruevski] or the one who is being sued [Zaev]. I have not met or talked on the phone with any of them. I have not given bribes nor have I discussed this subject with any of them,” Stefanovic told the court.

Gruevski is suing the leader of the opposition for half-a-million euro for slander, after Zaev, during the general and presidential election campaign in March and April, accused the Macedonian premier of being involved in the corrupt sale of the bank.

Zaev presented documents of financial transactions as well as legal papers from Macedonia’s Central Bank that approved the sale of Makedonska Banka’s shares in support of his claim that Gruevski allegedly took a bribe of 1.5 million euro to expedite the deal.

Zaev's party also released the lengthy recording of the telephone call during which, the opposition claimed, Gruevski's voice, along with those of Stefanovic and of Doncev, could be heard discussing the illegal sale.

In July, chief public prosecutor Marko Zvrlevski said that “there are no legal grounds for opening an investigation into Gruevski” because more than ten years have passed since the case was reported, which makes the accusations “out of date”, according to Macedonian criminal law.

But Gruevski pursued his slander suit against Zaev, denying any wrongdoing on his part and insisting that the alleged evidence was fabricated by the opposition.

The case is set to resume on Tuesday, when Gruevski and Zaev are due to give their testimonies in their first confrontation before the court. Both were absent on Monday.

But Gruevski’s appearance in court is uncertain because the government, in a recent press statement, said that the Prime Minister had sustained a light injury to his leg during sporting activities and that he had been advised to rest.

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