News 17 Sep 13

Macedonia Charges 20 With Espionage

Macedonian prosecutors on Tuesday filed charges against 20 people, accused of being part of a high-profile spy ring that worked for an unnamed neighbouring government.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic, Sase Dimovski
BIRN
Skopje

Photo by: mia

The group is charged with spying, fraud, extortion, blackmail, revealing state secrets and criminal association.

A former employee of Macedonia's intelligence agency, Marijan Efremov, is charged as leader of the spy ring, which police busted on Monday.

Efremov is charged with forming and leading the spy ring since 2009, following his sacking from the state service.

“Most of the [incriminating] documents have been discovered at his house,” the Police Minister, Gordana Jankulovska, told a press conference on Tuesday.

Jankulovska says police stumbled on the documents revealing his spying activities in May during a search of the family home in relation to a different case involving his brother, Ivica Efremov, a former prosecutor at the Veles court.

The unrelated case among others charges journalist Zoran Kezarovski with revealing the identity of a protected witness in a murder trial.

Accourding to the charges, Marijan Efremov collected and distributed sensitive information gathered by current and former employees at various state institutions.

The head of the speaker's office in parliament, Marijan Madzovski, the former head of the state agency to combat money-laundering, Vane Cvetanov, retired counter-intelligence agency employee Aleksandar Dinevski as well as former police general Goran Stojkov are also charged with espionage.

The group allegedly collected information on the political situation, on religious communities and elections, and collaborated with the “service of a neighbouring country” Jankulovka said, not naming which one.

Macedonia's immediate neighbours are Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, Kosovo and Albania.

"We have yet to determine the damage caused to the interests of the state," Jankulovska said.

The group also included an employee of the National Archive who allegedly copied documents containing sensitive information, which were then used to blackmail and extort money from prominent businessmen and politicians.

Another member of the group was an employee in a telecom company who provided phone numbers of targeted people and helped in their surveillance.

Police arrested a total of 17 people in relation to the case on Monday. But two of them were released on Tuesday due to lack of evidence.

One was movie director Boris Damovski, famous for his weekly TV animated political satire called "Ednooki", which was cancelled last year.

The other 15 were brought before an investigative judge in the Skopje Criminal Court on Tuesday who will determine whether they stay in detention.

Most of those arrested have, at some point, been seen as close to the ruling VMRO DPMNE party. With the exception of Madzovski, none has held high office in recent years.

Police said that another two alleged participants in the ring are already in jail, serving sentences for unrelated crimes, while three remain at large.

Among those at large is a freelance Journalist, Zoran Bozinovski, believed to be residing outside Macedonia and well known for his political blog, Burevesnik, which is critical of the government of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski.

According to minister Jankulovska, some of the sensitive information in his blog came from the head of the spy ring, Efremov.

Espionage is punishable in Macedonia by jail sentences of one to 10 years. Revealing state secrets warrants a minimum of three years in jail.

The opposition Social Democrats, SDSM, on Monday condemned the arrests as politically motivated, saying they were intended to frighten ordinary people.

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