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Investigation 23 Dec 13

Macedonia: Huge Secret Payments Revealed

The government refused to say how much it spent on supporting Macedonia’s two war crimes defendants, but estimates from officials and insiders add up to almost 9.5 million euro.

Sase Dimovski
BIRN
Skopje
Johan Tarculovski after his return to Macedonia.
Photo: Sinisa Jakov Marusic

The amount that the Macedonian government spent on supporting its two Hague Tribunal war crimes defendants, former interior minister Ljube Boskoski and policeman Johan Tarculovski, is possibly the biggest secret in the country.

The government did not respond to requests for data about it. Neither did the justice ministry.

But current and former officials have provided BIRN with information which suggests that the money spent on costs related to the two men’s trials in The Hague, on lawyers and lobbying, court expenses and the lavish welcome-home parties that were organised after their release has added up to a total of at least 9,480,000 euro.

Compared to what Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia spent on helping to defend their citizens accused of committing heinous crimes in wars that lasted for years, not just a few months, it is a staggering sum.

Tarculovski is the only Macedonian convicted of war crimes by the Hague Tribunal. He was jailed for 12 years over his role in the brief but bloody conflict in 2001 between the Macedonian security forces and ethnic Albanian rebels known as the National Liberation Army.

He was found guilty of leading a police unit that killed ethnic Albanian civilians and committed other atrocities in the village of Ljuboten, near Skopje.

But the ICTY acquitted Tarculovski’s chief, ex-minister Boskovski, who had been charged with having command responsibility over the unit.

Breakdown of Macedonian state spending on two Hague indictees

- 2006: Initial money for the preparation of the defence, witnesses, travel expenses, hiring lawyers: 1,000,000 euro
- 2006: 200,000 euro for the expenses of the families, 50,000 for Tarculovski’s defence, 100,000 euro for translation of documents for the defense and finding witnesses: 350,000 euro
- 2007: Hiring a second foreign lawyer for the first-instance trial: 500,000 euro
- 2007: Expenses for witnesses, interpreters, documents: 30,000 euro
- 2008-2013: Hiring US defence team for Tarculovski: 3,500,000 euro
- 2008-2011: 310,000 euro per year for additional costs (annual sum confirmed by ex-justice minister Mihajlo Manevski): 1,200,000 euro
- 2009: Attorney fees for both men’s defence teams: 100,000 euro
- 2010: Return travel and welcome-home celebration for Boskoski, including airplane and public campaign: 50,000 euro
- Travel to The Hague for delegations from government, parliament, ruling party: 50,000 euro
- 2013: Return travel and welcome-home celebration for Tarculovski, including airplane, public campaign, billboard posters: 200,000 euro
- Lobbying contracts (the names of the lobbying companies have not been made public by the government): 2,500,000 euro
- Financial support for the men’s families’ over a period of seven years: exact sum unknown, possibly more than 200,000 euro

TOTAL 9,480,000 euro

Note on sourcing: The Macedonian government and justice ministry ignored BIRN’s requests for official data. This list of expenses is based on the statements of former prime ministers, ministers and other government officials who had access to funds that were paid for expenses. Lawyers’ statements were also used in these calculations, although their contracts have been kept secret by the government.

The Macedonian government spent millions of euro on supporting the two men between 2005, when they were arrested, and 2013, when Tarculovski was released from prison after serving two-thirds of his sentence.

BIRN sent official requests to the Macedonian government and the justice ministry, and to the lawyers and families of the two men, asking how much was spent on the their defence, on procedural costs, on expenses for their families, on visits to The Hague by senior political figures from Macedonia, and on the welcoming ceremonies in Skopje.

But despite their legal obligations to fulfill such requests, the government and justice ministry did not reply. Justice minister Blerim Bedzeti and his spokesperson made no response to BIRN’s telephone calls, emails or text messages asking for clarification. Lawyers and families also refused to disclose how much they had received.

The reasons for this silence are political, said one government official who asked to remain anonymous.

“It is a sensitive issue that could cause a reaction from certain military veterans,” the government source told BIRN, explaining that Macedonian soldiers and policemen who want compensation for injuries they suffered during the conflict, as well as ethnic Albanian ex-guerrillas demanding state pensions, could cause problems for the authorities if they learned how much was spent.

“I tried to get the data that you asked for, but I was immediately told that it’s strictly confidential and that I should not ask,” BIRN’s source added.

“It was pointed out to me that as a member of [Macedonia’s] Albanian community, I have no reason to look for data about the payment of money for the defence of two Macedonians who were tried for war crimes in The Hague,” the source said.

Sifting the evidence

BIRN’s estimated total of ten million euro includes government payments for domestic and foreign lawyers, lobbying efforts, money for the preparation of the defence and translation of documents, for several trips to The Hague by governmental, parliamentary and party delegations, as well as for the return transport costs and the welcome-home celebrations staged for Boskoski and Tarculovski.

In 2006, several months after the men were detained and delivered to the international court, the Macedonian government decided to finance their defence and cover travel expenses for their families.

“I tried to get the data that you asked for, but I was immediately told that it’s strictly confidential and that I should not ask.”

Official source speaking to BIRN

 

At first, the justice ministry granted the families 200,000 euro for travel expenses, accommodation and preparations for hiring lawyers.

When this amount proved inadequate, the government decided to approve an additional 770,000 euro, taking the cost to around a million.

Then Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski personally informed Boskoski that the government would fund his defence and hire Bosnian lawyer Edina Residovic, according to a government press office statement on June 2, 2006.

Buckovski confirmed to BIRN that, during his premiership, around one million euro was approved for the accused men’s defense and costs.

“Most of that money, the one million euros that were allocated by the state, were given to foreign lawyers,” said Buckovski.

Buckovski was prime minister until autumn 2006, when the VMRO DPMNE party took power.

There is no publicly-available data on government payments after that point, but payments continued to mount under the new government, which also hoped to see the two men freed and Macedonia’s image left untarnished.

The cost of hiring a second foreign lawyer for Boskoski’s four-year trial, Guenael Mettraux of London’s Matrix Chambers, was around 500,000 euro, according to estimates derived from BIRN’s analysis of ICTY procedural costs and from off-the-record comments from Macedonian officials.

Justice minister Mihajlo Manevski has also admitted in 2008 that the state, in both cases, had by that point paid an additional 310,000 Euros for legal services.

“The government has committed to take over expenses to the end of the trial, in other words, until the closing arguments in the process,” Manevski said at the time.

“The government has taken all measures to ensure an adequate defence.”

Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski

 

Over the four years of the first trial, this added extra costs of more than 1.2 million euro to the state’s bill, although the agreements with the lawyers and the amounts paid have never been made public.

The government reveals little

In 2007, MP and former justice minister Meri Mladenovska-Gjorgievska asked Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski how much was being spent on the two Hague defendants, but only received a vague response.

“The government has taken all measures to ensure an adequate defence,” Gruevski said, listing a series of lawyers who the government was paying to work on the men’s behalf.

Mladenovska responded that Gruevski’s response was unacceptable, but the prime minister refused to reveal any specific financial details.

“We did practically everything that we could do to help,” Gruevski said.

“The main assistance is in regard to the full covering of costs for the lawyers and other specific requirements made by the families of the accused, and I will not speak publicly about that, because these requests are of a private nature,” he added.

The defence costs took a sharp leap upwards again in 2008, after Tarculovski was convicted and sentenced to 12 years in prison.

The government decided to hire a team to prepare an appeal led by famous US attorney Alan Dershowitz, the man who was credited with the murder acquittal of American football star O.J. Simpson, and who had also worked for President Bill Clinton and boxer Mike Tyson.

The deal with Dershowitz is cloaked in secrecy, but estimates given to BIRN by former officials and lawyers who worked on the case suggest that the cost of his services, including the appeal and the legal work that led to Tarculovski’s early release this year, amounted to 3.5 million euro.

A government spokesman, Alexandar Gjorgjiev, gave no response to a request for more information about the Dershowitz payments.

Tarculovski’s wife Sonja, who is now working for the government, also refused to answer questions about the amount spent on her husband’s defence.

Finally, according to estimates given to BIRN by former and current officials, the state spent an estimated total of around 2.5 million euro on lobbying for the men’s release, 150,000 euro on the homecoming ceremonies for the two men, who were both flown home to Skopje on government planes, and 50,000 to fly delegations abroad in connection with the case.

Politics and propaganda

Although Tarculovski was convicted of war crimes, some ethnic Macedonians saw him as a national hero, unjustly jailed for defending his country.

But some of Macedonia’s large ethnic Albanian minority blame him for the suffering he caused during the 2001 conflict.

His case remains politically sensitive because ethnic tensions still simmer, and revealing how much money was spent on a Macedonian who committed war crimes against Albanians might cause disquiet among the minority.

It is also sensitive because an ethnic Albanian party which grew out of the guerrilla force that fought in the 2001 conflict, the Democratic Union for Integration, is now part of the country’s governing coalition; a former Albanian rebel is now even working as Macedonia’s defence minister.

Since his release, Tarculovski, who is now studying agriculture at university, has become a symbol to be wheeled out for propaganda purposes at government events.

Boskovski on the other hand formed an opposition political party after his release and has since been jailed at home for illegal campaign financing.

The exact amount spent to support the two men in The Hague may never been known.

But Osman Kadriu, a criminal law professor at FON University, argued that the Macedonian state acted out of “humanitarian and solidarity” motives to support its citizens and fund defence costs for two suspects.

“Families of the defendants had no opportunity to pay for quality defence and it was humane on the part of the state to help people who unfortunately found themselves on trial at the Hague Tribunal,” Kadriu said.

However Stevo Pendaroski, a former national security adviser to the Macedonian president, suggested that, as in other former Yugoslav countries, the motives were also political.

“Firstly, either [government politicians] had similar political and ideological standpoints to the defendants, or secondly, they suffered intense political pressure from the domestic opposition and their decisions were not backed by conviction, but by fear, in order not to lose popularity at the next elections,” Pendaroski said.

He concluded that the government’s stance suggested that politicians lacked the will to face up to what really happened during the 2001 conflict. Until the crimes that were committed are explained in school textbooks, Pendaroski argued, Macedonia will not have come to terms with its own “ugly history”.

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