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News 25 Jul 14

Macedonia Jails its Top Archaeologist

A court in Skopje has jailed the former chief excavator, Pasko Kuzman, for three years for his role in the organized smuggling of archaeological valuables from the country.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje

Pasko Kuzman

After a year-long trial in a case codenamed “Phalanx”, the former head of Macedonia’s Cultural Heritage Protection Office has been found guilty of aiding a criminal ring to excavate and sell off valuable archaeological artifacts.

The prosecution said he and other office employees in 2011 gave permission to third parties to dig in locations near the town of Delcevo and along the road from Skopje to Veles.

Kuzman, who is the best known name among those convicted, was one of the 16 defendants, former office employees, archaeologists and illegal excavators to receive jail terms. Four of them were sentenced on probation.

The former chief of sector in the Heritage Protection Office, Ilco Bojcevski, who was accused of leading the crime ring, was jailed for seven-and-a-half years.

The defendants insisted they were innocent. But a prosecution witness told the court that he bought and then re-sold valuable artifacts from the group for profit.

The defence also claimed that the artifacts seized by police in the bust last year were not as valuable as the prosecution maintained.

The court sentences are not final and the lawyers for the defence announced that they would appeal.

Kuzman was arrested last July and placed in custody at his home, owing to medical problems.

As head of the Cultural Heritage Protection Office, over the past few years Kuzman oversaw the main archaeological digs across the country.

Often seen in the company of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, Kuzman’s name was linked to the grand government-funded revamp of the Macedonian capital known as Skopje 2014.

However, in an interview for Balkan Insight in 2013 he claimed that the Prime Minister himself was the mastermind behind the project.

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