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News 19 Jun 17

Macedonia Prosecution Faces Deadline to Press Charges

Macedonia's Special Prosecution, SJO, is hurrying to complete over 20 ongoing investigations that would enable charges to be pressed before the June 30 deadline expires.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje
Macedonia's special prosecutors. Photo: MIA

With a June 30 deadline to press charges - which is unlikely to be prolonged by Macedonia's parliament - the special prosecution, SJO - tasked with probing high-level crime - says it will try to wrap up as manyinvestigations as it can by then.

"Various investigations are nearing their conclusion ... There is a possibility that we may press more charges before the end of this month, but that remains to be seen," a senior source in the SJO told BRN under condition of anonymity.

Unofficially, one of the investigations that the SJO is working on is the latest case, in which former Prime Minister and VMRO DPMNE leader Nikola Gruevski, along with ten other top party officials, are suspected of illegally financing the party through money laundering.

The investigation launched in May was codenamed "Talir".

"The SJO is working intensively on the 'Talir' case... suspects and witnesses are being summoned in the SJO for statements. We hope we will be able to wrap up this investigation soon and decide what to do next based on the evidence we gathered," the source told BIRN.

Formed in autumn 2015 as part of an EU-sponsored crisis agreement, the SJO has launched over 120 pre-investigative procedures, more than 20 investigations and filed charges in three cases. Almost all of them concern officials from the former ruling VMRO DPMNE party, which took power in 2006 and last month went into opposition.

The SJO effectively begun work that December after the then opposition Social Democrats, SDSM, handed over wiretapped materials that they said contained proof of many wrongdoings by officials.

Although the SJO has a five-year mandate, the original agreement gave it 18 months following receipt of the wiretaps to raise indictments. This means that the deadline to press charges in most cases expires on June 30.

The SJO, the new SDSM-led government formed last month and Macedonia's EU partners have all suggested prolonging the deadline. But parliament is unlikely to do so in the face of strong VMRO DPMNE opposition.

VMRO DPMNE, controls 51 of the 120 seats in parliament, which means that without them it is impossible to muster a two-thirds majority needed to prolong the deadline.

Alternative ways mulled for SJO's work:

Last week, as former and current top politicians continued thronging the SJO headquarters, where they have been summoned to give statements, the new Prime Minister, Zoran Zaev, pledged to try to secure the continuation of the SJO's work.

"There are several ways of prolonging the [SJO] mandate," Zaev said, adding that only one of them is through parliament, using a two-thirds majority.

He said another option is for the Constitutional Court to assess the situation and possibly scrap the current limitations on the SJO's work as unconstitutional.

Another possibility is to incorporate the SJO as a separate department within the regular Public Prosecution, which would meanwhile undergo reforms, so that it can start working without political pressures.

The SJO says problems over deadlines will not halt its work. This is because the Law on the Special Prosecution stipulates that it remains free to conduct investigations even if it cannot press charges relating to them.

The SJO on May 22 said it had managed to listen to most of some 600,000 wiretapped conversations that the SDSM had handed over. However, it said that less than half have been investigated.

"Most of the recordings have been listened to, but the materials are not processed and analyzed," chief Special Prosecutor Katica Janeva said in May.

She said that during the summer, the SJO will focus on ongoing pre-investigation procedures and opened investigations and will resume probing fresh wiretaps from September onwards.

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