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Eight-seven road toll collectors accused of pocketing millions of euro in an organized crime ring have gone on trial in Skopje.
The defendants, arrested last December, are suspected of abusing their office and of stealing some 2 million euro by forging and issuing fake road toll tickets. All have pleaded not guilty.
The trial at Macedonia’s biggest courtroom, in the Supreme Court in Skopje, began with the public reading of the lengthy 400-page indictment in the presence of more than 100 defence lawyers.
The trial “will last very long and will be exhausting so we will have to have strong nerves,” Zvonko Davidovic, a lawyer representing three of the defendants, said.
The prosecution is expected to present video and voice surveillance tapes, phone call transcripts as well as protected witness accounts to support the case.
The trial is overshadowed by a previous failed attempt at a mass prosecution of road toll collectors.
In raids in 2007 and in 2008, police arrested over 70 people for the same crime. But the trial was marred by controversies and was later annulled by the Appellate Court, which ordered a re-trial.
The prosecutors were unable to prove some key allegations, while defence lawyers and rights activists complained that the police broke the law by using unlawful surveillance.
Some defendants have obtained compensation orders from the European Court for Human Rights, after suing the state for having kept them in detention for too long without due cause.
Over the past few years, the government has launched several massive police raids in a bid to highlight the fight against organized crime. Doctors, employees in the pension fund and even police officers have been among the previous targets.
Local and international watchdogs, including the European Commission, have praised these actions while also criticising human rights violations made during arrests and the long periods of detention of suspects.
Macedonian police on Thursday arrested 88 road toll collectors who are suspected of forging tickets and stealing some 2 million euros.
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