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News 18 Nov 16

Macedonia's SJO Says Secret Police Ran Illegal Wiretapping

The Special Prosecution on Friday said at least 10 current or former senior secret police officials ran the mass illegal wiretapping operation that is the focus of the country’s political crisis.

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

Macedonia’s Special Prosecution, SJO, said it suspected ten persons from the Security and Counterintelligence Directorate, UBK, illegally surveyed at least 5,827 telephone numbers from 2008 to 2015 - as part of a fresh investigation codenamed “Target,” launched on Friday.

The ten suspects, all former or current employees of the secret police, face charges of misuse of office and breaching people’s basic civil rights.

“There is a reasonable suspicion that the suspects, using their offices and powers, at the expense of state funds, through misuse of the communication surveillance equipment, seriously breached the basic human rights of the unlawfully wiretapped citizens,” Deputy Special Prosecutor Fatime Fetai told a press conference in Skopje.

Although no names were given, the agency was led at the time by Saso Mijalkov, the cousin of Nikola Gruevski, former Prime Minister and head of the ruling VMRO DPMNE party.

At least 5,827 telephone numbers were unlawfully wiretapped from 2008 to 2015 the SJO said.

The SJO said that, from the evidence gathered so far, at least 4,286 telephone numbers were wiretapped by the suspects without obtaining a court order as the law stipulates.

An additional 1,541 telephone numbers were tapped on court orders for a certain period - but the SJO said they had also been illegally followed before and after the court orders were issued and expired.

The SJO noted that these are only the telephone numbers for which they have obtained evidence that they were illegally followed, not excluding the possibility that more will come to light.

The fresh investigation attempts to provide some answers to one of the most pressing questions at the heart of the Macedonia’s prolonged political crisis: who was responsible for the mass illegal wiretapping operation that has shaken the country.

It also comes less than a month before the December 11 early general elections.

Three surveillance systems were in use:

Fetai explained that the SJO investigation had shown that three different surveillance systems were used for the illegal wiretapping operation.

Macedonia's chief special prosecutor Katica Janeva. Photo: MIA

“Depending on which communication surveillance system was in use, there is a reasonable suspicion that different [criminal] actions were taken,” Fetai said.

Fetai said the evidence suggested that in 2008 three of the suspects, all then top officials in the secret police, were involved in unlawful issuing orders to put telephone numbers under surveillance without obtaining court orders.

In some cases, she said, they carried out these actions directly and listened to the telephone conversations.

She said the first system was in use during 2008, when at least 250 telephone numbers were illegally tapped.

The second system, operational between the end of 2008 and January 20, 2015, was used for illegal wiretapping of at least 4,910 telephone numbers.

The timing of the abolition of this system coincided with the opposition revelations about the wiretapping in early 2015.

However, illegal surveillance, according to the SJO, continued in use after the revelation of the scandal, from January 21, 2015 to December 31, 2015.

During this period, a third system was used to illegally wiretap at least 653 telephone numbers.

“The first suspect who was in a managerial position in the secret police, although having no legal right to do so, resorted to listening to telephone conversations for which there were no special surveillance measures issued,” Fetai said.

“At the same time, he gave orders for inclusion within the communication surveillance system of telephone numbers belonging to persons who were in close private relations with him [and] to persons who were part of the political and business elite [as well as] of the journalistic profession,” Fetai added, referring back to the evidence.

The SJO said that the second suspect, who was a department head in the secret police, helped organize the entire scheme but in many cases singlehandedly ordered illegal acts of surveillance.

Fetai said the evidence obtained from the personal computer of the second suspect, which had been seized, suggested that he “continued coordinating and organizing the illegal surveillance” in 2015 and used his computer to enter telephone numbers in the surveillance system and listen to illegally taped conversations, which was also unlawful.

Macedonia's chief special prosecutor Katica Janeva. Photo: MIA

The third suspect, also a top-ranking official, helped establish and maintain the illegal scheme, mostly by conveying the gathered surveillance materials to the first and the second suspects who were his bosses.

Fetai said the evidence suggested that the other employees were mainly involved in the technical aspect of the scheme and in the transcription of the gathered audio materials that were later sent to their superiors.

She explained that the illegal actions were noted by one secret police employee who acquired part of the transcripts and audio materials and, with the help of two other persons, conveyed them to the leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party, SDSM, Zoran Zaev. He later revealed the evidence of wiretapping.

At the end of 2015, after revealing some of the material in public, Zaev handed the materials to the newly formed SJO.

Fetai said that the third communications surveillance system was still in use and, according to their evidence, “the process of misuse of communication surveillance systems continued during 2016”.

Entire political establishment was listened in to:

Ruling party dismissed allegations
The main ruling VMRO DPMNE party in a press release dismissed the allegations presented at the press conference held by the SJO today in which it presented a fresh investigation, suspecting ten secret police officials and employees of mass illegal eavesdropping.

The party said it was still unclear, if SJO's allegations that state structures were responsible for the wiretapping were true, how their party leader, former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, appeared so frequently in the released wiretapped conversations.

The party said that the investigation was launched solely to help the opposition in the early general elections set for December 11.

Ever since the revelations began in early 2015, Gruevski, despite being accused of masterminding the illegal surveillance, has insisted that unnamed foreign services were responsible for the wiretapping, and that they later gave the audio materials to the opposition to destabilize his country.

Referring to this claim, Deputy Special Prosecutor Lence Risteska told the press conference on Friday: “We we do not have evidence that foreign services carried out the wiretapping.

"From the data we have collected thus far, we have no evidence that Gruevski's telephone number was wiretapped [either],” Risteska added.

However, she said that many of his then ministers, including former Transport Minister Mile Janakieski and former Interior Minister Gordana Jankuloska, were illegally recorded.

Jankuloska, for example, was illegally wiretapped over at least 732 days, while Janakieski's first number was wiretapped over 732 days, his second number was tapped over at least 553 days and his third number was tapped over at least 816 days.

The former Vice Prime Minister, Musa Xhaferi, was illegally tapped over at least 1,658 days, Risteska revealed.

Former Health Minister Imer Selmani was tapped for at least 920 days.

Ali Ahmeti, head of the ethnic Albanian junior ruling party, the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, was tapped for at least 338 days on his first number and for at least 867 days on his second number.

The leader of the opposition Democratic Party of Albanians, DPA, Menduh Thaci, was tapped for at least 1,257 days on both of his telephone numbers.

The head of the right-wing opposition United for Macedonia party, Ljube Boskoski, was tapped for at least 320 days on his first number and at least 92 days on his second number.

Macedonia's special prosecutors. Photo: MIA

The SJO on Friday singled out three journalists, including BIRN’s Meri Jordanovska, among those who were unlawfully tapped for more than a year.

The SJO said that it had gathered a significant amount of verbal and material evidence to back up the case.

However, the SJO said the destruction of the two earlier communication surveillance systems that followed the eruption in public of the wiretapping affair had slowed their investigation and the process of gathering evidence.

The SJO earlier this year opened a separate case codenamed “Fortress” to investigate the destruction of this equipment by the secret police and Interior Ministry officials.

Fetai said the SJO had also launched a pre-investigation procedure into an alleged attempt to destroy evidence on police servers during their search of the special police HQ in October, which high-ranking police officials obstructed.

New investigation will affect ‘Coup’ case:

Fetai said that the fresh investigation, the ninth opened since the SJO was formed last year, would “inevitably” have implications for the case codenamed “Coup”.

In January 2015, then Prime Minister Gruevski used a nationwide TV address to accuse SDSM leader Zaev of attempting a coup.
The Social Democrat leader and four other persons were later charged by the regular prosecution with “blackmail and and violence against top state officials”.

Gruevski said Zaev had threatened to publish compromising data from wiretapped conversations of state officials - that he had allegedly obtained from unnamed foreign secret services - unless a caretaker government was formed that included his own party.

This case is now in the hands of the Special Prosecution but a trial cannot start because of delays made by the Skopje Criminal Court.

When the trial does start, the SJO should reveal whether it will stick to the original charges, re-formulate them or drop them.

Fetai said their investigation suggested that all those indicted in this case were illegally wiretapped by the secret police, sometimes over several years.

For example, she said that one of Zaev’s telephone numbers had been illegally wiretapped for at least 1,150 days, before and after a court order was issued for his surveillance. His other telephone number was illegally wiretapped for at least 400 days.

Fetai said that the public would have to wait for the trial to start in the “Coup” case to find out whether - and what kind of changes in the indictment - the Special Prosecution would make.

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