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news 07 May 15

Opposition Reveals Tapes About Journalist’s Death

Macedonian opposition says tapes show ministers concealed important information about Nikola Mladenov’s death - which they also found a source of black humour.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje

Macedonia’s opposition Social Democrats on Thursday presented fresh wiretapped conversations, which they say show the authorities hid key evidence about the death of the prominent journalist Nikola Mladenov in 2013.

At its 30th press conference on the issue of illegal surveillance in Macedonia, the Social Democrats presented new secretly taped official conversations that challenge the official verdict - which was that Mladenov died in a traffic accident.

The authorities led the investigation unprofessionally “and with intentional concealing of key information from the public”, the Social Democratic leader, Zoran Zaev, told the press conference.

He said there had been many inconsistencies and called for a new investigation.

The ruling VMRO DPMNE party swiftly reacted to the press conference, pledging to support a new probe into the case and they expressed their gratitude to Zaev for showing with the tapes “that the authorities were not involved in the tragic death of Mladenov”.

Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski also issued a statement in which he said the tapes showed there was no conspiracy - and which proved that the authorities had nothing to do with the accident. He also said he had no doubts that the investigation was conducted properly but would still support a new probe to put the matter to rest.

Mladenov, a well-known advocate of free speech in Macedonia, died on March 27, 2013 when his car overturned in a ditch near the highway at the entrance to Skopje.

The police and the investigative judge were quick to declare the case an accident. However, the sparse nature of the police report into the crash and other details raised suspicions of foul play.

Tapes aired on Thursday contained what appeared to be the voices of Interior Minister Gordana Jankuloska, the police spokesperson Ivo Kotevski, as well as Martin Protugjer, the chef-de-cabinet of the Prime Minister, Nikola Gruevski.

Zaev said six key pieces of information about Mladenov's death contained in the official inquiry report presented in July 2013 were now shown to be false.

“This raises questions about whether the case can be closed as a tragic traffic accident, or whether there may be indications that someone might have caused it,” Zaev said.

In the first conversations between Jankuloska and her associates, the minister confirmed that the body was traced in two hours, using the signal of his cell phone.

However, the authorities have always insisted they did not have the phone.
In later conversations, Jankuloska and police spokesperson Kotevski agreed that the investigative judge tasked with leading the inquiry was inexperienced and had made many mistakes.

“I don't know how he survives this day,” Jankuloska’s voice jokes. The opposition said Kotevski then admits that the secret police, UBK, has not cooperated with the judge who did not even know where to send Mladenov's vehicle for examination.

The opposition said the police, as well as the official report on the investigation, hid one other key fact, which is that traces of red and black paint were found on the back of Mladenov’s vehicle.

Kotevski and Jankuloska say the paint came from another car and order the information to be kept under wraps. “If such information gets out, we are screwed,” Kotevski’s voice can be heard telling Jankuloska.

The opposition also presented an SMS about the paint traces, allegedly sent by Jankuloska to Prime Minister Gruevski on April 3, 2013. In it, she writes: “There is one tricky thing, on the [wrecked] car there is paint from another car.”

In further tapes, Kotevski's voice can be heard saying that the highway cameras located on the highway near the crash site had not been working, and together with Jankuloska, they agree to hide this fact as well.

“Those are not our cameras so we have no worries there... We say that they are functioning, we are not revealing which works and which doesn’t,” Jankuloska can be heard replying, instructing her spokesperson on how to avoid answering one inquisitive reporter.

“Let her bite her fingers, she’s a commie,” Jankuloska says about the reporter, using the derogative term “commie” for opposition members and supporters.

Zaev said the highway cameras are operated by a private security agency, SGS, which previously revealed tapes had shown to be linked to the chief of the secret police, Saso Mijalkov.

In another taped conversation, Kotevski and Jankuloska apparently mocked the death of the journalist.

Kotevski can be heard telling Jankuloska that he has instructed a media owner close to him to send a chilling SMS message to a friendly reporter with such questions as “Who's next?” and “What has happened to Nikolce [Mladenov]?"

He says it would be a good prank if someone were to ask the prominent reporter, Branko Gerovski, while he attended Mladenov's commemoration service, whether his car tires are properly inflated.

“He won’t be able to get into his car from the paranoia," Kotevski tells Jankuloska while they both laugh.

The opposition also presented what it alleges is a police document, titled “Official police record from the spot [of the crash],” dated April 11, 2013, which, they say, contains several key inconsistencies with the official report.

While the first record said Mladenov's body was found 22.5 metres from the vehicle, the other document says it was found only seven metres away, Zaev said.

Also, while the police report also says no traces of windshield glass were found in the body and that no blood was found on the windshield, the official report claimed Mladenov flew through the windshield from the force of the impact.

The official inquiry, presented by Public Prosecutor Marko Zvrlevski, said the car, moving at high speed, missed a turn at a highway junction, broke through the highway curb and ended up in a ditch.

But Zaev said on Thursday that this could not have happened, according to the description in the initial police report.

He said this inconsistency suggested that the vehicle must have made a sharp right turn to have been able to hit the protective curb frontally.

This fact, along with the information about the paint from another car found on the left rear side of the journalist’s car, raised serious questions, he said.

The government “has been lying to the public, hiding information and did not carry out investigation into the Mladenov case", Zaev said, adding that once power changed in Macedonia, he would see to it that a “fresh, independent, thorough and complete” probe took place.

The Social Democrats started releasing secretly recorded tapes of official conversations in February. It says they make it clear that Prime Minister Gruevski has orchestrated the illegal surveillance of thousands of people. It says the material came from sources in the Macedonian secret services.

Gruevski has insisted that the tapes were created by unnamed “foreign secret services” in collaboration with the opposition in order to destabilise the country.

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