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News 20 Oct 16

Standoff Over Access to Police Data Rocks Macedonia

Interior Minister says after police officials prevented the Special Prosecution from obtaining access to evidence of secret police wiretapping, the standoff had been resolved - although the Prosecution has yet to confirm this.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje
 Macedonia's chief Special Prosecutor Katica Janeva. Photo by: MIA

After an uneasy standoff on Wednesday and overnight Thursday at the premises of Macedonia's secret police, UBK - whose officials prevented the Special Prosecution, SJO, from gaining access to possible evidence of police wiretapping - the Interior Minister said the problem had been resolved.

"There were obstructions and attempts to postpone the procedure, but they are now dealt with and the team headed by [chief Special Prosecutor Katica] Janeva have gained access to documents that are the focus of their investigation," Minister Spasovski said Thursday.

"The SJO is now doing the job it was set up for, and everything will be provided, so that the court's order and the prosecutor's demands are respected," Spasovski added.

The Special Prosecution office, SJO, which was formed last year to investigate high-level crime, announced a press conference for Thursday when it says it will reveal details of two new investigations. It is also expected to report on whether it indeed gained acess to all the data it requested.

A team of special prosecutors and investigators is meanwhile still in premises of the UBK, which they entered on Wednesday afternoon on a court order as part of the SJO investigation into illegal wiretapping.

While the SJO complained of police obstruction, the UBK insisted that the system the SJO wanted to check was owned by its operator, Ericsson, and they could only access it with the permission of the company without interrupting important activities.

Deputy Special Orosecutor Lence Ristoska on Thursday said they were not interested in the interrupted ongoing surveillance activities but only in data about surveillance activities conducted between 2008 and 2015 as well as the list of tapped telephones.
 
"There is a lot of documentation that needs to be taken," Ristoska said, adding that "only in this way can we compare whether the orders for special investigative measures and the surveillanced communications actually match".

Earlier, Prosecutor Janeva told reporters in front of the UBK headquarters that they would not back off until the police granted them access to all the required servers and documents, even if that meant they had to stay there until January.

"We are standing still, we discuss, we debate [with the police] but we are still at a standstill," Janeva told the media.

Senior police officials who are part of the ruling VMRO DPMNE party denied access to the prosecutors the entire afternoon and during the night, insisting that the country's security system was at risk.

A half-hour after Janeva talked to the media, Deputy Interior Minister Oliver Andonov accused the prosecutor of "unprofessional work", which he said risked "causing security consequences in the ongoing operations for communication surveillance which are important for national security."

He also accused Janeva of being "insolent" and not informing him on time that her team were already on police premises.

According to the EU-brokered political deal reached this summer, the Interior Ministry is now headed by an interim minister from the ranks of the opposition.

But his deputies and many of the police chiefs who got in the way of the SJO are from the ranks of the ruling VMRO DPMNE party.

The head of the Bureau for Public Safety, Mitko Cavkov, about whom Janeva said it was unclear why he was present, told the media after midnight that the police could not hand over the requested data right away for technical reasons.

"After it was determined that the request for reviewing of the surveillance activities cannot be fulfilled due to technical reasons, as it could interrupt ongoing surveillance measures, the SJO contacted the operator and owner of the equipment, not the Interior Ministry which just owns the system. We are talking about the company Ericsson, whose representatives and experts then arrived.

"There are ongoing checks on how to fulfill the SJO's request without interrupting ongoing activities," Cavkov added.

On September 15, the SJO raised indictments against seven secret police employees for "illegal destruction of documentation" that are believed to be linked to illegal wiretapping allegations. The SJO has said that more indictments may follow as the investigation continues.

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