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News 18 Nov 16

Feud Over Macedonian Key Court Erupts Into Open

Simmering tension in Skopje's Criminal Court over the contoversial Court President, Vladimir Pancevski, has burst into the open since a number of fellow judges publicly demanded his removal.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
macedonian judges. Photo: Skopje Criminal Court

Macedonia's top court is in a state of unprecedented turmoil after 15 colleagues of Court President Vladimir Pancevski demanded he stop pressuring fellow judges and misusing his position for personal vendettas and called on him to resign.

"The judges no longer want to be hostages to the overall situation," lawyer Zvonko Davidovic said. "They have been silent so far... but it is positive that they recently gathered the courage to pinpoint all the problems they are facing and raise their voices."

On Thursday, the Macedonian Academy of Science, MANU, said it was "worried by the condition of Macedonian judiciary" that it said was a result "of the undermined justice system in which political and personal interests take priority over human freedoms."

After being sued last week for trying to influence a fellow judge, Ilija Dzolev, whom Pancevski in return sued for "falsely reporting a criminal act", 15 colleagues of Pancevski on Tuesday told him to stop misusing the court and, in a signed letter to the Judicial Council, demanded his dismissal.

The judges accused Pancevski of misusing the court's official website to wage a personal feud with Judge Dzolev.

"It is unacceptable that the court's official website be used for the publication of personal correspondence and standpoints of the Court President, who has been using his office from a position of strength," the judges wrote to the Judicial Council, adding that personal relations between judges are now "completely distorted".

In his response on Wednesday, Pancevski insisted that the letter was part of a "smear campaign" against the court waged by "certain outcasts".

Equating himself with the institution he leads, Pancevski told the media that the court was "being spat on without any arguments".

The head of the Judicial Council, Zoran Karadzovski, on Wednesday refused to start a procedure based on the letter, insisting that the judges' signatures on the letter were not legible.

Over the past year, ever since the Special Prosecution, SJO, was set up to investigate allegations of high-level corruption, Pancevski has been accused of following orders from top politicians to obstruct the work of the SJO. He has denied the claims.

However, the court that he presides over has in the past year rejected almost all demands from the SJO to detain and secure the presence of suspects in court.

Civil right activist and law expert Mirjana Najcevska told Fokus weekly that the recent crisis over the court and the revelations of many misuses there "is one of the most significant turning points in the process of the re-animation of Macedonian democracy".

The tensions have spilled over into other fields as well.

In another letter published this week by the media, members of the court's administration accused Pancevski of harrassment. This situation escalated on Tuesday when a dissatisfied court administration employee was accused of assaulting the court's spokesperson, which he denied.
After the incident, Pancevski accused the court employee of being an opposition activist, which was widely reported in the pro-government media.

In its progress report for Macedonia, published in November 9, the European Commission criticized the condition of the judiciary.

Brussels said the situation had worsened ever since 2014 and that the achievements of the previous decade's reform process had been undermined by repeated political interference.

“The obstructions faced by the newly established Special Prosecutor [tasked with probing high-level crime and corruption] have shown the need to address effectively the lack of independence of the judiciary and to prevent selective justice," the report noted.

The turmoil in and around the court comes at less than a month before the December 11 early general elections that it is hoped will resolve the long-standing political crisis in the country.

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