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News 25 Apr 17

Macedonia SJO to Continue Probes After Deadline Expires

A source close to Macedonia's Special Prosecution, tasked with probing high-level crime, said its investigations will not stop even if its 18-month deadline to raise charges runs out and is not renewed.

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

Due to insufficient political will in the country's gridlocked parliament, Macedonia's Special Prosecution, SJO, will probably not get the extension it seeks to the 18-month deadline to raise charges, which in most cases expires in June and July.

"In its current non-functional state, parliament cannot extend the SJO's deadline ... [as] it would take two-thirds of the MPs to vote positively for this, which is unrealistic," a former head of Macedonia’s Constitutional Court, Trendafil Ivanovski, said.

Formed in autumn 2015 as part of an EU-sponsored political crisis agreement, the SJO has so far launched 14 investigations and filed charges in three cases, almost all concerning officials from the former ruling VMRO DPMNE party, which took power in 2006.

The SJO effectively begun working that December after the opposition handed over the wiretapped materials that they claimed contain proof of many wrongdoings by officials.

Although the SJO has a five-year mandate, the original agreement gave it 18 months following receipt of the wiretaps to raise indictments.

That deadline expires in July. In some other cases, which the SJO took over from the regular prosecution, the deadline is shorter.

Despite the SJO’s call for an extended deadline due to its heavy workload and the obstruction it has faced, parliament - in which work is now stalled by VMRO DPMNE, has been unable to help.

Since the inconclusive December 11 general election, Macedonia has failed to form a new government and is still entangled in political crisis.

The VMRO DPMNE party is blocking the work of parliament, not allowing the new majority, led by the opposition Social Democrats, to elect a new speaker and government.

While VMRO DPMNE, which controls 51 of the 120 seats in parliament, opposes the work of the SJO and is against prolonging its deadline, the Social Democrats and their ethnic Albanian partners, who control 67 seats, support its work.

The SJO says problems over deadlines will not halt its work. This is because the Law on the Special Prosecution stipulates that it will remain free to conduct investigations.

"The Law clearly states that no one can prevent the SJO from running further pre-investigative and investigative procedures and forming new cases. We hope that in future the political constellation is more favourable and then we can again ask for prolongation of the deadline," a source from the SJO told BIRN under condition of anonymity.

Ivanovski said that once the currently stalled transition of power happens, and once the new SDSM-led government is formed, matters will become far easier for the SJO.

"With democracy restored, this institution will take on a different path. By then the regular prosecution, which has failed to do its job according to the law, should also resume its functionality," Ivanovski said.

He added that in that case, criminal investigations prepared by the SJO could be handed over to the regular prosecution which - unburdened from political influence - would then be able to raise charges in courts.

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