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News 01 Sep 17

Macedonia's Wiretap Whistleblower Hails 'Fairytale' Ending

In his first public appearance, one of the whistleblowers who exposed the illegal wiretapping scandal in Macedonia says the fall of Nikola Gruevski's government was like a 'fairytale' ending to the drama.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje
Gjorgi Lazarevski. Photo: NOVA TV

Gjorgi Lazarevski, one of three former Macedonian secret policemen who are credited with handed over wiretapped recordings of official conversations to the then opposition leader, Zoran Zaev, said he was delighted that his actions had exposed and ultimately brought down the government of Nikola Gruevski.

"I am still recovering. I am simply not the same man any more. But the satisfaction I drew from the fact that we managed to uncover this systemic evil is very important," Lazarevski said in his first public appearance, in an interview for NOVA TV.

In February 2015, the then opposition Social Democrats, led by Zaev, began releasing batches of covertly recorded tapes that they said proved Gruevski's government was behind the illegal surveillance of some 20,000 people, including ministers, politicians, businessmen, journalists, scholars and others.

The opposition claimed the tapes proved that top government members and their associates had committed other crimes as well, including schemes to rig the 2013 local election and the 2014 general and presidential election, manipulate the justice system, keep a tight grip on media and cover up the murder of a young man by a police officer.

Many of these allegations are now being investigated by the Special Prosecution, the SJO, or already resulted in charges being brought against top former officials, including Gruevski.

At the time, the then Prime Minister claimed the whole affair was a political set-up instigated by unnamed foreign intelligence services.

After a prolonged political crisis, Zaev's Social Democrats, SDSM, finally formed the new government in May, ending the 11-year reign of Gruevski's VMRO DPMNE party.

Lazarevski said he first found out that the secret police – for which he worked from the 1980s onwards – was illegally wiretapping a massive number of people in 2008.

He said he then spent three years with a colleague, Zvonko Krstevski, documenting these illegal activities. "Zvonko and I shared the same dissatisfaction from what was going on," Lazarevski said.

He said he decided that the compromising materials should be stored after finding out that even the then Interior Minister, Gordana Jankuloska, was among those being wiretapped.

"When I first found out that that even the Interior Minister was being wiretapped ... and when I heard the content of such conversations, I told Zvonko, 'We must keep this,'" Lazarevski said.

Later, they decided to hand the materials they had collected to the former secret police chief, Zoran Verushevski, because they trusted him. Verushevski then handed them to Zaev.

Lazarevski added that, at that time, when the secret service was headed by Gruevski's cousin, Saso Mijalkov, they did not trust the system or their superiors.

In 2015, soon after the opposition started revealing the tapes, Lazarevski, Kostovski and Verushevski ended up behind bars after being accused of illegal wiretapping and of espionage on behalf of unnamed foreign secret services.

The charges were part of a case codenamed "Coup", in which Zaev was accused of trying to blackmail Prime Minister Gruevski into resigning by threatening to publish the compromising tapes.

Kostovski later made a deal with the prosecution, admitting guilt and getting three years in jail.

However, Lazarevski, who spent 11 months in detention, said he was put in a solitary confinement after refusing to sign a similar deal.

"I spent the first month in detention. I cannot complain of pressures although being isolated was pressure by itself. The first month, I spent communicating frequently with the prosecutor in charge but after I refused to sign the confession, I was put in a cell that looked like a solitary confinement," he said.

Regarding the change in power that took place in May, Lazarevski said he still could hardly believe that what he fought for had come about.

"This is like a fairytale for me. What happened is the exact same thing I was hoping for because at one point I was in despair, thinking that this [past] regime will never crumble and that they had got it all covered," he said.

"Probably, it is worth it living through this experience in your life. At least you can say to yourself that you did not live in vain," Lazarevski said.

In January, the SJO, which was formed to investigate alleged wrongdoings associated with the wiretapping affair, dropped all charges against Zaev and the others involved in the "Coup" case.

This came after the SJO in November 2016 said all the evidence suggested that other people from the secret police – and not foreign secret services, as Gruevski claimed – had carried out the illegal wiretapping activity.

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