Macedonian court blocks arrests of top officials over election fraud

Macedonian court blocks arrests of top officials over election fraud
By Valentina Dimitrievska February 13, 2016

A Skopje court rejected on February 13 a request from Macedonia’s special prosecutor’s office for the arrest of eight high-level members of the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party, including two former ministers, in an election fraud case.

The special prosecutor’s office, led by Katica Janeva, was created late in 2015, as part of the EU-brokered Przino agreement to overcome the political crisis in Macedonia. It is investigating allegations based on illegal recordings of incriminating conversations between senior officials obtained by the opposition Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM).

On February 12 the special prosecutor’s office said it had launched its first investigation into election frauds involving two ex-ministers and top officials from the governing party. It has since criticised the decision by the Skopje basic court not to detain the eight officials.

“The criminal court missed to opportunity to be recorded in the history of the country. Complaints will follow!”, the special prosecution office said on its Facebook page on February 13, after the court rejected proposals for detention.

Names were not revealed, but the prosecutor’s statement lists former ministers of interior affairs and transport among the suspects. Gordana Jankulovska and Mile Janakieski were at the top positions in the ministry of interior and transport, respectively in 2012, in the government led by prime minister Nikola Gruevski from the conservative VMRO-DPMNE party.

"[I]n 2012, the suspects, former ministers of interior affairs and transport, all members of the party’s executive committee, as well as other unknown persons abuse their positions, and in aim to stay on power at local and state level, they created a group, which committed criminal activities concerning elections," the special prosecutors said in a statement sent to bne IntelliNews.

The suspects have been charged, among other things, with criminal association and election bribery. If found guilty, they could receive prison terms of up to three years.

Macedonia held local elections in 2013 and a general election in 2014, in which the VMRO-DPMNE-led coalition won an overwhelming majority.

The election fraud investigation case, named Titanik, reveals that various methods were used to influence the election process, such as violence, misuse of government facilities for partisan purposes, abuse of media and public funds, as well as unlawfully financing the election campaign.

The election process was “entirely criminalised”, the statement from the special prosecutor said, citing the illegal issue of identity cards and unlawful insertion of people into the voters’ list. According to prosecutors, some 15,000 new identity numbers were issued illegally for electoral purposes, as well as 35,000 identity cards, which are still in the interior ministry.

The special prosecution office asked the court to detain the eight persons under investigation in aim to prevent them from influencing witnesses.

News website Reporter said on February 12 that both Janakieski and Jankuloska appeared before the court, as well as Edmond Temelko, the mayor of Pustec, an ethnic Macedonian municipality in Albania whose citizens allegedly were pressured to vote in Macedonia for the governing party. Temelko, according to the basic court which also has a criminal department, should present himself at the court every week.

Jankulovska resigned in May 2015 following deadly clashes in Kumanovo, between an armed group from Kosovo and the police, in which 18 people including 10 policemen died. This coincided with the deepening political crisis and mass protests in Skopje.

The intelligence service chief, who is a cousin of prime minister Nikola Gruevski, Saso Mijalkov, also resigned at the time, as well as transport minister Mile Janakieski. The transport minister was allegedly involved in corrupt activities and election fraud, along with Jankuloska, according to the recorded conversations released by opposition leader Zoran Zaev.  In February last year, Zaev accused Gruevski of having ordered a massive wiretapping campaign that targeted more than 20,000 Macedonians.

Early elections are scheduled for April 24, even though the opposition SDSM party has warned it will boycott the vote unless steps are taken to make sure it will be free and democratic vote.

Along with early elections and the inclusion of some opposition MPs in the government, setting up the special prosecutor’s office was one of the key steps taken under the Przno agreement.

Macedonians believe that the court will take some measures, but do not expect anything spectacular.

“All institutions in Macedonia including courts are under monitoring of the EU and the international community so the court must take measures,” Viktorija, a Skopje resident told bne IntelliNews. However, many claim the courts in Macedonia are under government influence, so expectations are low.

The special prosecution also said it is in the process of launching an investigation into a corruption scandal involving Magyar Telekom, which has a telecommunication company in Macedonia, as well as the Nadez (Hope) case involving SDSM ex-president and former prime minister Branko Crvenkovski for allegedly paying NGOs and journalists to create bad image of VMRO-DPMNE party and its leader Gruevski.