A court in Skopje sentenced North Macedonia’s ex-chief special prosecutor Katica Janeva to seven years in prison on June 18 for abuse of office in a high-profile extortion case, while the first suspect in the case, a former TV station owner, got a nine-year prison sentence.
Janeva was detained on August 21, 2019 leaked audio recordings revealed by Italian daily La Verita showed her suspected involvement in the scandal dubbed "Extortion". Her detention irrevocably tarnished the reputation of the Special Prosecution Office (SPO), tasked to probe high-level crime, that she headed. The SPO was later dismissed as a result of the scandal.
The scandal erupted last July when 1TV owner Bojan Jovanovski, aki Boki 13, and his associate Zoran Milevski-Kiceec were detained for extorting €1.5mn from businessman Orce Kamcev, accused in another case dubbed "Empire" that was being investigated by the SPO. Kamcev explained at the time that after he realised that he was the subject of a racket he decided to give Jovanovski €1mn and to record the process with home security cameras and cell phones.
Prosecutors said that the suspects promised Kamcev that he would avoid a prison sentence and his passport will be returned in the Empire case if he paid them off.
Janeva was not present in the courtroom to hear the verdict which was read by the judge Vaska Nikolovska Masevska.
Jovanovski was sentenced to nine years in prison for receiving a reward for illegal influence and for money laundering. He claimed that the verdict was a political decision and that his stay in detention for months was tendentious as he had no intention to flee the country.
The court also ordered the confiscation of their assets. Designer clothes, paintings, furniture and other items, will be confiscated from Jovanovski, as well as €12,000 in cash found in his possession. €50,000 will be confiscated from Janeva.
Until the verdict becomes final, Jovanovski will remain in detention, while Janeva will stay in house arrest.
After he heard the verdict, Jovanovski told the judge to seek the money from ex-PM and leader of Social Democrats, Zoran Zaev, and his brother Vice Zaev, not from him. He announced that his lawyer will file criminal charges against, what he said were "the real perpetrators of crimes in Macedonia."
“All these months it has been shown that the case is not about whitewashing the judicial system,” Jovanovski said.
The third defendant in the Extortion case, Zoran Mileski-Kiceec, pleaded guilty at the beginning of the trial and was sentenced to three years in prison, but is still waiting for the final verdict.
On September 14, 2019, the Council of Public Prosecutors of North Macedonia dismissed Janeva from the position of chief special prosecutor due to her “unprofessional and unethical work". Following her dismissal, the mandate of all special prosecutors were terminated. North Macedonia's regular Public Prosecutor’s Office (JORM) has taken over the SPO’s cases.
The SPO, headed by Janeva, was set up in 2015 under the EU-mediated Przino deal, which ended the political crisis following the wiretapping scandal concerning top officials that broke earlier that year.
The SPO was one of the institutions which enjoyed great support from citizens who hoped it would solve crime and corruption-related cases connected to the previous VMRO-DPMNE government, but expectations faded following the scandal.
The SPO launched a series of investigations against former officials from the now opposition VMRO-DPMNE party, including ex-prime minister Nikola Gruevski, who fled the country to Hungary to avoid serving a prison sentence, former interior minister Gordana Jankulovska, ex-transport minister Mile Janakieski and ex-intelligence chief and Gruevski’s cousin Saso Mijalkov.
Now, the arrest of Janeva and the prison sentence she received is expected to restore trust in justice institutions among North Macedonia’s citizens.
Reform of the judiciary system is one of the crucial demands made by the EU for the country’s further progress in its EU path. North Macedonia along with Albania was invited to launch EU accession talks in March this year and now awaits for negotiation frameworks to be announced before they start the talks.
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