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Macedonia: 10 intelligence staff named in wiretap scandal

Associated Press Associated Press 18/11/2016 By KONSTANTIN TESTORIDES, Associated Press

SKOPJE, Macedonia — Court authorities in Macedonia designated 10 former and active intelligence service employees, including a former head of the agency, as suspects in the illegal wiretapping of more than 5,800 phone numbers between 2008 and 2015, a scandal that plunged the country into a deep political crisis.

The announcement on Friday has stoked tensions ahead of next month's planned early elections, with the governing conservative party accusing the prosecutor's office of working for the opposition.

The special prosecutor's office said in a statement that it also believes the illegal eavesdropping continued after the scandal broke in early 2015.

The 10, including an unnamed former head of the intelligence service, are suspected of abuse of power and authority. Their names were not made public. The special prosecutor's office said any charges would be brought after the conclusion of an investigation into the case.

The large-scale wiretapping scandal, whose 20,000 alleged victims included politicians, journalists, judges, police and religious leaders, was revealed last year by the country's leftist opposition leader, Zoran Zaev.

He laid the blame on conservative former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski — who governed from 2006 until earlier this year and is running for re-election next month — and former intelligence chief Saso Mijalkov, who is Gruevski's cousin.

The conservatives deny the charges — fingering unnamed foreign spies — and accused Zaev of plotting a coup.

The ensuing political crisis, the deepest since Macedonia declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, has resulted in early elections now scheduled for Dec. 11 after being twice postponed earlier this year.

Campaigning starts Monday, and Gruevski's conservative party issued a press release accusing chief special prosecutor Katica Janeva's office of being Zaev's "extended arm" and interfering with the election campaign.

Zaev had published dozens of allegedly illegally wire-taped conversations last year, claiming Gruevski and his aides were involved in multi-million corruption deals, fabricating election results and intimidating political opponents.

Prosecutor Fatime Fetai told reporters in the capital Skopje Friday that the special prosecutor's office has evidence that the unlawful interception of communications continued into this year, albeit on a smaller scale, despite the revelations nearly two years ago.

She also said two of the wiretapping systems used from 2008-2015 have since been destroyed.

"That significantly delayed (efforts) to gather evidence," she said.

The special prosecutor's office already has opened another investigation into the destruction of the systems. Five intelligence service officials have been designated as suspects in that case.

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