Politics Regional

Former secret police chief of North Macedonia, involved in a scandal of mass surveillance, escaped days before imprisonment

Echoing the disappearance in 2018 of his cousin, former PM Nikola Gruevski, North Macedonia’s former secret police chief, Saso Mijalkov, has disappeared days before a key court verdict could have landed him in jail.

Authorities in North Macedonia confirmed on Monday that they have issued a national arrest warrant for former secret police chief Saso Mijalkov, after police fruitlessly tried to find him at several locations in the capital, Skopje, on Sunday evening, to escort him to house detention on court orders. The authorities are expected to issue an international arrest warrant as well.

The court order for his house detention came on Sunday ahead of a high-profile verdict on the massive wiretapping scandal in which Mijalkov is the principal suspect and defendant. The verdict in the case, in which he stood trial along with 11 other former state and police officials, is expected on Friday.

The search for the former secret police chief has so far been futile. Police on Sunday could not find him at his home in Skopje or in the Marriot hotel, a frequent venue of his, where the media last spotted him in public on Sunday afternoon. Searches of vehicles exiting the capital also yielded no results.

Mijalkov is accused of masterminding the massive illegal wiretapping of hundreds of people during the authoritarian reign of his cousin, former prime minister Nikola Gruevski, who fled the country more than two years ago. He headed the secret police from 2006 to 2015.

He appeared regularly at court sessions during the wiretapping trial, which was codenamed “Target-Fortress” by the prosecution, and pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The verdict in the Target-Fortress trial is expected to provide answers to a key question: who ordered the mass surveillance of people during Gruevski’s time in office?

In recent years, Mijalkov has been placed several times in detention or under house arrest as a suspect in other cases that arose from the revelations of mass illegal wiretapping that were first disclosed to the public by the now ruling, then opposition, Social Democrats, SDSM, in 2015.

The revelations sparked a long, deep political crisis in the country, which only ended in mid-2017 with the ousting of PM Gruevski from power.

The Skopje Criminal Court ordered Mijalkov into house detention this time as a precautionary measure, ahead of the “Target-Fortress” verdict.

His sudden disappearance just ahead of the verdict closely recalls that of his cousin, Gruevski, who, after fleeing a jail sentence in 2018, subsequently received asylum in Hungary.

As with Gruevski’s escape, Mijalkov’s disappearance is bound to spark a political row.

Prime Minister and Social Democratic leader Zoran Zaev told the media on Monday that he was disappointed by news of Mijalkov’s disappearance, and still hopes the authorities can track him down.

“The first thing is for him to be found, and, if he is convicted, for him to serve his sentence. I expect complete answers about what is going on, and a full investigation,” Zaev said.

The former ruling and now opposition VMRO DPMNE party, which Gruevski formerly led, on Monday called for government resignations over the scandal, alleging that Mijalkov could not have escaped without the government’s own help.

It accused the Zaev government of hatching an alleged political deal with Mijalkov that would allow his escape in exchange for his help in undermining the current leadership of VMRO DPMNE.

Over the past two years, Mijalkov has criticised the current leadership of VMRO DPMNE under Hristijan Mickoski who succeeded Gruevski at the helm of the party. Zaev on Monday flatly dismissed the claims.

The source: Balkan Insight

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