Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Lawyers Attack Political Pressures in Macedonia Trial
Defence lawyers for the men accused of killing seven foreigners in a staged anti-terrorist raid in 2002 have accused the government of leaning on the judiciary to secure a quick guilty verdict.
They object to the fact that two of the accused are now taking the stand as witnesses for the prosecution, insisting this constitutes a violation of the criminal code.
Three former police officials and a businessman are charged over the killing of six Pakistanis and an Indian national. The killings were allegedly carried out to look like an anti-terrorist raid, to portray Macedonia as an American ally in the “war against terror”.
In April, the Macedonian government charged the former interior minister Ljube Boskovski with masterminding the killings. Boskovski, who holds dual citizenship, fled to Croatia where he is waiting for the authorities to complete an investigation and decide whether he will stand trial there for the deaths.
The killings, which took place near the capital in an area called Rastanski Lozja in March 2002, promptly attracted international criticism. Journalists and human rights activists soon concluded the men were illegal economic migrants, not terrorists planning attacks on foreign embassies, as Boskovski’s police claimed at the time.
The indictment says the accused lured the foreign nationals - now believed to have been migrants trying to get to Greece - into Macedonia, killed them and planted weapons and uniforms on them to make them look like terrorists.
“It was a monstrous fabrication to get the attention of the international community,” said Mirjana Kontevska, interior ministry spokeswoman, announcing the charges in April.
Since then, many expected the case to be quickly wrapped up, as the government said it had sufficient evidence to convict the men.
But defence lawyers and some legal analysts say that in its eagerness to close what seemed a clear case of murder - which had blackened Macedonia’s reputation - the government has influenced the handling of the case.
Lawyers for Goran Stojkov, who commanded the now disbanded Lions special police unit, his deputy Boban Utkovski, intelligence officer Aleksandar Cvetkov and businessman Mitko Kikerekov, say their clients are victims of “politically motivated revenge”.
Law professor Nikola Tupancevski told IWPR, “Politics and law have been blended and it is difficult to determine to what extent the law is being applied and where politics has influenced the investigation and the court proceedings.”
Tupancevski says political interference was evident in the way that two defendants had changed their testimony and had taken the stand for the prosecution.
Charges were dropped against two Lions officers, Goran Jovancevski and Nikolco Najdovski, who are now key prosecution witnesses.
Aleksandar Tortevski, Goran Stojkov’s lawyer, says the prosecution violated the criminal code by dropping the charges in May and giving the former defendants “protected witness” status.
He says this is because the law on criminal procedure, making such a move possible, was only amended several months later - in July.
Law professor Vlado Kambovski says it was only after the law was amended that the prosecutor had the liberty to decide whether to drop charges against some defendants and use them as witnesses against others. Kambovski told IWPR the defence lawyers had valid objections.
The trial is being held behind closed doors with a limited number of reporters present. The court has barred the prosecution from commenting in public on the case.
Najdovski, who was among the police who shot dead the seven, told the court Stojkov had informed him that the raid was about to take place.
“Both Stojkov and Utkovski were shooting as well,” he said. “After we killed them, Stojkov ordered us to take two bags from the police vehicle filled with automatic weapons and pistols. We placed the weapons next to the bodies and put bombs in their pockets.” Najdovski added that the dead men had not carried any weapons previously.
Jovancevski, also present during the shootings, gave a similar testimony, saying Stojkov had ordered them to get ready to execute “a terrorist group”. He confirmed that the dead men had not had weapons on them before they were planted.
Jakim Naumov, second lawyer for Stojkov, said Jovancevski and Najdovski had only agreed to be witnesses for the prosecution after meeting Hari Kostov, a former interior minister and until recently prime minister, along with the intelligence service director, Branko Bojcevski.
“This was a deal hatched between certain political structures and the proof is the fact that Najdovski has admitted publicly that he met Bojcevski and Kostov,” Naumov told IWPR.
Stojkov has asked the court to protect him from what he calls political pressures, saying he was offered release in return for taking the stand against Boskovski.
Kikerekov, accused of producing a CD that was later to serve as evidence of a plan by the alleged militants to attack embassies in Skopje, told the court Kostov had also urged him to sign a written confession. “After I declined, he threatened me with life in prison,” Kikerekov said.
Mirjana Najcevska, of Macedonia’s Helsinki committee for human rights, told IWPR her organisation had noted irregularities in the arrest and detention of the men.
“They were all arrested in the early morning hours as police entered their homes, with automatic weapons,” she said. “There was no need for such a thing, as none of them was hiding from the police, or resisted arrest.”
Najcevska told IWPR that the Helsinki committee objected to the treatment of the defendants in custody.
“Since they have been detained they have only had the right to 15 minutes out of their cell. They are also not able to have free contact with their lawyers,” Najcevska said.
The trial continues next week, when the prosecutors will bring other witnesses to testify about the killing of the seven men.
Mitko Jovanov is a journalist with the daily Dnevnik
- Europe & Eurasia
- Latin America
- Middle East & North Africa
- Focus Pages
- Training & Resources
- Print Publications
- IWPR Spotlight
As coronavirus sweeps the globe, IWPR’s network of local reporters, activists and analysts are examining the economic, social and political impact of this era-defining pandemic.