Macedonia: Phone Tap Pardon Storm

Amnesty of two highly placed suspects in spying scandal brings demand for president's ouster.

Macedonia: Phone Tap Pardon Storm

Amnesty of two highly placed suspects in spying scandal brings demand for president's ouster.

President Boris Trajkovski is facing threats of possible impeachment for quashing charges against two top intelligence officials accused of tapping telephones in a scandal labelled the Macedonian Watergate.

Trajkovski last week issued a presidential decree pardoning Dosta Dimovska, currently head of the intelligence agency, and Aleksandar Cvetkov, a former senior interior ministry official, a week after the prosecutor filed charges against them over the affair.

In the ensuing storm of protest, critics said presidential pardons could be exercised only after a conviction, not before the charges even came to court.

Trajkovski appointed Dimovska to her present job after she resigned all her positions in the VMRO-DPMNE party, which was thrown out of power in last year's general election.

She was interior minister in the VMRO-DPMNE administration when the phone tapping first came to light in January 2001. The then opposition Social Democrat party presented transcripts of tapped phone conversations made by 190 people including opposition leaders, prominent politicians, journalists - as well as Trajkovski himself.

A statement from the president's office last week said there were "no documents or evidence to prove the so-called phone-tapping affair". He said the charges were brought for political motives.

The Social Democrats, now in power, denounced the decision as shocking. Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski commented, "Until today nobody was sure whether Dosta Dimovska and Aleksandar Cvetkov were guilty. But there is no more room for doubt."

The prime minister said Trajkovski had "seriously violated the human rights of hundreds of citizens". He called on Trajkovski to explain his decision.

Skopje media immediately speculated that Trajkovski could face possible impeachment. "Leave!" said a front page headline in the daily Vest next to a photo of the president. Other papers accused Trajkovski of abusing his presidential rights by blocking the judiciary in one of the biggest scandals since Macedonia became independent.

The president's office said the people who really ordered and carried out the phone tapping had escaped prosecution.

Speaking about the pardon, Dimovska told Radio Free Europe, " A prosecution would weaken my position and obstruct my return to the political scene. If I were removed from my current post, the position of the president would also be weakened ahead of presidential elections."

Local media have long speculated that Dimovska and Trajkovski, once prominent members of VMRO, would form their own party or try to win over some factions ahead of its congress in May. They both left the VMRO over disputes with its leader Ljubco Georgievski.

Initially, the Social Democrats said there was no legal ground for impeachment of the president but Crvenkovski said later that a final decision would be taken after they heard his explanation. "At this point all options remain open," he said.

Impeachment could be initiated if two-thirds of the deputies in parliament requested an assessment by the constitutional court on whether the president acted within the framework of the constitution. If this court decided the president had acted improperly he would automatically lose his job.

Trajkovski issued a second statement saying he had notified the government of his decision and had acted within his constitutional authority. He also accused the government of having failed in the past to investigate financial pyramid schemes and Macedonian connections with Serb mafia gangs.

Legal experts generally agreed that Trajkovski's pardon decree was technically legal but politically unwise. They said the case set a new precedent since there had never before been a case where a defendant was pardoned prior to conviction.

Trajkovski's former tutor, law professor Gorge Marijanovic, told the newspaper Utrinski vesnik, "I'm really sorry that I can't change the grades I gave Trajkovski when he was a student."

The Association of Macedonian Journalists, on behalf of journalists who were tapped, published forms in the press for readers to file criminal charges against Dimovska.

Stevan Pavlovski, a former public prosecutor, told IWPR that Dimovska could not be criminally prosecuted as the journalists demanded, now that she had been pardoned.

The lawyer acting for the 18 journalists who were tapped, Saso Andonovski, told IWPR he would continue to battle for compensation. "Trajkovski's decision is good for us since it confirmed who was the culprit in this affair," he said.

Todor Stojcevski is a journalist at the weekly political magazine Denes.

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