North Macedonia’s government said on Tuesday that it has decided to form an “operational” anti-graft team headed by Interior Minister Oliver Spasovski and including other top officials.
The team will “work uncompromisingly and through a coordinated approach in the fight against crime and corruption”, the government said in a statement.
Justice Minister Renata Deskoska and the heads of the Public Safety Bureau, the Financial Police, the Customs Office and the Public Revenue Office are also going to be part of the team.
The team “is fully prepared to put itself at disposal of the Public Prosecution and the courts” so that it can assist them in fulfilling their legal duties, the statement added.
The formation of the new body comes amid the continuing ‘Extortion’ case scandal that has tarnished the credibility of the crime-fighting Special Prosecution, SJO, endangered the reputation of the Social Democratic-led government of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, and caused alarm among the country’s Western allies.
The case has been unfolding since July 15, when the regular Prosecution for Organised Crime and Corruption opened an investigation into businessman Bojan Jovanovski, and placed him and his suspected accomplice, Zoran Milevski, alias Zoki Kiceec, under arrest.
It also seized chief Special Prosecutor Katica Janeva’s phones to check if she had connections with the two suspects.
Jovanovski and Milevski are suspected of extorting money from a third person, the businessman Orce Kamcev – who is himself a suspect in another case run by the Special Prosecution – by allegedly offering to help him either avoid a jail sentence, or get a lighter sentence, by using their alleged influence with the Special Prosecution, which investigates allegations of high-level crime.
On Tuesday, the court in Skopje extended Jovanovski and Milevski’s custody remand for another 30 days.
Meanwhile, the Prosecution for Organised Crime on Monday and Tuesday summoned two Special Prosecutors to give statements about the case. It is expected that it will also summon Katica Janeva in the coming days.
The affair took on a more serious dimension for the government on Thursday last week, when an Italian newspaper, La Verita, started publishing recordings on which Janeva’s voice could be heard, and on which what was reported to be the voice of Jovanovski mentioned his acquaintance with Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and assured Kamcev that the North Macedonian premier wouldn’t cause them any problems.
Janeva has confirmed that it was her voice on the recordings but has insisted that she was negotiating with Kamcev over another unnamed case, and that her actions were legitimate. Zaev has categorically denied any involvement in the affair.
The country’s European and US allies have expressed concern about the case, demanding that the authorities deal with it swiftly and uncover all who might have been involved.
North Macedonia hopes to finally get its long-postponed date for the start of its EU accession talks this autumn.