North Macedonia’s former secret police chief Saso Mijalkov in front of the Skopje Criminal Court. Archive photo: EPA/EFE/Gerogi Licovski
In a first-instance verdict that may be appealed, a court in North Macedonia has jailed former intelligence agency chief Saso Mijalkov for three years and the leader of the small opposition Democratic Party of Albanians, Menduh Thaci, for three years and two months, for applying illegal influence and for misuse of office.
The two were sentenced as part of a Special Prosecution case, codenamed “Titanic 2”, for making a deal during the 2013 local elections.
The agreement was to influence the decisions of the then members of the Electoral Commission, DIK, so that the vote for the post of mayor in the southeastern municipality of Strumica would be annulled and repeated.
Mijalkov was found guilty of “illegally influencing” the election. Thaci was found guilty of “misuse of office”, along with several former members of the DIK.
Former DIK member Bedredin Ibrahimi received four-and-a-half years in jail, while former DIK members Aneta Stefanovska,Vlatko Sajkovski and Saso Srcev were sentenced to three years in jail.
The charges said that Mijalkov illegally hatched an agreement with Thaci under which DIK members who were under Thaci’s influence would accept appeals against the election result in Strumica that the then ruling VMRO DPMNE party had submitted.
They resulted in the vote in Strumica being annulled, which gave a second chance to the VMRO DPMNE candidate, Vasil Pishev, who lost the first round of the race.
In exchange, Mijalkov promised Thaci that DIK members under his own influence would support the same thing in the elections in the Skopje municipality of Cair, where the DPA candidate was at a disadvantage.
According to the then law, members of DIK were elected on the proposition of the main political parties.
Mijalkov and Thaci both pleaded not guilty in the case.
The Special Prosecution was set up in 2015 as part of an EU-sponsored political crisis agreement.
It was tasked with investigating high-level crimes that had come to light from the many wiretapped conversations released by the then opposition and now ruling Social Democratic Party, SDSM.
In one of the wiretaps, released in early 2015, Mijalkov, who was former prime minister Nikola Gruevski’s right hand during the 11-year rule of the VMRO DPMNE party, is heard discussing the trade-off with Thaci.
“You will vote [for the election in Strumica] to be annulled because we have an agreement on Cair, come on!” Mijalkov was heard telling Thaci.
This is the first verdict out of four active court cases against Mijalkov that the Special Prosecution has brought.
An ongoing SJO case, codenamed Target-Fortress, accuses Mijalkov of masterminding the massive illegal wiretapping of thousands of people, including ministers, judges, journalists, opposition members and many other top officials during the VMRO DPMNE era. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.