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The former Macedonian prime minister and former leader of the right-wing VMRO-DPMNE party, Nikola Gruevski, was sentenced to a two-year jail term on 23 May, on charges of abuse of office and corruption. The charges were made on the basis of evidence that emerged from an illegal mass surveillance programme orchestrated under his own government.
The grounds for the prosecution were provided by tapes documenting discussions between Gruevski and other former high officials, which emerged following the exposure of an illegal wiretapping campaign that is alleged to have been used by Gruevski to control his enemies during part of his decade in power.
According to the ruling, in 2012 Gruevski had “received a reward” in the form of a luxury Mercedes-Benz car worth €575,000 after influencing a member of the tender commission to favour a particular car dealer.
In February 2015, the leader of the then-opposition party SDSM, Zoran Zaev, started releasing leaked recordings that were part of an illegal mass surveillance campaign carried out since 2011.
The opposition party accused Gruevski, who was prime minister at the time of the mass surveillance, and his cousin Sašo Mijalkov, who headed the country’s secret services, of having masterminded the programme.
Computer Weekly revealed that the UK sold mobile phone surveillance equipment, known as International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) catchers, to Macedonia in 2012. British authorities approved the export licence from Gamma International UK Ltd, despite concerns over human rights breaches occurring in Macedonia at the time.
Following a push from EU institutions, in 2015 a Public Prosecutor’s Office was set up in Macedonia with the task of investigating crimes arising from the content of illegally intercepted communication. Its investigations continue.
Gruevski was forced to leave power in 2016 following mass protests, but a new government – a coalition made of the centre-left SDSM party and of Albanian ethnic parties – was finally formed in May 2017.
The case, following an investigation codenamed Tank, was a first-instance ruling and Gruevski may still appeal the conviction. He is under investigation in four further cases, codenamed Violence, Trajectory, Titanic and TNT. Accusations include vote-rigging, bribery and the instigation of violence.