North Macedonia’s former secret police chief was handed 12 years in prison Friday for running a sprawling illegal wiretapping operation that plunged the country into a political crisis in 2015.
Saso Mijalkov, one of the most powerful figures in the former regime led by ex-prime minister Nikola Gruevski, was among 11 people sentenced for the surveillance campaign by the criminal court in Skopje.
While delivering the verdict, which can be appealed, a judge said it was a message that “there are no untouchables” in the Balkan state.
“When officials with that kind of power break the law, it is a demolition of the foundations of the state”, said the leading judge in the case, Dzeneta Begtovic.
According to the verdict, the secret service tapped almost 5,000 telephone numbers without a court order between 2008 and 2015, with the goal of gaining political and economic advantages.
Among the targets were politicians from both the government and the opposition, journalists, NGO leaders and other influential figures.
The scheme was revealed by then-opposition leader and now Prime Minister Zoran Zaev in February 2015, precipitating a political crisis that ended with Gruevski’s ouster after more than a decade in power.
The former strongman later fled to Hungary to evade a corruption conviction in 2018.
Former intelligence chief Mijalkov, who is Gruevski’s first cousin, was feared to have followed a similar path earlier this week when police could not locate him for some 48 hours starting on Sunday.
The 55-year-old reappeared Tuesday afternoon, claiming he had been in isolation for possible Covid-19 symptoms.
He was taken into prison custody after the ruling.
Also convicted was former interior minister Gordana Jankulovska, who was sentenced to four years in prison.
The harshest sentences of 15 years were delivered in absentia to two former secret service agents who have decamped to Greece.