November 18, 2016 / 3:35 PM / 3 years ago

Macedonian prosecutor investigates secret police over tapping of 4,000 phones

SKOPJE (Reuters) - A special prosecutor in Macedonia has launched criminal proceedings against 10 people, including top officials of the secret police, over their suspected role in a phone-tapping scandal that brought down the prime minister.

“The evidence shows that from 2008 until 2015 the communication systems in the Security and Counter-intelligence Agency (secret police) were used to unlawfully follow the communications of 4,286 phone numbers, without any court orders,” said Fatime Fetai, a member of the prosecuting team.

Ten people are being investigated on suspicion of listening in to the conversations of politicians, journalists and businessmen, she told a news conference on Friday.

The Balkan country was thrown into crisis in February 2015 when the opposition accused then-prime minister Nikola Gruevski of authorizing the tapping of more than 20,000 people’s phones.

In an EU-brokered deal to end the crisis, parties agreed to hold snap elections and set up the office of the special prosecutor to investigate.

Gruevski and his officials have denied involvement in the phone tapping, and in an initial investigation last year the state prosecutor indicted the leader of the opposition Social Democratic Union, Zoran Zaev.

That led to street protests and an opposition boycott of parliament, with protesters accusing Gruevski of interfering in the work of the judiciary.

As part of the European Union agreement, Gruevski, who led the country for almost a decade as head of the right-wing VMRO-DPMNE, stepped down in January. But he told Reuters on Friday he would seek to return to the post in elections on Dec. 11.

Reporting by Kole Casule; Writing by Ivana Sekularac

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