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Cablegate: Macedonia: Government Uses State Organs to Enforce

VZCZCXRO5057
PP RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSL RUEHSR
DE RUEHSQ #0601/01 3480911
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 140911Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY SKOPJE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8750
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE 0579
RUESEN/SKOPJE BETA
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEAWJA/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHDC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 SKOPJE 000601

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/12/2019
TAGS: PGOV XG ZL MK
SUBJECT: MACEDONIA: GOVERNMENT USES STATE ORGANS TO ENFORCE
LOYALTY AND SILENCE DISSENT

REF: SKOPJE 522

Classified By: Classified by Ambassador Reeker for reasons 1.5 (b) and
(d)

1. (C) SUMMARY: Over the past month, it appears that Prime
Minister Gruevski and his VMRO inner circle have used the
judicial and policing arms of the state to enforce party
discipline and quell dissent, which has contributed to an
increasing climate of fear. The government has been using a
catch-all corruption charge of "abuse of office" or "misuse
of official position" against members of the political elite
in Macedonia. Highly publicized arrests, detentions or
investigations of current and former ministers, party
members, and the opposition have put pressure on the
political elite in Macedonia to refrain from challenging or
criticizing the Gruevski government. We have also heard
complaints from non-governmental organizations whose members
have been called in by the police for "informative talks" on
their actions. Moreover, these tactics can be sold to the
Macedonian public as the government's valiant efforts against
corruption, which helps maintain public support for these
abusive actions.

Friends Become Enemies of the State: Trenkoski and Besimi
-------------------------------------

2. (C) One recent high profile arrest was of Georgi
Trenkoski, former manager of the Macedonian Health Fund and
ruling VMRO-DPMNE party member. Trenkoski had the reputation
for being one of the cleanest bureaucrats in the Macedonian
Government and was given a "gold star" award for excellent
management in 2007. In July, he resigned from his position on
principle, disagreeing with Gruevski,s current policies. He
is also an alumnus of the U.S. State Department's Ron Brown
Fellowship Program and has close ties to the international
community. On 3 November, he was publicly arrested on charges
of "misuse of official position" and accused of authorizing
the payment of a pharmaceutical company twice for the same
shipment. Trenkoski told the Ambassador before his arrest
that he had been threatened with legal action by the PM,s
Chief of Staff Martin Protoger. Protoger hotly denied this to
us. The arrest occurred on the street with press
"conveniently" nearby--it was evident that select "government
friendly" media were tipped off ahead of the arrest. The
papers condemned Trenkoski as corrupt and ran with the story
immediately after he was picked up by police.

3. (C) In a 10 November meeting with the Ambassador, fellow
Ron Brown alumni and close associates of Trenkoski informed
the Ambassador that the entire event was politically
motivated and engineered by the Prime Minister for the sake
of punishing Trenkoski for speaking out of turn even though
he did so privately. They firmly believed that Trenkoski was
innocent and that the charges were meant as a message, not
only to him, but to others who might consider crossing the
party. They claimed Gruevski was making an example out of
Trenkoski and that he was using his political power over the
judiciary to bring &trumped up8 charges against political
enemies.

4. (C) Another notable case is the recent allegation against
Minister of Economy Fatmir Besimi for the previous
government's decision to sell shares of Skopje,s
publicly-owned transport company. (Besimi held the same
position in the 2002-2006 SDSM-DUI government.) A preliminary
investigation into the legality of the sale was opened in
2007, but did not lead to any arrests or charges. Allegations
in the case resurfaced 7-8 November against Besimi (and
former SDSM Finance Minister Popovski), almost four years
after the event in question. Both Besimi and especially
Popovski enjoy reputations as clean politicians, a relative
rarity here. In a 12 November meeting, Besimi told us that he
sees clear political motives for this case, mainly to ruin
his reputation, to reduce his effectiveness in seeking reform
in the energy sector, and perhaps to pressure DUI leader Ali
Ahmeti to fire him or force his resignation. He is determined
not to resign, but if indeed criminal charges are brought
against him, he feels he would have to do so as he could not
carry out his duties effectively. Besimi told the Ambassador
on 23 November that he thought the current threat had passed,
but he noted that government investigators are always
snooping around his ministry and collecting data that VMRO
can use against him. Popovski was questioned for hours by a
plain clothes police officers, but no charges have been
levied as of 25 November.

Pre Trial Detention: A Method to Create Fear and Ruin

Reputations
---------------------------------------

5. (C) Macedonian law allows for people accused of a crime to
spend time in pre-trial detention (or jail) for a minimum of
30 days, with a possible extension to 180 days if a council
of three judges orders a 60-day extension for further
investigation and a superior court offers an additional
90-day extension, allowed only in cases for which the crime
under investigation is subject to a sentencing guideline of
at least 5 years. The detention period gives the
investigative judge time to interview witnesses without
interference by the defendant, but it also can be ordered if
the judge feels the defendant might flee or might commit the
same or another crime. In some cases, the judge will "amend"
the charges to allow for more time behind bars. Pre-trial
detention is an effective tool for a government that wants to
create a climate of fear because not only does it lock
someone in jail for at least 30 days, it also does
irreparable damage to their public and professional
reputation. The accused's reputation often does not recover,
even if they are eventually acquitted of the charges.

6. (C) When on November 10 Trenkoski appeared to face a more
serious charge and the likelihood of additional weeks of jail
time, his lawyers applied for bail to release him. (Court
sources and other contacts informed us that, although all the
witnesses had been interviewed, the judge was considering
additional, more serious charges and ordering expert
testimony that would have kept Trenkoski in jail for an
additional undefined amount of time.) After a text message
from the U.S. Embassy to the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff
Protoger, and a follow-up phone conversation, Trenkoski was
released on 11 November. Most likely he will eventually have
to stand trial for the charges. Even if he is acquitted of
all charges, the damage to his reputation has already been
done.

Let's Not Forget the Opposition
--------------------------

7. (SBU) In addition to enforcing discipline in the party and
governing coalition, Gruevski also uses his control over the
judicial and policing functions of the state to attempt to
silence the opposition. The arrest and detention in August
2008 of SDSM Vice-President and Strumica mayor Zoran Zaev,
was an early indicator of the government's tactics. Although
Zaev won reelection in March 2009, in the last two weeks, he
is one of five members of the opposition SDSM party that have
been charged with this same &abuse of office/misuse of
official position charges8 for corruption. On 4 November,
the government floated allegations in the press that former
President and current SDSM leader Branko Crvenkovski and his
cabinet used thousands of denar of state money for personal
use during his time as president. The SDSM spokesperson
publicly accused the government of using the judiciary to
attack its political opposition and create a psychological
climate of fear among the public against questioning or
criticizing the government.

8. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX

9. (SBU) Two SDSM youth members were questioned for several
hours by police on 21 November for distributing leaflets
about a local the poor government practices of a local mayor.
The party members told the press that the incident was
intimidation and an attempt by the government to silence the
opposition. The police claim that the mayor filed a complaint
against the two youth, and they were obliged to investigate
the complaint, but admitted to the press that the youth did
nothing illegal.

9. (C) Slajana Taseva, head of the Macedonian NGO
Transparency Zero Corruption, has complained to European
diplomats and in the media that recently she has been
harassed by police, being called into their headquarters at
night for lengthy "informative talks" on her behavior and
criticism of the government. Although she has not been
formally charged or under arrest, she received an official
summons from the police. When she arrived at the police
station with her attorney, she was given "friendly advice"
about her work on anticorruption. Other NGOs have made
similar claims.

COMMENT
-------

9. (C) The political influence of Gruevski on the judicial
and policing arms of the government is no secret. This latest
spate of public arrests, accusations, and indictments shows a
definite spike in such interference and manipulation. We have
received an increasing number of complaints about late night
"informative talks" with the police and threats from the
government about possible "corruption charges" that may be
investigated should people chose to defy the government or
speak out. Meanwhile, there is no action against Gruevski's
insiders widely reputed to be corrupt, such as intelligence
director Sasho Majalkov (also Gruevski's cousin) and Minister
or Transport and Communications Mile Janakieski. It is
possible that Gruevski is lashing out as he feels especially
vulnerable now. International and domestic pressures are
building to solve the "name issue" with Greece or face the
prospect of not being able to commence EU membership
negotiations, despite receiving a favorable report from the
EU commission (see REFTEL). These cases distract public
attention away from the name issue and give Gruevski an
enhanced sense of control. We will continue to use our
influence judiciously to counteract this tendency, in
specific cases when warranted. More broadly, we and the other
international actors here keep pressing for practical
measures to increase judicial independence, police and
prosecutorial professionalism, and promote rule of law.
REEKER

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