30,000 Macedonians protest national bribery scandal involving Israelis


(JTA) — Some 30,000 protesters demonstrated in Macedonia in connection with an alleged bribery and wiretapping scandal that is shaking the Balkan country.

The May 12 demonstration in Skopje, the capital city of the landlocked republic of 2 million residents north of Greece, was organized by parties representing ethnic Albanians in Macedonia, the World Bulletin reported, amid a wave of popular discontent dubbed “the Color Revolution” that began last year over the release of an audio recording seen as proof of the bribery and reports of illegal wiretaps.

Macedonia’s main opposition party released the recording last year, saying it features the voice of Haim Hakeyny, a former senior official in the Israeli defense establishment; Svetlana Kostova, then a Macedonian interior ministry official, and Saso Mijalkov — that country’s previous director of the Administration for Security and Counterintelligence, or UBK.

Mijalkov resigned in May 2015 weeks after the release of that recording, as Macedonia was plunged into turmoil amid accusations that he and then-Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski wiretapped more than 20,000 people, including rivals and journalists, without permission. Gruevski resigned in January 2016 over the scandal, which triggered a special investigation implicating dozens of suspects.

A new election was set for next month, but the opposition parties that organized the May 12 protest and the main opposition party said they would not participate, citing the president’s decision last month to pardon the suspects. Together they account for 64 of parliament’s 123 seats, raising concerns over the validity of polling planned for next month.

In one of the recordings, a man identified as Haim and another man named Alon can be heard speaking about Mijalkov to a woman identified as Kostova by the opposition party that released the recordings: the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia. The opposition party said the recordings were made two years ago.

“If he gives us the OK to send all the money, then this is movement,” Haim says, adding he believes that “Alex spoke with the company because he is a little bit shaky, he is under a lot of pressure.” Sasho is a diminutive form of Alexander.

In other recordings of talks between Mijalkov and Kostova, they speak of a private bank account and an expected deposit of millions of dollars, according to a report last month in Maariv. The Macedonian Netpres news agency reported the sum was $6.2 million, earmarked for transfer from Israel in the framework of equipment for a “special police unit.” According to Israel’s The Marker economic newspaper, the equipment may have been used for wiretapping.

Mijalkov told Macedonian media the money was a grant by the Israeli government for counterterrorist actions.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry has declined to comment on the affair, Israeli daily Maariv reported. Hakeyny denied any involvement in bribes but would not elaborate, according to Maariv.

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