Vanhoutte: The 18-month deadline in the Law on SPO has been agreed by Gruevski and Zaev without negotiations

Truthmeter, in cooperation with META News Agency, obtained several, until know, unknown answers regarding details on the Law on SPO i.e. provisions considered as real obstructions of the Prosecution’s work. According to Peter Vanhoutte’s testimony, the Belgian mediator who insisted on adherence to what the political leaders have said – the Law had been primarily without deadlines, and the present deadline has been agreed by Gruevski and Zaev, practically without negotiations regardless his warning that the deadline is too short

 

Author: Teofil Blazhevski

The foreigners have proposed no deadline, SDSM has proposed a two-year deadline, whereas Gruevski has proposed 18-month deadline, and afterwards Gruevski and Zaev agreed on 18-month deadline for investigations and indictments issued by the Special Prosecution Office (SPO).

This is what the then mediator in the negotiations for achieving resolution to the political crisis, Peter Vanhoutte, told Truthmeter, whom we contacted in order to clarify the dilemmas in the public regarding the deadline in the Law on SPO. The parties, although asked by META twice, did not provide an answer to our questions.

The testimony of one of the most adept persons during the negotiations between the political parties that lasted several months, the mediator Peter Vanhoutte, clarifies not only that moment, but also several more that are related to the Special Prosecution Office.

 

THE LAW HAS BEEN WRITTEN BY DOMESTIC EXPERTS GUIDED BY FOREIGNERS

Peter Vanhoutte asserts that the primary draft has been written by a foreign public prosecutor from Ireland, public prosecutor from Belgium and a public prosecutor from the USA. That version did not contain deadlines for investigations and issuance of indictments, and there has been a five-year mandate with an extension possibility. Using that version of the Law, domestic experts have prepared the final one comprising the five-year deadline, however after the meetings in the night between 14 and 15 November 2015, the investigation deadline was shortened to 18 months.

When a group of experts wrote the primary proposal, we decided that there should be a 5-year deadline with an extension possibility. After long discussions, which left some questions unanswered, we invited the leaders of the 4 parties to resolve this issue and to reach an accord regarding the name of the Special Prosecutor. As to the five-year deadline, as stated in the draft, SDSM proposed shorter deadline, something like 2 years would be enough. Suddenly, Gruevski proposed 18 months. After a short discussion between him and Zaev, despite my severe remarks that the deadline is too short, they reached an accord. In fact, there weren’t any negotiations between the both of them, Gruevski said 18 months, Zaev accepted”Vanhoutte says, who on a repeated question confirmed that the proposal was five years without restrictions of investigations and issuance of indictments.

The fact that the deadline is too short is perfectly clear to him, and to the domestic experts. Vanhoutte says “from VMRO-DPMNE’s perspective, a shorter investigation deadline is an understandable option, so they can obstruct the SPO to achieve nothing”.

VMRO-DPMNE perfectly know that they have the judiciary (Public Prosecution Office, Criminal courts, the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court) under control. As long as they control this system, they are totally aware that they can survive those 18 months without serious consequences, at least to the leading figures.

 

THE DOMESTIC EXPERTS HAVE NO DILEMMAS – AN INSANE COMPROMISE

The reactions regarding this 18-month deadline in the Law emerged the very next day, after it was adopted by the Parliament, and are still present.

The deadline is too short and it questions the honesty of the process, Slagjana Taseva, an anti-corruption expert and criminal law PhD, stated on 16 September 2015.

How can you expect that 18 months would be enough and how can the investigation/proceeding be suspended afterwards? I do believe that this law cannot allow the deadlines to become obsolete, and it shouldn’t, if we want to combat impunity.

The criminal law professor, Gordan Kalajdjiev, PhD, immediately expressed his reaction on the Law. He recently repeated his critiques, by assessing that the deadline is embedded solely to cause problems, but he also asked “why the others have agreed”.

It is more than obvious that this deadline is embedded solely to cause problems. There is only one little perk in its entire illegitimacy, maintaining pressure, probably, so all of this would be resolved, if possible. But objectively, it has a lot more weaknesses… It would be logically that such deadline, for such crime, if we all agree that it needs to face justice, should be extended. Here, the deadline’s emergence is untraceable, what has been the imposing factor, and why the others have agreed – Kalajdjiev stated (31st minute from the video)

Aleksandar Tortevski, a lawyer who is working as a counselor at the SPO, considers the Prosecution Office as an “unwanted child”, and when it comes to the deadline, he assessed it as an “insane compromise”.

We should all remember how this Prosecution Office was pushed through. The government’s majority sees it as an unwanted child. And it has plenty of flaws… However, the deadline is opposed to the Law on Criminal Procedure and the entire legal order in Macedonia. I think that the passing of this law is an insane compromise, but the authors of this law and those who have mediated the negotiations have seen it as something better than nothing. They have probably thought that the SPO will manage to process a great deal. (38th minute from the video)

The statements of Kalajdjiev and Tortevski are given for TV21 TV station on the occasion of SPO’s anniversary.

 

THE PARTIES, EXCEPT SDSM, ARE MUTE, JANEVA IS MUTE AS WELL

Whilst searching for the truth how this deadline has been embedded in the law, in cooperation with META News Agency, we asked the four political parties several specific questions. Only SDSM treated us with a response, but not specifically to our questions regarding the negotiations and the embedded deadline in the Law:

SDSM entirely supports all of SPO’s requests so it can normally work and investigate the illegal wiretapping and the indications for crime arising from it. Everything that the SPO has requested so far has been proposed in the Parliament. The question is why these proposals weren’t supported by VMRO-DPMNE, DUI and DPA, which also hamper the SPO in its work.

None of the other parties answered to our questions, and because of preoccupancy, as the SPO confirmed, we didn’t receive an answer from Katica Janeva when asked has she noticed the short deadline when she accepted the function and whether the party leaders have promised her that the deadline could be extended afterward?

At first glance, SDSM’s answer gives the impression that the support is truly wholehearted. However, after the first Przhino Agreement, as well as after the Agreement for delaying the elections at the beginning of 2016, and finally during the last Agreement from July, the deadline issue was never re-discussed. This was confirmed by Vanhautte himself.

Yes, you are right. I didn’t personally attend these meetings in 2016, but what the insiders have told me is that SDSM never actualized that issue

Now, it is clearer who and how embedded the 18-month deadline in the Law. But why exactly that deadline? Why not 12 or 15 months, albeit Vanhautte says that the foreigners have agreed on no limitations regarding the investigation deadlines?

The expert in criminal law, Voislav Stojanovski, PhD, thinks that such deadlines are derivatives of some deadlines in the Law on Criminal Procedure, and are in regard to investigations related to organized crimes.

The deadline is probably derived from the new Law on Criminal Procedure, which for cases regarding organized crime, in Article 301, provides a maximum of 18 months for the investigation procedure. This deadline starts expiring with the investigation procedure’s onset (after the prosecutor has determined that there is reasoned suspicion for committed offence), but it is not related to the investigation procedure (the time needed for determining such suspicion). Hence the SPO, unlike other Prosecution Offices, is limited by a significantly shorter deadline for reviewing and working on cases under its jurisdiction.

Stojanovski doesn’t know who has written the law, which was proposed by the coordinators of the four political parties. But he is not okay with adopting such substantial laws overnight, without session:

The problem isn’t whether foreign experts participate in the drafting of the laws, but adopting a law, which requires majority of two thirds, in a summary proceeding without any expert or public debate, is completely non-democratic and contrary to the rule of law.

 

VANHAUTTE: MACEDONIA CANNOT ACCESS THE EU LIKE THIS

The thing that interferes with this Law, even with the non-amending of the Laws on Protected Witnesses and Protection of Whistleblowers – something that the SPO has been insisting on since April 2016, is the final result. And that would be a shortened timeframe for investigating what has really happened in Macedonia regarding the illegal wiretapping and all other indications that have arisen from it, which point out to organized crime and high level of corruption and nepotism in all fields. But if all of these investigations are left unfinished, without an epilogue in the judiciary, then it would lead to an increase of the level of non-rule of law and impunity, and everything together retrogrades the democratic processes and the human rights as well.

Vanhautte assesses the same, and relates all of this with retrogression in the Euro-Atlantic integrations:

I believe that Macedonia cannot access the EU until the leaders of the political parties do not accept the accountability system, which is key for one democratic country. The fact that the judiciary is not independent and is controlled by one party is against the fundamental European values and a reason why Macedonia hasn’t started the accession negotiations. Compared to this issue, the name issue with Greece is minor, and it can be solved with a little bit of good will from both sides – Vanhoutte concluded.

 


This article was created within the framework of the Project to increase the accountability of the politicians and political parties Truthmeter implemented by Metamorphosis. The article is made possible by the generous support of the National Endowment for Democracy(NED) and The Balkan Trust for Democracy (BTD), a project of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, an initiative that supports democracy, good governance, and Euroatlantic integration in Southeastern Europe. The content is the responsibility of its author and does not necessarily reflect the views of Metamorphosis, National Endowment for Democracy, the Balkan Trust for Democracy, the German Marshall Fund of the United States, or its partners.

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