May 1, 2015 / 7:14 AM / in 3 years

Macedonian prosecutor indicts opposition leader in wiretap scandal

SKOPJE (Reuters) - The Macedonian state prosecutor formally indicted the country’s top opposition politician late on Thursday over his role in a surveillance scandal that challenged the nine-year rule of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski.

Macedonia's chief opposition leader Zoran Zaev talks to the media and supporters during a public gathering in Skopje March 10, 2015. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

For months Zoran Zaev, the leader of the opposition Social Democrats has been publishing wire-taps he says he received from a whistleblower.

Voices purported to be those of Gruevski, senior officials, journalists and judges have been aired at press conferences. The tapes appear to expose ministers and security officials discussing how to employ members of the ruling rightist VMRO-DPMNE party in state jobs, pick judges and massage elections.

Gruevski has dismissed the wire-taps as a plot by foreign spies.

The stability of Macedonia remains fragile after a 2001 ethnic Albanian insurgency that ended in a NATO-brokered peace deal that offered greater rights for the minority which accounts for 30 percent of country’s 2 million population, but occasional violence persists.

A statement published on the Skopje main court’s website late Thursday, said that the indictment charged Zaev, who has no immunity from prosecution, with “violence against representatives of the highest state bodies.”

Four other people already in pre-trial detention were also indicted for espionage, illegal wiretaping and violence, the statement said.

If convicted, Zaev faces at least four years in jail. The politician or his lawyers could not be immediately reached for comment on Friday.

In April, the European Union, which Macedonia wants to join, said it was concerned over what it described as a deterioration in the rule of law, fundamental rights and freedom of media.

Zaev earlier threatened mass protests if Gruevski did not step down, paving the way for the creation of an interim government which would organize snap elections.

Macedonia’s EU and NATO bids have stalled due to a long row with Greece which claims that this former Yugoslav republic uses the same name as its northern province.

Reporting by Kole Casule; Writing by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by

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