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What does Macedonia’s bribery scandal have to do with Israel?

In February 2015, the small Balkan country of Macedonia was shaken by a huge political scandal: the release of wiretapped audio recordings that implicated high political officials in corrupt deals.

That resulted in a political crisis that has now been going on for more than a year, taking the country to the brink of civil conflict. Recently, in a supposed attempt to prevent any worsening of the crisis, Macedonia’s president and the nominee of the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party, Mr. Gjorge Ivanov, pardoned 56 people who had allegedly been implicated. The group he pardoned included politicians from the ruling party, local businessmen and, notably, one foreigner.

How did these individuals come to be subject to presidential pardon? Well, in July 2015, the EU and US ambassadors attempted to broker a resolution to the political crisis among four main political parties. What came of it was the Przhino Accord, an agreement that included several conditions to be met prior to calling early parliamentary elections. One of these conditions was the establishment of a Special Prosecution that was tasked with investigating the allegations of wiretapping and other alleged crimes. It was also authorized to initiate trials based on the wiretapped materials.

The first cases of the Special Prosecution implicated high government officials, including the former prime minister and leader of the president’s own ruling VMRO-DPMNE political party, Nikola Gruevski. The list also included the minister of the interior, and former chief of secret services, Saso Mijalkov. When President Ivanov pardoned these officials, therefore, he undermined the work — in fact, the very raison d’etre — of the Special Prosecution. Thousands of citizens protested the pardons in a public revolt in the streets of Skopje and other cities across Macedonia that came to be called the “Colorful Revolution.”

Now, where is the connection between the Macedonian political scandal and Israel? Quite simply: the foreigner allegedly implicated and then pardoned by President Ivanov is Israeli. This person acted as a middleman between Macedonian security services and an Israeli company to implement a million-euro deal for the purchase of surveillance equipment. His role was to facilitate a payment of 500,000 euros to a Budapest bank account, in order to secure the deal. A voice recording of this person in conversation regarding the deal was made public and is still available online and can be heard in this video:

Note that the story of this deal was reported in the Israeli media in April 2015, but after the initial coverage, it did not get any further attention. The company’s name was never reported.

Aside from the obvious problem of corrupt Macedonian officials, the main concern that emerges from these serious allegations is how they are to be handled by the Israeli justice system. The Israeli Penal Code prohibits Israeli citizens from making any kind of payment for the purpose of influencing foreign government officials in the sphere of business activity. Moreover, Israel ratified the OECD convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials.

It is also likely that the company in question has significant connections to United States. If it does, its business activities are not only subject to the Israeli Penal Code, but also to American legislation. Not surprisingly, according to the US Federal Corrupt Practices Act, it is illegal for any company to engage in personal payments or to offer rewards in an attempt to influence businesses and secure a deal.

Israel has long been supportive of Macedonia. Hundreds of students from Macedonia have graduated from Israeli universities. Diplomatic and trade relationships between the countries are flourishing. Macedonia built a Holocaust Memorial Center in memory of its 7,148 Jews, who were deported to Nazi death camps. Now, Macedonia is on the verge of civil conflict that is directly related to the current government’s corrupt practices, and the crisis touches Israel.

The Israeli justice system should not remain quiet over this unprecedented political affair. Macedonian democracy was essentially hijacked by irresponsible and corrupt politicians, who are now under serious suspicions of having authorized illegal surveillance of more than 20,000 civilians for the sake of private and political gains. If Israel investigates these allegations, the Macedonian officials responsible for engineering the current instability, crime and corruption may actually be held accountable. Justice must be done, and Israel can have a hand in the necessary renewal of Macedonian politics.

About the Author
Vladimir Lazarevik was Macedonia's Deputy Minister of Health in the first government of Nikola Gruevski, 2006-08, and is the founder of the civic movement, ‘There is a future.’
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