August 20, 2019 / 2:55 PM / a month ago

North Macedonia's prosecutor questioned over extortion scheme

SKOPJE (Reuters) - North Macedonia’s special prosecutor in charge of investigating organised crime cases was questioned on Tuesday as part of an investigation into an extortion case.

Katica Janeva offered her resignation last month after local papers reported her alleged involvement in a scheme to take money from a businessman charged by her office over corruption allegations. Until a new prosecutor is appointed, she remains in the role.

Janeva, who has denied involvement in the extortion case, was called for questioning by the office of the public prosecutor on Tuesday.

“It is still only an investigation. I’m called as a witness,” Janeva told reporters after being questioned.

“No, I am not guilty.”

The case has become a major headache for Prime Minister Zoran Zaev’s Social Democrat government as the main suspect in the extortion scheme, Bojan Jovanovski, a controversial entertainer turned businessmen, was outspoken in showing links with top government officials.

His social media profiles include pictures of him socialising with Zaev, his ministers and Janeva.

Two men have been arrested for taking 1.5 million euros in cash from a businessman charged by the Special Prosecutor’s office.

In the recordings published by the Italian newspaper “La Verita”, the suspects tell the businessman they have access to Janeva and that they can help with dropping the charges.

In one of the recordings, a female voice was heard as saying: “Everything will be OK.” Janeva confirmed it was her voice.

The office of the special prosecutor was created under the 2015 EU-brokered agreement which ended a two-year political crisis in North Macedonia.

Its main task was to deal with high-level organised crime and corruption, cases that local institutions were not in a position to handle because they were influenced by politics.

The mandate of the office expired last September, but very few cases have been completed.

North Macedonia expects to get a date for accession talks with the European Union, but in order to progress towards membership it needs to reform its judiciary.

Reporting by Kole Casule; Writing by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Ed Osmond

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