Kole Sterjev speaks of a 'witch-hunt' against him

Kole Sterjev speaks of a 'witch-hunt' against him
A witch-hunt is being conducted against me, I do not know for what reasons, says the chairman of the Council of Public Prosecutors, Kole Sterjev.

The Council of Prosecutors is one of the two institutions, aside from the Anti-Corruption Commission, over which scandals emerged in recent days, so that representatives of the ruling majority are demanding resignations from the officials in this institution. And while the members of the Anti-Corruption Commission began to give their resignations, following a similar principle as in the State Election Commission - late last year, the President of the Council of Prosecutors does not consider such move for the time being.

In a statement for “Nezavisen/Independent” newspaper, Sterjev points out that he has a working experience of nearly three decades in the prosecution profession and that he knows well what is acting in accordance with the law and what is a conflict of interest. From that aspect, he says that he acted legally in the case of the appointment of his niece on his wife’s side, Marija Gjorgova, as a prosecutor of organized crime. Gjorgova, previously got fired - without a specific explanation from the SPO, and in the case with her new appointment it was disputed that Sterjev helped to provide a quorum, although he voted as "reserved".

Legally, for a close relative relationship of first or second degree, explains Sterjov, it is considered when it comes to the parents of the wife, and brothers and sisters. In this case, he says, there is no such kind of relationship.

Sterjev, on the principle of rotation among the members, was elected last summer as president of the Council of Prosecutors, where he became a member a year and a half ago, according to the choice of the prosecutors from the country, and as a representative of the Aromanian ethnic community.

The term of the members of the Council is four years with the right to re-election. Expectations are now that I will not finish my term. But I personally have not thought about it on this topic," said Sterjev.

In recent years around the Council of Prosecutors has had more shocks, especially in the period when this body obstructed the work of the SLI, before the change of the power on “Ilindenska”. Recently, the case with the disqualification of the experienced prosecutor Lidija Raicevic from "organized crime" has occurred in the Council, in order to appoint a prosecutor from the Skopje Prosecutor's Office with a much shorter period of service in the profession.

Chairman of the Anti-Corruption Commission Igor Tanturovski also claimed several days ago that he does not intend to resign from the travel expenses scandal, because, as he said then, it was a conspiracy against the Commission. About the audit report of the PRO, in which it was noted that some of the anticorruption officers reported three travel orders in one day, he said that these allegations were removed from the context and that the Commission was working legally. Tanturovski, however, changed his mind and handed in his resignation - the day after the previous president of the Anti-Corruption Commission, Goran Milenkov, did it. It is expected that during this day, the example with the resignations should be followed by at least three of the seven members of the Commission, which were elected in April 2015 in parliament, with a term of four years, and in the absence of the then-opposition SDSM. Some of them, unofficially, complain about the pressure to withdraw from the post after the Public Prosecutor's Office opened a case on the travel expenses case, after a vote by the public, and the parliamentary majority announced that they would initiate a procedure for dismissing the members of the Commission, the possibility, in fact, does not anticipate the Law on Prevention of Corruption.

In the past three years, this composition of the Commission remained largely anonymous and closed to the public, with the exception of certain cases when officials of the previous government were to be defended, or procedures for officials of the former opposition should be initiated. One of the most striking events in the functioning of this commission is the concealment of Nikola Gruevski's list for his personal assets after his withdrawal from the post of prime minister. The then President of the Commission, Milenkov, asked journalists to close this issue "once and for all", pointing out that it is not clear why they are interested in Gruevski's property situation when he is no longer at the helm of the Government.

The Anti-Corruption Commission was established as an institution in 2002, with the difference that among the members that were elected then there were known names in the field of jurisprudence, lawyers, the NGO sector (Dragan Malinovski, Slagjana Taseva, Vanja Mihajlovska, Mihajlo Manevski etc.) who were not professionally engaged, but who opened many cases of corruption and conflict of interests in the then government. The professionalization of the Commission took place in the period 2006-2007, after which each of its next composition was weaker and more transparent than the previous one.

The principle of resignation one at a time, in fact, started with the SEC, where a new composition has not yet been selected, following the withdrawal of eight out of nine members of the Commission due to the scandal over the high fees for the elections. Three months after the withdrawal of the SEC members, the leaders of SDSM and VMRO-DPMNE, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and Hristijan Mickoski announced the return of the old Commission concept, with the opposition headed by and without experts, but as an interim solution. In the meantime, an agreement has been announced for another SEC model, which would function as an administrative body, which will meet six months before the election cycle.

Lawyer Dragan Malinovski, who was a member of the first composition of the Anti-Corruption, said that the conditions for introducing another concept of functioning of this body were maturing and that several debates were conducted in the past period. The selection of new members of the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption after the withdrawal of the previous ones, according to him, should be an interim solution - in order to complete the term of four years, and possibly to prepare the new concept.

"First of all, in the future, the personal composition of the Commission should be taken into account, so that independent members will be selected, with integrity and professional background in this issue. And for the ruling party, it is better to have such a composition of Anti-Corruption, which will control it and will not allow it to allow it to run," says Malinovski.

He points to comparative experiences that prefer a model of anti-corruption commissions with director and council. Public councils with knowledge and experience in the field of fight against corruption, who would not be professionally engaged, would act in the council as a conscience of the government.

Sterjev: In whose name does Ristovski ask for resignations?

Kole Sterjev, the chairman of the Council of Public Prosecutors, says that he does not know in what capacity Deputy Minister of Justice Oliver Ristovski requests resignations from him and his colleagues.

"It is inadmissible for a Deputy Minister to interfere with the work of the Council of Prosecutors. I do not know where his request for resignations comes from. Ristovski says that this is his personal opinion - that resignations should be submitted. However, a public statement of a member of the executive government may not be his personal opinion," said Sterjev.

Ristovski said on Monday that he was acquainted with the case in the Council of Prosecutors and that he personally expects resignations on moral grounds from prosecutors who did not exclude themselves when they should have voted.

"I will not interfere with the work of the Council of Prosecutors. I personally think that from a moral point of view they should resign," Ristovski said.

US Ambassador to the country Jess Baily spoke about possible conflicts of interest in the Council, saying that the public would not be informed about the fact that they did not report on the cases, as the brave media said.

According to Baily's statement, Sterjev says he respects it, but he points out that the ambassador was protecting and not specifying certain cases, but that it referred to media writings. According to him, some of the media wrote orchestrated and created a mood for a witch-hunt against the Council..../IBNA

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