After much back and forth, judge Ognen Stavrev today decided to order a re-trial of the so-called TNT case. The decision was made after lay judge Liljana Kockovska, who reached the age of 60 during the course of the trial – which triggers her removal from office – submitted her irrevocable resignation.
The panel is not complete and we can’t continue adjudication. The trial will need to being anew, said judge Stavrev, who is considered as one of the most loyal SDSM party supporters in the judiciary. Stavrev shocked the public when he ordered several 12 hour long hearings at the end of 2019, and was visibly determined to render a verdict before Kockovska resigns.
The TNT case is initiated by the disgraced Special Prosecutor’s Office (SPO) against former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, and other Government and municipal officials, charghing them with ordering the destruction of an unlawfully built residential complex. During the course of the trial the developer Fijat Canoski was suspected of paying hundreds of thousands of euros in bribes to chief SPO prosecutor Katica Janeva to initiate the case, for the chance of winning as much as 40 million EUR in damages from the state. This prompted allegations that the case is being pushed through the court not only for the usual political reasons that followed all SPO cases, but also for a major pay-off.
Judge Kockovska was publicly hemming and hawing over her decision, submitting one resignation letter, then withdrawing it. The defense warned her that continuing to serve on Stavrev’s panel even though she is supposed to retire would constitute abuse of office on her part and would mean she would be held liable for any damages to the state budget resulting from the verdict. But, given the now established track record of abuse of office on the part of the SPO and Special Prosecutor Janeva, who is charged with high level extortion, it was expected that the case will be pushed forward despite the procedural violations.
In his last weeks in office, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev publicly pushed on the Judicial council, the Anti-Corruption Commission, the Parliament and other institutions to pressure judges to deliver more verdicts in the numerous cases that were initiated by Janeva against Zaev’s political opponents. Due to its clear procedural violations, the TNT case was observed as an indicator of whether Zaev can continue to order the judiciary to carry out his campaign of political persecution against the opposition, with a lucrative racket on the side.