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OCCRP: The Spy who saved Macedonia!

Gjorgi Lazarevski, a former member of Macedonia's secret service| Youtube snapshot

The website of Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) shed light on the personality of one of three Macedonian intelligence agents who helped topple the supposedly authoritarian regime of the then-Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski. 

For Gjorgi Lazarevski, and after remaining silent for two years, a 2010 raid on one of Macedonia’s few remaining independent TV stations was the last straw.

According to the website, the engineer, who had been working for the secret service for 25 years, threw himself into a quest that was much more likely to get him arrested than to overthrow the government.

Lazarevski at that time, leaked hundreds of thousands of audio files which were recordings made by regime loyalists from his agency while illegally wiretapping thousands of Macedonians over three years.

Lazarevski had known about the massive interception of conversations -- which took place without court orders -- since 2008.

With Zvonko Kostovski, a colleague who worked on the unlawful surveillance but felt the same way about it, Lazaraveski developed a plan.

Kostovski would secretly make copies of the controversial files and Lazarevski would take them out of the building and decrypt them on a private computer. According to the source, thousands of Macedonians, including ministers, government employees, journalists, and judges were wiretapped.

 The two agents often could not believe what they were hearing: Conversations that revealed high-level corruption; government influence of prosecutors, judges and media; extortion of businesses; discussions of politically-motivated arrests, election-rigging, and even attempts to cover up a murder.

The report issued by OCCRP went on to say that at first, the two agents worked alone. But the scope of wrongdoing revealed in the files kept growing, and they soon discovered that even Gruevski’s Interior Minister, Gordana Jankulovska, had been wiretapped.

That’s when the two agents realized the magnitude of the information they were sitting on and started to consider bringing in someone else. They approached Zoran Verusevski, the former chief of intelligence.

"Both Zvonko and I trusted Verushevski,” Lazarevski said. “He used to be our superior. He is a professor, and he’s the one who taught me that corruption is the biggest threat to the security of a state.”

On this note, the report said that in 2013, police conducted an operation codenamed "Spy," aimed at finding moles within the agency. Afraid of being exposed, Lazarevski quit his job.

Kostovski was also afraid -- but Verushevski convinced the two that they were “on the right side." He soon shared the audio files with Zoran Zaev, head of the country’s opposition party, the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia.

In a September 2014 TV interview, Zaev announced that he would soon make big revelations he referred to as “bombs.

But a few months later, after searching Verushevski’s computer and finding his correspondence with Lazarevski, the police arrested him on January 23, 2015 and on the backdrop of the arrest, Lazarevski to go to the Ministry of Interior and report the wiretapping.

In response, three days later, Zaev played the first batch of the audio files to reporters, exposing pressure on the judiciary, election rigging, and corruption. He continued to play the files in a series of weekly press conferences, shocking the public with revelations about the brutality of Gruevski’s regime.

Macedonians heard orders to beat opposition politicians, to set regime opponents’ properties ablaze, threats of murder, and corrupt deals.

In December 2015, Zaev submitted 606,555 audio files of the illegally wiretapped conversations to the new Special Prosecutor's Office. In May 2017, he won the elections, but because of obstructions by Gruevski’s supporters, he was able to form his government only half a year later.

Kostovski, Lazarevski, and Verushevski watched most of this from their jail cells, where they spent 11 months before the Special Prosecutor's Office dropped the charges against them.

At the same time, prosecutors opened a new investigation into the former minister of interior, the intelligence chief, and his closest associates.

“While I was in custody, my optimism was upheld by the everyday events that were leading towards the breakdown of the system I thought was impossible to crush,” Lazarevski said.

According to the source, though Lazarevski still feels guilty for what the three families went through, he looks back at the episode with no remorse.

“The pleasure of knowing that we managed to unmask an evil system is great,” he said. “What happened was exactly what I wanted. It ended like a fairy tale.”