A Macedonian court has convicted a former intelligence chief in absentia of tampering with evidence of the illegal wiretapping of thousands of people under the Balkan country’s previous government.
Goran Grujevski on November 8 was sentenced to 18 months in prison for destroying documents that would have exposed the wiretapping scandal that plunged Macedonia into a protracted political crisis in 2015.
The prosecution had requested a five-year prison sentence for Grujevski, the former head of Macedonia's Department for Counterintelligence and Security.
It alleged that Grujevski ordered the destruction of intelligence documents and was "responsible for hiding traces of who wiretapped Macedonian citizens and how."
The court also handed down suspended sentences of between nine and 12 months for six other ex-agency officials.
Lawyers for the seven defendants denied that any criminal activity occurred. They have eight days to appeal the verdicts.
Grujevski and another ex-official were arrested in neighboring Greece last month under an Interpol warrant.
The two are awaiting trial for entering the country on false Bulgarian passports, and for a Macedonian extradition request to be examined. They are fighting extradition to Macedonia, claiming their lives would be in danger if they returned.
The verdicts and sentences against Grujevski and the six other defendants are the first rulings to be made since then-opposition leader Zoran Zaev in 2015 released tapes that appeared to reveal the official wiretapping of some 20,000 people, including judges, police, politicians, foreign diplomats, and journalists.
A special prosecutor's office was established later in 2015 to deal with the allegations and more than 90 people were charged.
The scandal ignited massive street protests, both for and against the government of then-Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, and led to snap elections.
Following the vote, Social Democratic leader Zaev took over as prime minister in May.
Gruevski's government denied responsibility for the wiretapping, blaming foreign spy agencies.