The group of criminals who allegedly terrorised the eastern part of Macedonia are now on trial.
By Goran Trajkov for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 21/09/12
The group on trial is accused of owning several illegal casinos throughout the country. [File]
As part of one of the country's biggest crackdowns on organised crime, 16 defendants are now on trial for violent and financial crimes in Macedonia. According to analysts, the trial shows that the country is starting to step up in its fight against corruption and organised crime.
The police action "Detonator," which kicked off in March, took place in several cities in eastern Macedonia. It resulted in the seizure of more than 1,000 poker machines, as well as the layoffs of several police station commanders and the head of the Stip police.
The group is charged with money laundering, usury, racketeering, extortion and attempted murder.
"It's good for the maturity of the country that such an action occured, because we should work on crime prevention at every level. I think that this showed that our country works in full capacity [to fight organized crime]," Stojan Slaveski, dean of the Faculty of Detectives and Criminology at the European University in Skopje, told SETimes.
According to the prosecution, the Titan Group was organised in several cities where they extorted, racketeered and laundered money. They also owned illegal casinos.
Members of the group were also allegedly involved in counterfeiting euros, and they participated in production and sale of narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances and precursors.
All of the defendants at the trial that began on September 12th said that they are innocent of the charges. Of the 16 accused, two -- Sasko Stojchev and Simeon Mihajlov -- remain at large.
After the accusations surfaced, the interior ministry replaced 13 police station commanders and the chief of the police station in the city of Stip.
Investigations showed that in 77 cases, police officers did not respond appropriately to citizens' reports that they were harmed by the criminal gang. The crimes were replaced with light offenses, and reports were closed as "complaints."
Macedonia Interior Minister Gordana Jankulovska said that the action shows those who think they can hide behind political affiliation or profession from the responsibility for a crime will fail.
But, Slaveski said, the country's work is not done. "Deeper analysis has to be done into who actually supported the criminals. Who monitored and somehow supported them? I fully support the action, but we should not stop," he told SETimes.
Some citizens agree.
"There are still places where you can go to for illegal poker or play on the machines. After the action people are encouraged to report those cases to the police, not fearing that someone will retaliate. Which is good. But still, more 'cleaning' should be done," Dimitar Velkovich, a student from Kumanovo, told SETimes.