Prime Minister Zoran Zaev’s brother Vice Zaev yesterday did not appear at the pre-trial hearing in the civil court, where he filed a defamation lawsuit against VMRO-DPMNE Vice President Aleksandar Nikoloski.
Zoran and Vice’s cousin Goran Zaev came to court as his attorney. The public was almost certain that Vice Zaev sued Nikoloski for the statement he gave after the first vote on the constitutional changes when VMRO-DPMNE excluded former secret police chief Saso Mijalkov from the party. In a statement, Nikoloski said that the criminal coalition between Zoran Zaev, Vice Zaev and Saso Mijalkov had been confirmed, which secured the two-thirds majority for voting at the start of the constitutional changes in the Parliament. After this statement, Vice Zaev publicly asked Nikoloski to apologize to him and announced that he would file lawsuits. But yesterday in the courtroom, the public learned that the prime minister’s brother was not actually offended by the accusations of a criminal coalition with Mijalkov, but the accusations that he was granted rigged tenders and that he was the main business factor in the country. In a statement given by Nikoloski for 1TV, he said that, through rigged tenders, he became the main business factor. This statement caused anxiety, tension and decreased mood, sweating, facial flushing, and this caused great emotional distress for Vice Zaev. The lawsuit stated that he was the prime minister’s brother, an honest man and a successful businessman with an extremely high reputation in the environment in which he works and lives. The main arguments of Vice Zaev’s legal representative are that Nikoloski was sharing a personal opinion that was not backed by facts and that the brother of the prime minister is not a public figure. “He has never appeared publicly, and the fact that VMRO-DPMNE mentions his name at every other press conference does not make him a public figure,” his attorney said in the courtroom. Nikoloski stands firm on his position that the prime minister’s brother is the main businessman in the country. He regards the lawsuit against him as political pressure and called it “stupid and complete nonsense”. With this lawsuit, according to Nikoloski, Vice Zaev wants to send a message to all businessmen. “If the main business factor in the country can sue the vice-president of VMRO-DPMNE, to sue the second most important person of the opposition, they can only imagine what could happen to them,” Nikoloski said. His arguments are that what he said about the Prime Minister’s brother as vice president of the main opposition party that has the right to attack the government’s work. From what he read in the media, he got the impression that the Prime Minister’s brother has become the main business factor. “There are two ways to respond to this, they could either confirm it or deny it,” said Aleksandar Nikoloski.
The practice of filing lawsuits against journalists and members of the opposition party was imposed by VMRO-DPMNE, and demanded thousands of euros for slander and insults. The highest number of lawsuits against journalists and opposition politicians was filed by the former head of the secret police, Saso Mijalkov. In one of the lawsuits he filed against the Focus newspaper, he claimed several thousand euros in damages. He also sued Jani Makraduli, who was sentenced to a fine of 8,500 euros, because as a lawmaker from the then-opposition SDSM, in 2007, said that Mijalkov was abusing the wiretapping equipment. Former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski sued NSDP leader Tito Petkovski, there were also lawsuits against the current Skopje mayor, and former SDSM MP, Petre Silegov. All lawsuits for defamation and insults ended in favour of the officials of the previous government, and the defendants were to pay thousands of euros in damages for ruined reputation and emotional distress.
Nikoloski admitted that in the past there was such a bad practice that must not continue. “I want to remind the public that due to such frequent cases in the coordination between the government and the opposition several years ago, we made changes to the defamation law. With this law we have clearly set boundaries in order for such non-sense and stupid reports would not happen any longer,” said Nikoloski.
Unlike the officials of VMRO-DPMNE, Vice Zaev demands 30,000 denars or 500 euros of damages from Nikoloski. Nikoloski claims that the penalties were reduced with the amendments to the law. “If Vice Zaev has really stooped to that level and demands 30 thousand denars, then he can have it” said Nikoloski. The next hearing is scheduled for January 26, and Vice Zaev will have to appear at this hearing because Nikoloski is set to question him personally.
As evidence, Nikoloski encloses articles from several media about the business of Prime Minister Zaev, his brother and his family. The public connects the name of Vice Zaev with the footage that was posted on YouTube, in which Prime Minister Zoran Zaev asked for a bribe by saying “one euro for Vice, one for the church”. The footage was released in May, 2015. The video recording reveals a conversation between the then-mayor of Strumica Zoran Zaev and a local businessman. Allegedly, Zoran Zaev demanded a certain amount of money to deal with things around a site on the territory of the municipality. For this case, Zaev received criminal charges for receiving a bribe, the crime was retrained in a bribe request but in a court proceeding, and Zaev was acquitted.
Frosina Fakova Serafinovic