By Associated Press - Monday, February 22, 2021

SKOPJE, North Macedonia (AP) - North Macedonia issued an international warrant late Monday for the country’s former secret police chief who disappeared before an expected court verdict on his alleged involvement in a massive wiretapping scandal.

Police searched several locations in capital Skopje on Sunday for Sasho Mijalkov who, along with 11 former government and police officials, is on trial over the 2016 scandal that toppled the country’s conservative VMRO-DPMNE party after a decade in government.

Mijalkov, a first cousin of conservative former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, is accused of masterminding phone taps on more than 20,000 people, including politicians, judges and journalists between 2006-2016.

The Skopje Criminal Court had ordered house arrest for Mijalkov as a precautionary measure, ahead of the court verdict that’s due to be announced on Friday. However, he vanished from the address that he had given on Sunday.

Mijalkov’s sudden disappearance closely recalls that of his cousin, Gruevski, who fled the country in 2018 to avoid serving a two-year jail sentence for involvement in a corruption scandal and was granted political asylum in Hungary.

The ex-secret police chief’s disappearance sparked another political dispute in the country with VMRO-DPMNE demanding the left-wing government’s resignation.

Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said he is “disappointed” with MIjalov’s disappearance, demanded a full investigation and expressed hope that authorities will track him down.

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