The former head of the North Macedonian secret police has been sentenced to 12 years in prison for leading a decade-long illegal wiretapping scandal.
Sašo Mijalkov was accused of trying to obtain political and economic advantages over his opponents, including government politicians, journalists, and NGO leaders.
According to prosecutors, the secret service had tapped almost 5,000 telephone numbers between 2008 and 2015 without any judicial control.
The extensive campaign was uncovered in February 2015 by Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, then the leader of the opposition social democratic party.
These revelations plunged the country into a political crisis that brought down former PM Nikola Gruevski in 2016 after a decade of reign.
Mijalkov, one of the most powerful men in Gruevski's regime, fled to Hungary in 2018 to escape a conviction for corruption.
But on Friday, the Skopje Criminal Court found Mijalkov guilty of abuse of power and sentenced him to 12 years in prison.
"Nobody is untouchable" in North Macedonia, the court said in its verdict, "when officials at this level break the law, they tear down the foundations of the state".
Earlier this week, the former head of intelligence - also a cousin of Gruevski - disappeared from the address he had given the court, prompting North Macedonia to issue an international arrest warrant.
He later resurfaced on Tuesday, claiming that he had placed himself in isolation for fear of contamination by COVID-19.
In addition, the Skopje court sentenced the then Interior Minister Gordana Jankulovska to four years on Friday for allowing the technical bugging equipment to be destroyed. Two agents who physically carried out the wiretapping were sentenced to 15 years each in absentia.
Following the court's decision, the defence immediately announced that it would appeal the verdict.
Former Prime Minister Gruevski was granted political asylum in Hungary after being sentenced to 2 years in prison for abuse of power.