A Skopje court Tuesday (November 14th) sentenced 26 people found guilty of automobile smuggling and human trafficking. Their combined sentences totaled 108 years in prison. The group included Macedonian, Bulgarian, Albanian and Kosovo citizens.
The organisers of the international trafficking channel, Dejan Stamkov and Jane Beldedovski, received the most severe sentences — 13 and ten years, respectively.Â Five Bulgarian nationals were tried and convicted in absentia to three years in prison each, and two Albanian nationals were convicted in absentia to seven years each.
The court also ordered the seizure of 10,000 euros, several vehicles, a residential building, and land.
The sentencing is the final chapter in the Macedonian police’s “Operation South”. Police began arresting those involved in the group last November. The resulting trial was the largest ever-organised in Macedonia, featuring the most participants. The group was transporting illegal migrants to EU member states — mainly to Greece. Stamkov and Beldedovski supervised the operation. For transport, they used trucks with special tanks where migrants could be hidden. The migrants paid between 1,000 and 1,500 euros.
The most frequent users of the channel were Albanians. The group managed to transfer about 44 migrants within two years. Besides illegal transfer of migrants, some in the group also trafficked luxury cars. The Bulgarian nationals supported that part of the activitiy. The chief of a border police station and a police officer were involved.
The Macedonian police used special measures to apprehend the organised crime group — surveillance, eavesdropping and hidden cameras. Some of the defence lawyers say the sentences were too strict, and vowed to appeal.