By Kole Casule
SKOPJE (Reuters) - Macedonia charged 20 people on Tuesday, including serving and former intelligence officers, with selling state secrets to a neighboring country and using classified information to blackmail businessmen.
Police said the crimes went back eight years and that they had been tracking the case, the biggest of its kind since Macedonia broke away from federal Yugoslavia in 1991, for the last two years.
"We have information that the group collaborated with several foreign services, but mainly their cooperation was with one neighboring state," Interior Minister Gordana Jankulovska told a news conference, without identifying the country involved.
As well as current and former intelligence agency employees, those charged included an official at the Macedonian parliament, former police and defense officials, a journalist and the former head of the state anti-money laundering agency.
"The information was about the security bodies, political situation, elections, risks, names and data, classified information about religious communities and their radical structures," said Jankulovska, adding: "This is one of the worst criminal acts against the state."
Landlocked Macedonia borders Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, Albania and Kosovo, in a difficult neighborhood still hamstrung by issues of ethnic relations, disputed history and territorial claims.
Relations with Greece are particularly strained, with Athens blocking Skopje's accession to NATO and progress towards membership of the European Union until the two resolve a more than 20-year-old row over Macedonia's name, which it shares with a northern Greek province.
Most of those accused were arrested on Monday in raids on dozens of locations across the capital, during which police seized computers, hard drives, mobile phones, surveillance equipment, documents, guns and ammunition.
Seventeen appeared before a judge on Tuesday, while three are still at large.
(Editing by Matt Robinson and Robin Pomeroy)