Europe

Former North Macedonia Prime Minister given fifth prison sentence

The former prime minister of North Macedonia has been convicted for the fifth time leaving office and sentenced to six years in prison for abuse of power.

Nikola Gruevski was found guilty of misusing the services of a government-linked construction company to build his party’s headquarters in central Skopje.

The Criminal Court found that the company had covered the entire €7 million cost of the development scheme as a donation to Gruevski’s conservative VMRO-DPMNE party.

On Wednesday, the fugitive former prime minister and another party official were convicted of breaching party financing laws. The court also ordered the confiscation of the party’s eight-story headquarters and of dozens of other properties.

Gruevski has denied any wrongdoing, claiming political persecution. The 51-year-old former prime minister has been living in exile in Hungary for more than three years after being granted asylum.

Gruevski fled North Macedonia in November 2018 after he was initially sentenced to two years in prison for influencing interior ministry officials to purchase a €600,000 armoured car for his personal use.

Two years later, he was also convicted in absentia of inciting violence against his political opponents and given an additional 18-month sentence.

In April, a court sentenced Gruevski to seven years in prison for embezzling €1.3 million in party donations.

Last month, Gruevski was further sentenced to nine years in prison for ordering the demolition of a multi-million euro residential and business complex in Skopje in 2011.

Prosecutors labelled the incident an act of political revenge and said the complex belonged to the leader of a small party who had just left Gruevski’s government.

Three other defendants were also imprisoned in that case, including North Macedonia’s former transport minister, the former mayor of Skopje and a municipal official. They were all found guilty of falsely declaring the construction illegal and facilitating its demolition with explosives.

The suspects had argued that demolition was justified because the complex had not been built properly.

But the court in North Macedonia ordered the three to jointly pay €11 million in damages, in addition to the prison sentences.

The charges all relate to a 2015 wiretapping scandal when it emerged that the phone conversations of more than 20,000 people — including politicians, judges, police, journalists and foreign diplomats — had been illegally recorded.

The scandal triggered an early election in 2016 in which Gruevski’s VMRO-DPMNE party lost to Social Democrat leader Zoran Zaev.

North Macedonia has unsuccessfully asked Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban — an ally of Gruevski — to extradite the former nationalist leader.

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