|Macedonia’s former PM Nikola Gruevski in front of the Skopje Criminal Court. Archive photo: EPA-EFE/GEORGI LICOVSKI|
Nikola Gruevski, Macedonia’s former prime minister and former leader of the VMRO DPMNE party, was jailed for two years on Wednesday for “receiving a reward”, in the form of a luxury Mercedes, after previously “illegally influencing” the other two accused to commit the illegal purchase of the vehicle.
The ruling was a first-instance verdict and Gruevski may appeal the sentence.
The Skopje Criminal Court jailed another accused, former assistant interior minister Gjoko Popovski, for six-and-a-half-years.
The procedure for former interior minister Gordana Jankuloska is being led separately due to her pregnancy.
During the elaboration of the verdict, judge Dobrila Kacarska said Gruevski had solicited the purchase of the 580,000 euros Mercedes from then Interior Minister Jankuloska.
She added that Jankuloska then encouraged Popovski to rig the tendering procedure by favouring the company Mak Auto Star, which is a Mercedes dealer for Macedonia.
“Holding a public office, especially Prime Ministerial, represents an honour. He [Gruevski] received his legitimacy from the citizens, and so was supposed to take care of their interests. Instead, he humiliated and underestimated them [the citizens],” judge Kacarska said.
Gruevski did not appear in court to hear the verdict in the case, which the Special Prosecution, SJO, in charge of investigating allegations of high-level crime, dubbed “Tank”.
“Keep your heads up my proud Macedonians and proud citizens of Macedonia,” he wrote on Faceook after the verdict, adding: “Better times are coming.”
At previous court hearings, he told reporters in front of the court that the entire case had been framed against him by the current government, led by the Social Democrats, SDSM.
A small group of Gruevski’s supporters protested over the verdict in front of the court where police were deployed to prevent possible incidents.
The verdict against Gruevski was the first in the five active court cases against him raised by the SJO. Gruevski is also on trial in the SJO cases dubbed “Violence”, “Trajectory”, “Titanic“ and “TNT”.
All of these cases stem from the content of the illegal wiretaps that the former opposition Social Democrats aired in batches during 2015.
The airing of these wiretaps containing secretly recorded tapes of official conversations, along with the then opposition claims that they originated from within the secret police – and that Gruevski had orchestrated the illegal surveillance of some 20,000 people – created a deep political crisis.
Gruevski’s VMRO DPMNE party, which led Macedonia’s government from 2006, was finally ousted from power last year, after which he resigned as party leader.
Gruevski and VMRO DPMNE whose many former officials are now facing trials and investigations maintain that these wiretaps are illegally acquired and cannot be used in court and that the current government is pressuring the courts for selective justice.