A Skopje court ruled on May 21 that Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev is not guilty in a bribery case brought against him when he was an opposition leader.
The charges, from which Zaev was acquitted, are related to taking a bribe of more than €160,000 from a local businessman in 2013 to allow the privatisation of a land plot in Strumica, when he was mayor of the southeast Macedonian town.
Zaev pleaded not guilty in the case, saying that the charges against him were fabricated when, as the head of the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), he was the country’s main opposition leader, and aimed at preventing his political activities. They coincided with his revelations about crime and corruption among top officials of the former government led by the conservative VMRO-DPMNE party.
“I am happy because I was acquitted from the charges and finally I proved my innocence,” Zaev said after the court released the verdict.
He reiterated that everything he did while he was Strumica mayor was transparent and that he only appealed to businessmen to donate.
Zaev said previously that once all the evidence is seen by the court authorities, it will become clear that the conversation was about collecting donations for the Cathedral Church in Strumica, and that he called on local business people to donate for the construction of the church.
However, before the “non-guilty” verdict was delivered, left-wing political movement Levica brought fresh charges against Zaev, who they accused of endangering the constitutional order by agreeing to constitutional changes to allow the country to be renamed Ilinden Macedonia.
“Zaev's public promise to Greek Prime Minister AlexisTsipras to accept a change of the country’s constitutional name for internal and external use, Zaev jeopardised the constitutional order of Macedonia," said Dimitat Apasiev from Levica.
There is an opportunity for Levica to extend the charges to other people, such as Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov, who publicly admitted that he is behind this proposal.
On May 19, Zaev urged citizens and the opposition to accept the proposed new country name, Ilinden Macedonia, which was discussed with his Greek peer on May 17 in Sofia as part of efforts to find a solution to the long-standing name dispute between the two countries.
The new proposal came as a surprise for the Macedonian public as Zaev said earlier that an acceptable solution for Macedonia would be a composite name with a geographic qualifier.
The proposal will need constitutional changes in order for the new name to be used internally, something which is strongly opposed by the opposition and most of the country’s citizens.
However, if Macedonia and Greece reach a solution to the long-standing name dispute, this will unblock Macedonia’s Euro-Atlantic integration processes.
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