A court in Skopje sentenced Macedonian ex-prime minister Nikola Gruevski, the former leader of the now opposition VMRO-DPMNE party, to two years in prison on May 23 in a case related to the illegal purchase of a luxury Mercedes worth around €600,000.
This is the first verdict for Gruevski, 47, who has been charged in four other cases launched by the Special Prosecution Office (SPO), including the TNT investigation, which relates to the demolition of a €58mn residential complex in Skopje which was owned by Gruevski’s political rival.
The charges against him are related to crime and corruption revealed in a wiretapping scandal which erupted in 2015 when former opposition leader and now Prime Minister Zoran Zaev released a series of illegally recorded conversations among officials from the conservative VMRO-DPMNE. Gruevski was in power in Macedonia from 2006 to 2016.
Gruevski, who was not present at the court, was accused of using his position to influence other officials in the interior ministry to purchase a luxury Mercedes for his own needs.
In the same case dubbed “Tank”, the court sentenced Gjoko Popovski former assistant minister of internal affairs to six and a half years in prison for abusing his power. According to the court, Popovski was influenced to purchase the Mercedes for Gruevski in an illegal public procurement procedure in 2012, favouring the company Mak Auto Star from Skopje and excluding other companies from participating in the tender.
A day earlier, Popovski was sentenced to nine years in prison for abuse of power and causing damages to the budget of over €450,000 when he ordered the purchase of 300 new cars for the police services in an illegal public procurement procedure. He was put in detention until the verdict comes into effect.
Explaining himself earlier, Gruevski said: “I just wanted to get a bulletproof car because I wanted to use it. Generations of our descendants will wonder what the former prime minister was accused of, before understanding that it was political persecution.”
Former interior minister Gordana Jankulovska, who directly contacted Gruevski to find out what kind of Mercedes he wanted, is also charged in the Tank case, but the court will conduct a separate court procedure for her due to her high-risk pregnancy.
A few dozen people gathered in front of the court in Skopje to hear the verdict and to give support to the ex-PM.
The defendants can appeal the verdict.
The SPO was set up in 2015 to probe crime and corruption revealed in a wiretapping scandal, which brought down the government led by VMRO-DPMNE in 2017 following more than a year of mass protests and political unrest culimating in the storming of the parliament by nationalist protesters linked to the ruling party. Under VMRO-DPMNE’s rule, the work of the SPO was obstructed, but this was changed under the new government led by Social Democrats.
In addition to the Tank and TNT cases, Gruevski is also one of the suspects in the Titanic case, which has seen charges brought for criminal association and election bribery.