SKOPJE, North Macedonia (AP) — A court in North Macedonia on Thursday convicted the country's fugitive former prime minister, Nikola Gruevski, of using his conservative party's funds to enrich himself and sentenced him in absentia to seven years in prison.
The Criminal Court in the capital, Skopje, ruled that Gruevski unlawfully acquired nearly 1.4 million euros from donations to the VMRO-DPMNE party from 2006 to 2012, part of the time when he was in office.
Judges also found that Gruevski engaged in money laundering to cover his tracks and used the party donations to buy property in Skopje and elsewhere through an offshore company registered in Belize.
“Gruevski needed money for this plan and decided to take (it) from party donations,” presiding judge Ilija Trpkov said.
Gruevski, who was granted political asylum in Hungary where he fled after being convicted on separate charges in 2018, has denied wrongdoing. Defense lawyers said they would appeal Thursday's ruling.
Four of Gruevski's associates were also convicted Thursday in the party funds scandal. His first cousin, the former head of the Secret Police, Saso Mijalkov, was sentenced to a year and three months in jail for aiding the money-laundering scheme.
Businessman Orce Kamcev got one year in jail for money-laundering, while two others got two-year suspended jail terms after pleading guilty to money-laundering charges.
The court also ordered the confiscation of various properties, including luxury apartments in Skopje.
It was the former leader's third conviction after he left office.
Gruevski was convicted in 2018 on charges of unlawfully influencing interior ministry officials over the purchase of a luxury armored car and sentenced to two years in jail. He fled to Hungary before the sentence could be implemented.
In 2020, Gruevski was sentenced to 1 1/2 years in prison for orchestrating violence in 2013.
Three other cases are pending against Gruevski, who served as prime minister from 2006-2016, on charges of corruption, election irregularities and abuse of office.
All the charges against him stem from a wiretapping scandal that broke in 2015, when it emerged that the phone conversations of more than 20,000 people had been illegally recorded, including those of politicians, judges, police, journalists and foreign diplomats.
The scandal triggered an early election in 2016 in which Gruevski lost to Social Democrat leader Zoran Zaev.
Konstantin Testorides, The Associated Press