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EU's Hahn To Hungary: If You Are Granting Gruevski Asylum, Explain Why

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Then-Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski (right) and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in 2015

The European Union has demanded an explanation from EU-member Hungary over reports that Budapest granted political asylum to fugitive former Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn tweeted on November 21 that if Hungary has made a decision to grant Gruevski asylum, he expects a "sound explanation of its grounds" from Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Gruevski, who is close to the populist Hungarian prime minister, fled to Hungary last week after being convicted on corruption charges in Macedonia and sentenced to two years in prison.

He said on November 20 that he had been granted asylum from "political persecution" in Macedonia.

Gruevski also said he received death threats in Macedonia -- an accusation that the government of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has questioned, saying the former premier was not a victim of political persecution.

Skopje has issued an international warrant for his arrest.

The EU has voiced increasing concern at measures taken by Orban to put Hungary's justice system under his government's control.

"The #RuleofLaw remains a fundamental principle for [EU] Member States and accession candidates alike," Hahn tweeted. "It is crucial for #Europe's credibility. Surprising that #Hungary supports (Macedonian) #EU membership but does not consider it safe."

Macedonia, which was officially recognized in 2005 as a candidate to join the EU, has been implementing reforms to ensure the independence and effectiveness of its judicial system as part of its efforts toward eventual membership.

Gruevski, who served as prime minister from 2006 to 2016, was convicted in May of using a 600,000 euro ($675,000) Mercedes bought with state funds for personal travel.

He is facing three other trials, including over a major wiretapping scandal, and could be handed longer sentences than the one already given to him.

The 48-year-old politician claims the cases are politically motivated.

Late on November 20 in Skopje, a former Macedonian intelligence chief who is also a cousin of Gruevski was taken into custody for a minimum of 30 days after a court considered him a flight risk to potentially avoid standing trial over the wiretapping scandal.

Saso Mijalkov headed state security agency UBK for nearly a decade, until May 2015.

Mijalkov, along with a former interior minister and other intelligence service officials, have been charged with ordering the illegal wiretapping of thousands of people, including opposition politicians and journalists, and of later trying to destroy the evidence.

With reporting by AFP, dpa, and AP
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