Former Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski says he fled to Hungary to avoid a two-year prison term at home because he had received a threat that he would be killed in confinement.
In his first interview since fleeing, Gruevski on February 2 told Macedonia's Sitel television that he initially intended to go to jail despite what he called "crazy judgments with no legal basis."
"But...I received information that someone was planning my liquidation in prison. Then I changed my decision," Gruevski said.
He said he received information from "people who were well informed inside prison" about a planned assassination attempt.
"I cannot say publicly who is behind this plot because I cannot prove it at the moment. I decided to leave Macedonia afterwards," he said.
Gruevski has previously asserted that he had received death threats in Macedonia, an accusation about which the government of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev expressed skepticism, denying the former premier was a victim of political persecution.
Gruevski, who has strong ties to Hungary's autocratic prime minister, Viktor Orban, fled to Budapest in November 2018 after being convicted on corruption charges in Macedonia and sentenced to two years in prison. Budapest granted Gruevski asylum from what it called "political persecution" in Macedonia.
Gruevski said he chose Hungary because it is a member of NATO and the European Union and a country with "independent institutions."
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.
Skopje, which has issued an international warrant for his arrest, has since charged Gruevski with other corruption-related offenses.
Gruevski ruled Macedonia for nearly a decade until 2016, when evidence appearing to show a widespread wire-tapping scheme by his administration led to his downfall.
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.