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Hungary Confirms Ex-Macedonia Leader Seeking Asylum As Skopje Demands Extradition


Former Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski enters a court in Skopje on October 5.
Former Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski enters a court in Skopje on October 5.

The Hungarian government has confirmed that it has received a request for political asylum from former Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski.

Gruevski, who served as prime minister from 2006 to 2016, announced on Facebook on November 13 that he was in Budapest and had requested asylum.

The office of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said in a November 14 statement that it does not "wish to intervene in the internal affairs of sovereign countries," but since Gruevski was "prime minister of his country for 10 years, for security reasons, the Hungarian authorities have allowed [him] to have his asylum request submitted and heard."

His flight to Hungary took place the day after Macedonian officials issued a warrant for his arrest after he failed to appear for the start of his two-year prison sentence for abuse of power dating back to 2012.

Judges on November 9 rejected Gruevski's final appeal against his serving the sentence.

In Skopje, Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev called on Hungary to extradite Gruevski and the Justice Ministry said it is preparing a formal extradition request.

The statement from Orban's office said it considers Gruevski's asylum request "solely a legal issue" and views Macedonia as "an important ally."

Zaev -- who was a bitter rival of Gruevski when he was in the opposition -- said he expects Hungary to respect international law and return Gruevski to Macedonia.

"What will be [Macedonia's] motivation to join the European Union if one of its member states becomes a shelter for criminals?" he said at a news conference in Skopje.

Gruevski, the former leader of the conservative VMRO-DPMNE party, was sentenced in May to two years in prison for unlawfully influencing Interior Ministry officials over the purchase of a luxury vehicle valued at 600,000 euros ($680,000).

A Macedonian Justice Ministry spokesman said the formal extradition request will take some time as the documents need to be translated into Hungarian.

Macedonia has no extradition agreement with Hungary but can seek to apply the European Convention on Extradition for Council of Europe (CoE), of which both countries are members.

Meanwhile, Macedonian authorities detained two former government officials currently on trial for corruption amid fears they could also flee prosecution.

A court in Skopje on November 14 ordered former Transport Minister Mile Janakieski and ex-government Secretary-General Kiril Bozinovski to be held for 30 days.

The two former officials are on trial on charges that include corruption over public contracts and election fraud.

Gruevski still faces three other corruption trials, including one over a major wiretapping scandal, and could be handed longer sentences than the one already given to him.

Special Prosecutor Katica Janeva said Gruevski "will surely be tried in absentia...this [action of applying for asylum] will not obstruct ongoing trials.”

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Balkan Service, Reuters, AP, and dpa
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