AP NEWS

Macedonian court sentences former PM Gruevski to 2 years

May 23, 2018
FILE - In this Friday, Dec. 30, 2016 file photo, Nikola Gruevski, leader of the conservative VMRO-DPMNE party that won the most seats in the parliamentary elections, arrives at the constitutive session in the parliament building in Skopje, Macedonia. A Macedonian criminal court on Wednesday May 23, 2018, has sentenced former conservative prime minister Nikola Gruevski to two years in prison for unlawfully influencing officials at the interior ministry over the purchase of a luxury bulletproof car. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski, File)

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — A Macedonian criminal court sentenced former conservative prime minister Nikola Gruevski to two years in prison Wednesday for unlawfully influencing officials at the interior ministry over the purchase of a luxury bulletproof car.

The court ruled that Gruevski, who served as prime minister during 2006-2016, influenced the officials in the 2012 purchase of his Mercedes at an estimated cost of 600,000 euros (around $700,000.)

The 47-year-old Gruevski denied any wrongdoing. He was not present in court when the verdict was read and will remain free pending appeal.

He was convicted using evidence from audio material collected during a massive wiretapping scandal that erupted in 2015 and contributed to the demise of his government. The judge ruled that allowing the audio to be used as evidence was in the public interest.

Four other cases in which Gruevski faces criminal charges of corruption, election irregularities, ordering violence and abuse of office are pending.

During his trial last week, Gruevski described the prosecutions as a sham and “political torture.”

Macedonia’s wiretapping scandal broke in 2015 when it emerged that phone conversations of about 20,000 people, including judges, police, politicians, journalists and foreign diplomats, had been illegally recorded. The political crisis triggered early elections the following year.

On Tuesday, a former senior interior ministry official, Gjoko Popovski, was convicted of abuse of office and sentenced to nine years over a procurement deal for police patrol cars.

The court ruled that Popovski failed to select the cheapest offer in the purchase of 300 vehicles in 2008, overcharging state coffers by more than 450,000 euros ($530,000.)