Hungary Grants Asylum to Macedonian ex-PM Convicted for Graft

The day Macedonia requested his extradition, former Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski announced he has been granted political asylum in Hungary, where he fled days before he was to serve his two-year jail sentence for corruption.

Former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski (Nake Batev/ NOVA TV)Former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski (Nake Batev/ NOVA TV)“Today the Republic of Hungary, an EU and NATO member state, responded positively to my previously submitted request to obtain political asylum due to political persecution in the Republic of Macedonia,” Gruevski wrote on his Facebook page on Tuesday.

“In my request for political asylum, I stated that I am claiming asylum because of political persecution by the new government led by the SDSM party. I stated that the government wants to deprive me of my freedom by using undemocratic steps and methods and abusing the judicial system as well as the prosecution system in Macedonia,” Gruevski wrote.

Gruevski was supposed to report to jail to serve his sentence for “illegally influencing” his aides to buy him a luxurious Mercedes worth 580,000 euros (658,160 USD) using rigged tendering.

He said that if he went to prison in Macedonia, his life would have been in danger as he had heard about a plot to assassinate him.

The government in Skopje, however, stated that Gruevski was not politically persecuted and that he not only never reported receiving any death threats but that he even had police protection.

“Nikola Gruevski was convicted in a public and transparent process, and at the same time there are several procedures against him,” the government explained and added that the only reason he fled the country was to avoid facing justice.

Macedonia's Justice Ministry announced it had send the extradition request to Hungary on November 20 and expects Budapest to unconditionally approve it in accordance with international law as a member of the EU and NATO.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn tweeted on Wednesday that he expects Hungarian PM Viktor Orban to explain on which grounds the asylum was granted. He also reminded that the rule of law “remains a fundamental principle for member States.

Meanwhile, Macedonian authorities detained the country's former secret police chief, Saso Mijalkov, Gruevski’s first cousin. Mijalkov is currently on trial in several high-profile court cases and was arrested at the Special Prosecution's request because of the risk of fleeing.  The pre-trial judge put him in detention for 30 days.

Macedonia’s Foreign Ministry summoned Hungary’s ambassador to Skopje and handed him a “protest note” and telling him Macedonia expects his country act in the spirit of good bilateral relations, European values ​​and principles related to the rule of law.

In the past, Gruevski has indicated he was close to Hungarian populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose government has formally denied having actively provided assistance in his escape.

In 2017, Orban publicly endorsed Gruevski’s campaign for municipal elections, which his party lost to the ruling Social Democrats.