Former Macedonian Leader Faces Two Years In Prison After Losing Appeal

A former Macedonian prime minister has lost his final appeal of a court decision sentencing him to two years in prison over corruption-related charges.

A panel of judges at the Skopje criminal court on November 9 rejected Nikola Gruevski's appeal after "reviewing all the facts and evidence" in the case, the panel said in a statement.

It was not immediately clear whether Gruevski intended to hand himself in to authorities to serve the sentence. His lawyers have petitioned the Supreme Court for a retrial.

The former leader of the conservative main opposition party VMRO-DPMNE was sentenced in May to two years in prison for unlawfully influencing Interior Ministry officials over the purchase of a luxury vehicle at an estimated cost of 600,000 euros.

He was ordered to present himself at Skopje's Shuto Orizari prison on November 8, but submitted a last-minute appeal.

The 48-year-old politician, who served as prime minister from 2006 to 2016 and is still a VMRO lawmaker, had requested that the prison sentence be deferred, citing his parliamentary duties.

VMRO leader Hristijan Mickoski condemned the court decision, claiming that Macedonia's judiciary is "absolutely" under the control of the Socialist-led government.

"Gruevski is a victim of political persecution," Mickoski said in an interview with private TV Alfa channel.

Earlier on November 9, Macedonian lawmakers fell short of the votes needed to expel Gruevski as a member of parliament. Parliament voted 58-29 to revoke Gruevski's mandate but failed to secure the required two-thirds majority in the 120-seat assembly.

The parliamentary administrative committee filed the motion to expel Gruevski earlier this week, based on a provision allowing the removal of a lawmaker if he becomes "unworthy" of his status by committing a crime.

Under Macedonian law, a legislator automatically loses his status if he is sentenced to five or more years.

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

With reporting by AP and dpa