North Macedonia’s fugitive ex-prime minister Nikola Gruevski was given a seven-year jail sentence for robbing his own political party and using the money to illicitly purchase property.
Nikola Gruevski arrives at court in Skopje in October 2018. Photo: EPA-EFE/GEORGI LICOVSKI
Nikola Gruevski, who was tried in absentia, was found guilty at Skopje Criminal Court on Thursday of unlawfully acquiring over 1.3 million euros from his former ruling VMRO DPMNE party, and of instigating a money-laundering scheme to cover his tracks and buy property with the proceeds.
“For this plan, Gruevski needed money, so he decided to take the money from donations from the party,” presiding judge Ilija Trpkov explained.
Gruevski was tried alongside five of his associates. His cousin, the former head of the Secret Police, Saso Mijalkov, was sentenced to one year and three months in jail for aiding the money-laundering scheme. He had pleaded not guilty.
Prominent businessman Orce Kamcev was sent to one year in jail for money-laundering.
Gruevski’s best man at his wedding, Risto Novacevski, and businessman Nenad Josifovic each got two-year suspended jail terms for money-laundering, after admitting guilt during the trial.
Kamcev’s mother, Ratka Kamceva, who was also charged with money-laundering received no sentence as the court acknowledged that the charges against her had passed the statute of limitations.
This was a first-instance verdict, against which the defendants have the right to appeal.
The verdict said Gruevski used money drawn from donations made to the then ruling VMRO DPMNE party, which he obtained between 2006 and 2012, while serving as prime minister. He then used it to buy attractive sites in Skopje and in other places using an offshore company registered in Belize.
Judge Trpkov explained the scheme that Gruevski used to launder the money.
“Gruevski’s money from Macedonia was transferred to Belize and through Stopanska Banka Bitola, it was then returned to Macedonia. Then, as Kamcev’s money, it went once more to Belize and was returned [to North Macedonia] trough [Kamcev’s company] Orka Holding,” Trpkov said.
The other defendants and the companies linked to them served only as fictive owners of Gruevski’s land, building lots and apartments which Gruevski obtained for himself.
His cousin Mijalkov was helping him in the scheme, which often required changes of company names and transfer of money and of property from one firm to another.
The court decided to seize land of over 11,000 square metres, including construction lots, plus several apartments with a total size of some 650 square metres, some of which are luxury properties in Skopje.
After several years of investigation, the Organised Crime Prosecution has filed charges in the case in May 2021.
Gruevski, who ruled the country from 2006 to 2016 in authoritarian style, fled to Hungary in 2018 to avoid serving a two-year jail sentence for the illicit purchase of a luxury limousine.
In a post on his Facebook on Wednesday, one day before the sentencing, he reiterated his claim that the case was politically motivated by his arch rivals, “just so that SDSM [the ruling Social Democrats] can have something to brag about”.
He alleged that during the some of his co-defendants and witnesses trial were pressured into falsely testifying that the disputed property was Gruevski’s, thus sacrificing what was in fact their own property to avoid being persecuted.
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