SKOPJE (Reuters) - An appeals court on Friday upheld a lower court’s sentencing of Macedonia’s former prime minister Nikola Gruevski to two years in prison for fixing a tender for the government to buy a bullet-proof Mercedes Benz.
Gruevski was sentenced in May after a trial heard he had used his influence over a member of the tender commission to promote one car dealer to supply the Mercedes. Gruevski received a kickback from the dealer, prosecutors said.
The case is the first of five against Gruevski brought by a special prosecutor appointed to investigate corruption allegations against the former government as part of an agreement among political parties brokered by the European Union.
The court said on Friday the ex-prime minister’s appeal was “unfounded”. The start of his prison term is pending a court order.
“This is a classical political persecution,” Gruevski told reporters after the ruling was announced on Friday.
Macedonia was thrown into political turmoil in 2015 when opposition parties accused the prime minister and his counter-intelligence chief of orchestrating the wiretapping of more than 20,000 people.
Gruevski, the former leader of the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party, stepped down as prime minister in 2016 after 10 years in power. His departure and new elections were part of the EU agreement between his ruling VMRO-DPMNE and opposition parties.
Macedonia’s hopes of joining the EU and NATO have been in limbo since a referendum on Sunday on changing the country’s name to the “Republic of North Macedonia”.
Voters backed a plan to change the name and so end a long dispute with Greece, which had blocked Macedonia’s entry into the international organizations. But the referendum failed to achieve the 50 percent turnout required for the result to be valid.
Reporting by Kole Casule; writing by Ivana Sekularac; editing by Andrew Roche