Ex-Macedonia PM Gruevski says he has been granted asylum in Hungary

BUDAPEST/SKOPJE (Reuters) - Former Macedonian prime minister Nikola Gruevski, who fled abroad after being sentenced to two years in prison on corruption-related charges, said on Tuesday that he had been granted political asylum in Hungary.

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Macedonian police had issued an arrest warrant for Gruevski, who resigned in 2016 after a decade in power, after he failed to show up to begin his sentence, following a Nov. 9 court ruling against his motion for a reprieve.

“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.

A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department said in a reply to Reuters questions that Gruevski was convicted of misuse of office by Macedonian courts after a “thorough and transparent legal process”.

“In addition, Mr. Gruevski is indicted in four pending criminal cases. We believe it is appropriate for the Macedonian legal process to proceed and for Mr. Gruevski to be held accountable within the Macedonian justice system,” the spokesperson added.‎

Earlier on Tuesday, the Hungarian newspaper Magyar Idok reported without naming its sources that the Hungarian Immigration and Asylum Office had established that the legal conditions to give Gruevski asylum had been met.

Officials at the immigration agency were unavailable for comment. A government spokesman said Hungary “has been in compliance with the...rules” with respect to Gruevski’s case, without elaborating.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban supported the fellow right-wing nationalist Gruevski in the run-up to Macedonia’s 2017 election and praised his party’s efforts to halt migrants passing through the Balkans to western Europe.

Orban’s office earlier said it considered Gruevski’s asylum request to be “solely a legal issue” to be handled by the competent authority.

The Macedonian Justice Ministry said it would send to Budapest a request for Gruevski’s extradition.

“The government expects that the authorities in Budapest will unconditionally accept the request for extradition and in accordance with international law, as a member state of NATO and the EU, will facilitate the return of Gruevski to Macedonia,” the government in Skopje said in a statement.

Reporting by Gergely Szakacs, Krisztina Than in Budapest and Kole Casule in Skopje, Editing by Mark Heinrich, William Maclean