Hungary's Orban defends asylum for fugitive Macedonian ex-leader

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Friday defended Hungary’s granting of asylum to a former Macedonian prime minister facing a jail term at home, describing him as an ally and accusing Macedonia’s justice system of involvement in political “games”.

FILE PHOTO: Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski (L) stands in front of his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban during news conference in Skopje May 12, 2011. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski/File Photo

Former Macedonian premier Nikola Gruevski fled to Hungary earlier this month after being sentenced to two years in prison over corruption-related charges. Hungary’s foreign minister said Hungarian diplomats accompanied him to Budapest.

Gruevski received political asylum on Tuesday, prompting criticism from Macedonia, the European Union and the United States.

Orban said he and Gruevski, who resigned in 2016 after a decade in power, had fought side by side to stop mass migration through the Balkans, which made Macedonia, and Gruevski personally, an ally.

“I know this man, he was a colleague of mine for a long time,” Orban told state radio mr1 in an interview. “It would have been a lot harder, if not impossible, to defend the Hungarian border without him.”

“One treats their allies fairly. If he turns to us, he can expect due process. We can’t place him above the law, but we can give him due process.”

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

Orban said Macedonian legal proceedings against Gruevski were politically-tinged so they should not influence Hungarian authorities.

“Complex political struggles and games are happening in Macedonia, and the justice system is a part of that,” he said. “Macedonian proceedings have no influence over us. We only care if the (asylum) request is legally sound.”

Orban dismissed international criticism of Hungary’s help in helping ferry Gruevski across the Balkans to Budapest and its sheltering of him as the work of organizations and people tied to U.S. financier George Soros.

Soros could not immediately be reached for comment. But the Budapest-born philanthropist has denied repeated accusations by Orban that he and his Open Society Foundations have undermined Europe’s way of life by encouraging migration.

Reporting by Marton Dunai, Editing by William Maclean