Republic of Macedonia to Seize Ex-Premier's Passport Amid Scandal

  • Court ruling affects 21 officials including ex-ministers
  • Former Premier Gruevski may appeal ruling, denies charges

The Republic of Macedonia’s Primary Court ordered that the passports of former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and 20 other officials be seized because of a wiretap scandal that led to his downfall after a decade in power.

The Balkan country’s special prosecutors have demanded Gruevski’s arrest and last week charged 94 suspects with conspiracy, abuse of election campaign funds and violation of election laws. The former Yugoslav state’s new Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, who took office last month, pledged to reverse what the ruling Social Democrats have denounced as “authoritarian” practices that led the country away from its path of integration with the European Union and NATO.

“Once the 21 people receive the verdict, they have to return their passports immediately,” Primary Court spokesman Dejan Ristovski said Tuesday by phone from Skopje, the capital. “We’re expecting them today. In any case the court’s decision renders the documents invalid.”

Gruevski will probably appeal the decision, said Ivo Kotevski, spokesman of his VMRO-DPMNE party.

EU, Russia

“The Special Public Prosecution is acting as a unit of the Social Democrats,” Kotevski said by phone from Skopje. “It works only under political orders, and not on the basis of justice.”

Zaev’s government is trying to repair ties with the EU after the 28-nation bloc criticized the country of 2 million for a weak judiciary and democratic backsliding under Gruevski, whose cabinet was toppled in a political crisis that erupted in 2015 after leaked tapes alleged his government illegally wiretapped more than 20,000 people. Gruevski has denied wrongdoing.

The Balkan country is at the center of a tussle between Russia and its Cold War adversaries for influence in former communist Europe, with Moscow trying to prevent more countries from joining western alliances and accusing Zaev of trying to undermine the Balkan state’s Slavic majority by teaming up with ethnic-Albanian parties.

“I won’t be surprised if Gruevski’s party activists go on the streets, to put pressure on the judiciary,” Dimitar Bechev, a non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C., said by phone. “But I don’t expect any international reaction over the indictments - I don’t think Russia will make any effort to save Gruevski, because it doesn’t have that influence."

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