By Krisztina Than
BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Former Macedonian prime minister Nikola Gruevski has sought asylum at a Hungarian representation outside Macedonia, Budapest said on Thursday, after he fled to Hungary earlier this week.
Gruevski, who resigned in 2016 after 10 years in power, left for Budapest six months after he was sentenced to two years in prison on corruption-related charges.
Macedonian police issued an arrest warrant for him after he failed to show up to begin his sentence, following a Nov. 9 court ruling against his motion for a reprieve.
At a news conference, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s cabinet chief declined to say in which country Gruevski had sought Hungarian asylum or how he made his way to the Immigration and Asylum Office in Budapest where he actually submitted his asylum documents and was heard.
“According to my knowledge he made a statement regarding threats to his safety … that justified that his hearing should be conducted not in a transit zone but in Budapest,” Gergely Gulyas told reporters.
He declined to say whether the Hungarian government was involved in helping Gruevski get from the embassy to Budapest or whether he arrived by land or air. He said Hungary played no role in Gruevski’s exit from Macedonia.
Gulyas said Budapest had not yet received an official request from Skopje to extradite Gruevski, adding Hungary would act “in line with the laws” if that happens. He said there was an extradition agreement between the two countries.
Gruevski had not met Orban during his current stay in Hungary, he added.
Asked if Gruevski was protected by Hungarian authorities Gulyas said Hungary applied “the appropriate security protocol”, and was assured he would not leave the country.
Gruevski’s refugee status application puts Orban in a difficult situation. He supported the nationalist in the run-up to Macedonia’s 2017 elections and praised his party’s efforts to halt migrants passing through the Balkans to Western Europe.
Gruevski’s VMRO-DPMN party and Orban’s right-wing Fidesz are members of the European People’s party.
On Wednesday, a Fidesz party spokesman said Gruevski was a politician who was being persecuted by Macedonia’s leftist government. Gulyas declined to comment on this.
Last month Macedonia’s parliament approved a proposal to change the country’s name, bringing a decades-old dispute with Greece one step closer to resolution. That move could unblock its bid to join NATO, something Moscow opposes.
Gruevski had opposed any name change.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Gareth Jones and Marie-Louise Gumuchian)