Former prime minister of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Nikola Gruevski, has been granted asylum in Hungary, the Magyar Idok newspaper reported on Tuesday.
"Today the Republic of Hungary, and EU and NATO member states, responded positively to my previously submitted request to obtain political asylum," Gruevski wrote on his Facebook page earlier today. He cited "political persecution" in the FYROM as the reason for his request.
The FYROM Justice Ministry said it would send a request for Gruevski's extradition to Budapest.
"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," the government in Skopje said in a statement. It added that it expected Hungarian authorities to facilitate the return of Gruevski to FYROM.
Gruevski, a nationalist, fled FYROM six months after being sentenced to two years in prison on corruption-related charges. The former Prime Minister was in power from 2006 to 2016 and is considered a close ally of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Following the November 9 court ruling against Gurevski’s appeal, the former Prime Minister failed to appear to begin his two-year sentence, which triggered FYROM police to issue an arrest warrant.
The Magyar Idok newspaper said the Hungarian Immigration and Asylum Office established that the legal conditions to grant asylum had been met.
Neither the immigration office nor a Hungarian government spokesman were immediately available for comment, according to Reuters.
Orban has been one of Europe’s loudest populists in recent years, declaring support for Gruevski in the run-up to the FYROM's 2017 elections before he was convicted.
Gruevski and current FYROM Prime Minister Zoran Zaev have been front and centre of the Balkan country's political turmoil. Their two parties have been clashing over the country’s provisional agreement to change its name to “North Macedonia” and end a long-standing dispute with neighbour Greece.
Zaev pledged to move forward with the ratification process to change his country’s name, although his coalition acknowledged the September 30 referendum failed to secure the 50% turnout needed to make it legally valid. Of the 36% of registered voters who did show up to the polls, 91.4% approved of the name change, which could, in turn, lead FYROM into both the European Union and NATO.
Tamás Hoffmann, an expert on international law, told Euronews if Grueski was granted political asylum, Hungary will not extradite him because Gruevski is now considered an Internationally Protected Person.
Hoffmann added if the FYROM could prove Hungarian state took part in smuggling Gruveski out of the country, with the help of any Hungarian foreign representation, the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations would mean they could file a suit in The Hague's International Court of Justice against Hungary.