Race against time: Will Gruevski walk free or go to prison?

Former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski should appear before the Appellate Court in Skopje today to begin a hearing on the May verdict in the Tank case, in which he was sentenced to two years in prison for illicit influence in the purchase of the luxury Mercedes. His defense filed an appeal on the grounds that the former leader of VMRO-DPMNE was not guilty, and in the two-day hearing will try to tell the rest of the judges that the judge Dobrila Kacarska made a mistake in the first-instance decision. The Appellate court now has three options: to confirm the verdict, to modify it or to restore the case for re-examination, depending on their assessment of the trial in the Criminal Court. Depending on their decision, it will be known whether the most powerful politician in the country will ever go to prison or his crime will become obsolete.

The lawyers we have consulted say that the decision of the Appellate Court should not be expected to be announced tomorrow, when the second and final day of the hearing is scheduled. Today, the Appellate judge is expected to read when and why the indictment was raised, how the procedure was conducted, and what the verdict was. After that, Gruevski’s defense will explain where it believes a mistake was made with the first-instance verdict and will request that it be annulled and start a new trial. Afterwards, the prosecutor gets the opportunity to reply, but the prosecution was satisfied with the prison sentence that Gruevski received, therefore the prosecution’s statement is expected to go in the direction of refusing the request of the defense. In the end, Gruevski gets his minutes, when he can repeat what he said during the trial, but it is also a chance to reveal new details, so far unknown to the case and with which he would prove his innocence. Also, the presence of the former prime minister is optional, but in that case, he would miss a chance to offer arguments in his defense. Due to all these legal procedures, two days are scheduled for the hearing: today and tomorrow.

“When all this is over, the court is adjourned and everyone goes home, including the defendants. Thereafter, the Appellate Court will make a decision and inform the involved parties in writing. It can happen relatively quickly, in two or three weeks, but it could also happen after a few months. That decision is effective, and it will come into force after both parties receive it,” explains lawyer Zvonko Davidovic.

Hypothetically, if the court annuls the verdict and returns the case for a retrial, there will not be enough time for Gruevski to be tried for a possible abuse of office. This will not happen even if the decision of the Appeal court is not received and sent to the parties by October this year when the case turns obsolete. Namely, for the criminal act receiving a reward for the illegal influence, a prison sentence of one to three years is envisaged. The case becomes obsolete when double the time of the highest sentence passes, and in this case it is six years. The crime, according to the indictment, was committed in 2012, so it becomes obsolete in a month and a half. Specifically, for Kacarska’s decision to receive a confirmation, three things should happen: Appeal court has to decide that a two-year prison sentence is a temporary decision, that this sentence should be increased, and that keep in mind that all this needs to be announced in October at the latest.

Special public prosecutor Katica Janeva is aware of this and appealed yesterday to the courts and directly to the Appellate court when it comes to the Tank case, to take into account that the cases of the SPO could become outdated if the procedure was delayed.
If the Appellate Court confirms the prison sentence, Gruevski and his team could appeal to the Supreme Court, but this will not prevent the execution of the legally binding decision. Hypothetically, he would receive a court order for serving a prison sentence, after which he was given the opportunity to request a postponement within a period of three days and state for what reasons.
Aside from Gruevski, Gjoko Popovski, the former assistant interior minister, was also sentenced to a prison of 6.5 years for abuse of office and ended up in detention. When pronouncing the verdict, the former prime minister did not appear before court, and a small group of protesters showed up in front of the court building and protested against the verdict. Former Interior Minister Gordana Jankuloska is also charged in this case, but she is being tried in a separate procedure.

Goran Adamovski