The trial of Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, accused of receiving a bribe of around 160,000 euros in 2013 when he was mayor of a city, opened on Tuesday in a court in Skopje after several adjournments.
Zoran Zaev, a 43-year-old Social Democrat in power since June 2017, is accused of pocketing the money from a local businessman to help him acquire a building plot when he was mayor of the city of Strumica, a city in the south-east of the country.
“We will prove that Zoran Zaev, as mayor of Strumica, received a bribe in 2013 and is guilty of it,” said prosecutor Valentina Bislimovska.
The opening of this trial has been regularly postponed since early 2016.
Mr. Zaev denounced the “construction of an indictment with malicious intent” intended, he said, to prevent him from him from carrying out political activity. “The absurdity of this charge for bribery will be proven,” he told the press after the hearing.
The prosecution intends to provide as evidence a video recorded by a camera hidden during the conversation of Mr. Zaev with the businessman.
Filip Medarski, Prime Minister Zaev’s lawyer challenges the legality of this evidence. “The crucial element in proving the existence of a criminal offence of which Zaev is accused would be a transaction which, in this case, does not exist,” said Medarski.
Zoran Zaev explained that he asked the businessman if he could make a donation for building a church, not a bribe.
The video was broadcast on YouTube in the midst of a political crisis in Macedonia, when the opposition, headed by Zaev at the time, broadcast footage that appeared to reveal a massive corruption of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski’s power.
The latter had left power in early 2017, after leading Macedonia for ten years, following allegations of that Guevski’s government had wiretapped more than 20,000 people, including top officials in the public administration, prosecutors, judges and political opponents. Gruevski’s VMRO-DPMNE party was also accused of widespread corruption and electoral fraud.