Monday, January 08, 2007

Skopje Sentences Ex-defence Minister For Embezzlement

A court in Skopje sentenced the former Macedonian defence minister Ljuben Paunovski to three-and-a-half years in prison for embezzlement, newspapers in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia reported Friday.

Paunovski was sentenced in a repeat trial, after five years in courts, for a 1.5-million-dollar fraud involving military funds. The scandal was uncovered in late 2000.

Sacked in 2001 by the former prime minister Ljubco Georgievski over the scandal, he was already handed a five-and-a-half-year sentence in 2003, but an appellate court ordered a retrial.

Paunovski, who has not been detained, did not appear in court Thursday afternoon to hear the verdict.

His father-in-law and several others were also sentenced to prison time for their involvement in diverting money intended to feed the army and military housing to private accounts.

Paunovski's attorney said that he would appeal the sentence.

Macedonia, the southernmost and poorest former Yugoslav republic, has been plagued by Macedonian-Albanian ethnic conflict, organized crime and corruption at the time of Georgievski's cabinet.

A reform package brokered by the West in 2001 ended the ethnic conflict and paved the way for Macedonia to win the status of European Union membership candidate four years later.

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