A small group of people protest in front of court in Skopje after it hands down a verdict to ex-prime minister Nikola Gruevski who is charged with fraud, Skopje, Macedonia May 23, 2018.
A small group of people protest in front of court in Skopje after it hands down a verdict to ex-prime minister Nikola Gruevski who is charged with fraud, Skopje, Macedonia May 23, 2018.

SKOPJE, MACEDONIA - A Macedonian criminal court has sentenced former conservative prime minister Nikola Gruevski to two years in prison for unlawfully influencing officials at the interior ministry over the purchase of a luxury bulletproof car.

The court ruled on Wednesday that Gruevski, who served as prime minister from 2006-2016, had influenced officials in the 2012 purchase of his luxury Mercedes at an estimated cost of 600,000 euros (around $700,000).

The 47-year-old Gruevski was not present in court when the verdict was read and will remain free pending appeal.

He was convicted using evidence from audio material collected during a massive wiretapping scandal that erupted in 2015 and contributed to the demise of his government. The judge ruled to accept the audio material as evidence as it was in the public interest.