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Macedonia Court Allows Renegade Priest’s Retrial

March 21, 2012

Skopje’s Appellate Court has opened the way for the re-trial of Jovan Vraniskovski, a former priest jailed in absentia for two-and-a-half years for embezzlement.

By Sase Dimovski, Balkan Insight, 20.03.2012

During the re-trial Vraniskovski will stay in detention in Skopje | Photo by: Balkan Insight

Macedonian courts have until the end of July to re-open and conclude a new trial of the controversial cleric before the expiry of the ten-year deadline for criminal procedures in the case. If notting happens befiore then, Vraniskovski can walk free.

“We’ve received approval from the appellate court to repeat the trial and we already have a date – March 29,” said Tanja Mileva, a judge in the court in the central Macedonian town of Veles, where Vraniskovski was first prosecuted.

Vraniskovski was sentenced in October 2009 for appropriating 250,000 euros in 2002 that belonged to the Macedonian Orthodox Church in which he then served. As he was out of the country, the court jailed him in absentia. The sentence was confirmed by a higher-instance court in July 2010.

Vraniskovski fled the country, claiming he was being framed for having defected to the Serbian Orthodox Church.

Vraniskovski turned himself over to the Macedonian authorities in December 2011, seeking a re-trial. Macedonian law allows for the re-trial of persons sentenced in absentia if they voluntarily turn themselves in within a year of receiving their sentence.

Initially, sources in the Skopje Appellate Court told Balkan Insight that the court would reject Vraniskovski’s demand.

This was based on evidence received from Bulgaria saying that Vraniskovski received his sentence in November 2010 while in Bulgaria, meaning he had remained unavailable for 20 days longer then the prescribed one-year period.

For almost a decade the cleric has been the focus of a dispute between the Macedonian Orthodox Church and its Serbian counterpart, which does not recognise Macedonia’s ecclesiastical independence, known as autocephaly.

The more influential Serbian Church refuses to accept this and has said it will offer only autonomy.

Macedonian authorities accused Vraniskovski of inciting religious and racial hatred for setting up a parallel Orthodox church in Macedonia loyal to Serbia, later called the Ohrid Archdiocese.

The Macedonian Church saw this as a Serbian attempt to undermine its authority while the Serbian Church complained that the Macedonians were persecuting one of its priests.

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