Tuesday November 20, 2012
Croatian ex-PM gets 10 years for graft
ZAGREB: A Croatian court on Tuesday sentenced ex-prime minister Ivo Sanader to 10 years in jail for corruption and war profiteering in a case closely watched by the EU.
Sanader showed no emotion as Judge Ivan Turudic told him he had been found guilty beyond reasonable doubt and would be back behind bars while awaiting a possible appeal.
Shortly after the verdict was announced, Sanader who had been out on bail for most of the trial, was taken to a Zagreb detention centre.
"With your behaviour you not only harmed Croatia's vital interests but also its reputation in the world," the judge said, adding that the verdict was intended to send a message to public officials.
The former premier, who confidently steered the Balkans country into NATO and to the doorstep of the European Union, was convicted of taking millions of euros in bribes from Hungarian energy giant MOL and a troubled Austrian bank.
He was also ordered to pay 3.6 million kunas (480,000 euros, $611,000) to the Croatian state within 15 days.
In a stunning fall from grace, the once conservative politician became the highest-ranking Croatian official to be convicted of corruption charges since the country proclaimed independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991.
He is the second former PM in southeastern Europe to be convicted of corruption in recent years after Romanian ex-premier Adrian Nastase was jailed for two years in June.
Prosecutors had sought the maximum 15-year jail term, saying Sanader "betrayed the national interests" he was supposed to protect as prime minister, a job he held from 2003 to 2009.
Sanader was convicted of taking 5 million euros ($6.4 million) in bribes from MOL to ensure it had a prevailing influence in Croatian oil and gas group INA even though it did not hold a majority stake in the partly state-owned company.
He was also sentenced for profiteering during Croatia's 1991-95 war against Belgrade-backed rebel Serbs, accepting almost 500,000 euros in bribes from Austrian Hypo Group Alpe Adria (HGAA).
At the time he was a deputy foreign minister.
"The war provided an ideal environment for your criminal intentions," the judge told Sanader, who looked unaffected in court, dressed in a grey suit with a light blue tie.
The former PM had denied all the allegations against him and blamed the prosecutors for "political persecution" ordered by his successor Jadranka Kosor.
When she took over from her former mentor, Kosor stepped up the fight against corruption -a key demand from the EU- but was herself toppled in last December's election.
Sanader, who transformed his conservative HDZ from a nationalist to a pro-European party, shocked Croatia when he suddenly stepped down in mid-2009 without giving a clear explanation.
Once a central political figure in Croatia, he now heads the list of most disliked public figures in public opinion surveys.
The 59-year-old is also being tried in another major corruption case involving the illegal funnelling of money from public companies to his HDZ party and himself while in power. He was indicted for abuse of power in yet another case and additional probes are ongoing.
Sanader was detained in Austria in late 2010 on a Croatian warrant.
Croatia joined NATO in 2009 and is set to become the newest EU member in July, with Brussels continuing to closely monitor Zagreb's progress in battling graft.
In its latest report on Croatia's readiness for EU entry, the European Commission said the country needed to improve its track record in the fight against corruption.
"The concept of political accountability and zero tolerance of corruption needs to be strengthened," the October report warned. - AFP