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Croatia to try ex-PM, HDZ party officials for graft

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 21 Mar 2012 01:56 PM
Author: Reuters
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ZAGREB, March 21 (Reuters) - Croatia's former premier Ivo Sanader and other senior officials of the HDZ party will go on trial next month on charges they created slush funds by skimming profits from state companies and rigging public tenders to the tune of almost ${esc.dollar}10 million.

The party's former treasurer, accountant and spokesman, will be among those going on trial on April 16, part of an anti-corruption drive to boost Croatia's bid to join the European Union in July 2013.

The centre-right HDZ, which lost power in December after eight years and which has ruled Croatia for 16 of the 20 years since independence, is the first party indicted for corruption, which is perceived as widespread at the top levels of politics and at state-run companies.

"The biggest corruption affair in this region starts! The entire HDZ presidency will testify," the Jutarnji List daily said on its website.

Several lower-ranking former party officials have already plea-bargained and received short jail terms.

The HDZ was swept from power in a general election in December because of corruption scandals involving the party and its failure to overhaul the economy, and has been bogged down in political in-fighting ahead of electing a new leadership in May.

Jadranka Kosor, Sanader's hand-picked successor who was prime minister for 30 months until the election in December, launched the anti-graft campaign in 2009 to help Zagreb's bid to join the EU. Croatia signed the accession treaty last June but its anti-corruption efforts will remain under scrutiny from Brussels.

The indictment, published on USKOK corruption police force's website, says Sanader and six other people conspired to secure illegal funding for the HDZ from public companies from 2003 to 2009, when Sanader suddenly and without explanation quit the government.

During that time, the HDZ is accused of having illegally acquired at least 31.6 million kuna (${esc.dollar}5.54 million) and Sanader personally receiving at least 15 million kuna, the indictment said.

Three other suspects and their two companies acquired altogether another 18 million kuna.

Sanader, who stepped down in July 2009, is already on trial on two separate graft charges involving a loan from Austria's Hypo Bank and alleged secret deals with Hungarian oil concern MOL related to managing Croatia's oil group INA. (${esc.dollar}1 = 5.6991 Croatian kunas) (Reporting by Zoran Radosavljevic; Editing by Igor Ilic and Susan Fenton)

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