The County Court of Zagreb [official website, in Croatian] on Wednesday sentenced six men for the murder of top Croatian journalist, Ivo Pukanic, who was killed in a car bombing in 2008. The court held that the actions committed by the convicted men constituted organized crime, which targeted Pukanic for his extensive reporting on the topic in Croatia. Pukanic was the the founder and editor-in-chief of Croatian political weekly Nacional [official website]. He was a controversial figure in Croatia and was known for his close ties [AFP report] with both high-ranking Croatian officials and top criminal figures. Pukanic's death was the first of its kind since the country's independence in 1991 and caused the government to reinforce its campaign against corruption. The six men face individual sentences of 15 to 40 years, with an aggregate sentencing of more than 150 years.
Croatian officials have been under serious pressure to the tackle the issue of corruption in order to gain accession [EU materials] to the EU by 2012. The prosecution of individuals for organized crime and war crimes has been one of the major issues faced by Croatia in its accession process. In 2008 Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] called on the EU to use Croatia's status as a candidate country to ensure that the Croatian government actively investigates and prosecutes [JURIST report] suspected war criminals. AI criticized the slow pace of war crimes investigations, and noted that Croatian courts have mostly focused on crimes allegedly committed by ethnic Serbs even though Croats have also been accused of ethnic-based war crimes. In March 2005, the EU suspended entry talks [JURIST report] on the grounds that Croatia was failing to fully cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia [official website; JURIST news archive] investigating war crimes in the area. The entry talks were resumed in October of that year after the ICTY declared that Croatia was fully cooperating [JURIST report].