The corruption and war profiteering trial of former Croatian prime minister Ivo Sanader proceeded in Zagreb on Thursday with Sanader pleading not guilty to charges that he accepted a bribe in 1995. Sanader stands accused [Reuters report] of corruption, abuse of power and fraud for taking nearly €4 million [JURIST report] from public firms and state institutions, charges which he has denied. Croatia's Bureau for Combating Corruption and Organized Crime (USKOK) alleged Sanader received a pay-off [JURIST report] of more than 3.6 million kuna (nearly USD $695,000) from Austria's Hypo Alpe-Adria-Bank in exchange for the country entering into a loan agreement to receive 140 million Austrian Schillings (USD $14.7 million) in order to place the bank in the Croatian market. At the time Sanader was deputy foreign minister and Croatia was at war, fighting for independence from Yugoslavia. In pleading not guilty Sanader told the court that he was only an agent for the foreign ministry during talks with Hypo Bank. To underscore his claims, Sanader told the court that Austrian prosecutors investigating malpractice at Hypo Bank had called him as a witness and not as a suspect. Sanader has also been indicted for allegedly taking bribes worth €10 million from Hungarian energy group MOL in exchange for allowing MOL a dominant position in Croatia's oil and gas group INA [corporate websites]. The court's decision on that indictment is still pending.
Sanader's trial was postponed [JURIST report] last week for health reasons. Elected to parliament after he stepped down from the prime minister position in 2009, Sanader was indicted in September as part of an anti-corruption campaign launched his hand-picked successor Jadranka Kosor [official profile]. Croatia is close to achieving membership in the European Union (EU), and Kosor hopes Sanader's trial will help ease pressure from Brussels for Croatia to sort out corruption and speed investigations. Sanader was extradited [JURIST report] to Croatia in July in order to face these charges after he was arrested in Austria last December. Sanader had argued that it would be impossible to receive a fair trial in Croatia, but he dropped his stance after media speculation [JURIST report] suggested the appeal could harm EU Croatia's accession. The Kosor government completed accession talks with the EU in June, and is hoping to join in July 2013.