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Croatia ex-prime minister indicted on fifth corruption charge

Croatian prosecutors announced Saturday that they have charged former prime minister Ivo Sanader [JURIST news archive] with embezzlement relating to a real estate deal that took place during his time in office. Sanader is accused of using government funds to purchase a building in the capital city of Zagreb at an inflated price and stealing the surplus. Sanader and three associates, including former Farming Minister Petar Cobankovic, allegedly embezzled the funds [RFE/RL report] in excess of the state-owned building's market value, with Sanader himself pocketing approximately €2.3 million (USD $2.8 million). Cobankovic has reportedly admitted his guilt in a plea bargain [Voice of Russia report] with prosecutors. 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 by his hand-picked successor Jadranka Kosor [official profile]. This most recent indictment marks the fifth corruption charge against Sanader, whom prosecutors say gained more than USD $15 million through corrupt business transactions during his time as prime minister from 2003 to 2009. He is also facing charges of corruption, abuse of power and fraud for taking nearly €4 million [JURIST report] from public firms and state institutions in the 1990s. Sanader has denied all the charges against him.

Croatia is close to achieving membership in the EU, and Kosor hopes Sanader's trial will help ease pressure from Brussels for Croatia to sort out corruption and speed investigations. Sanader's trial is the first criminal proceeding prompted by EU pressure for Croatia to crack down on corruption. The trial was postponed [JURIST report] in October for health reasons. In November Sanader pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to 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]. He also pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] a week earlier to charges that he accepted a bribe in 1995, claiming he was only an agent for the foreign ministry during talks with Hypo Bank. Croatia's Bureau for Combating Corruption and Organized Crime (USKOK) arrested Sanader in 2010 [JURIST report] alleging that he received a pay-off 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.

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