Croatia’s efforts to root out corruption are an important step for the country, which is set to join the EU next year.
By Drazen Remikovic for Southeast European Times in Zagreb -- 07/09/12
Former Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader is expected to face further indictments from the USKOK. [Reuters]
In what is being heralded as the biggest corruption case ever tried by Croatia's judiciary, the country's anti-corruption police unit (USKOK) filled another official corruption indictment against former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader and his associates on Monday (September 3rd).
The new allegation, involving the illegal sale of a building to the Croatian government at an inflated value, is estimated to have cost the public more than 5 million euros while funneling 2.3 million euros to Sanader.
This is the fifth corruption-related indictment Sanader faces, and it is expected that USKOK is not finished.
"The indictment [concerns a] real estate case in the Planinska Street in Zagreb. After the judge revised it, the indictment will be presented to the defense. This will probably be done next week," Judge Kresimir Devcic of the Zagreb County Court told SETimes.
Nikola Kristic, president of Transparency International Croatia, said that Sanader's case is the biggest challenge the Croatian judiciary has faced.
"Sanader's judgment will serve as a doctrine for the other politicians on how to do their job. That is why it is so important. It also will contribute to changing the perception of citizens about the inefficient and corrupt judiciary," Kristic told SETimes.
Sanader was prime minister of Croatia from 2003 to 2009, when he resigned his post. He also served as the head of the HDZ. Both posts were turned over to Jadranka Kosor in July 2009 upon Sanader's sudden resignation.
The Fimi media case, named after the firm from which the money was allegedly drawn, is the biggest case in Croatian legal history.
Besides Sanader, three other men and two companies were indicted Monday for the illegal sale of a private office building for well over market value to the Croatian government. Sanader is suspected of illegally making 2.3 million euros from the transaction.
"With this action, the Croatian state budget was damaged by [nearly 5 million euros]," Vuk Djuricic, USKOK spokesman, told SETimes.
The office building was first owned by former HDZ MP Stjepan Fiolic. He didn't sell it directly to the government, but to Hypo Leasing Croatia, which then leased it to the government for a 10-year period for 8 million euros plus VAT -- about 4.5 million more that the building was worth.
Petar Cobankovic, a former agriculture minister and former vice president of the HDZ also faces charges under the indictment. The Mandates and Immunity Commission of the Croatian parliament dismissed Cobankovic's parliamentary immunity on Tuesday.
"The practice of parliament is that the immunity will be dismissed for any person for which USKOK make a request, so the decision was taken unanimously. The session lasted for one minute," Ivan Drmic, a commission member, told SETimes.
Sanader is currently on trial in four other corruption cases. According to the indictments, he illegally gained more than 12 million euros from the affairs, most notably by taking 10 million euros in bribes from Hungarian energy giant MOL. Several of his closest associates were also arrested in the past year for allegedly taking part.
Sanader has pleaded not guilty to all the charges. "These are all mounted charges. USKOK leads a crusade against me. But will not win," Sanader told reporters after leaving the courtroom on Tuesday.
Cedo Prodanovic, a lawyer on Sanader's defence team, said that they have not yet received Monday's indictment.
"These are very complicated cases in which hundreds of witnesses will testify," Prodanovic told SETimes. "It is very difficult to say when the trials will be over, but we expect the judgment for the first indictment [Hypo MOL and INA] to be announced by the end of [next] summer," he added.