The verdict against former Croatia Prime Minister Ivo Sanader has great importance for the fight against corruption in the country, experts said.
By Drazen Remikovic for Southeast European Times in Zagreb -- 21/11/12
Former Croatia Prime Minister Ivo Sanader receives his sentence at a Zagreb court on Tuesday (November 20th). [AFP]
The news of the 10-year sentence after a guilty corruption verdict for former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader filled Tuesday's (November 20th) headlines in Croatia and abroad. The former leader of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) was found guilty of taking illegal kickbacks in dealings with the troubled Austrian Hypo Bank in the early 1990s, when he was deputy foreign minister.
The Zagreb County Court pronounced him guilty of obtaining 10 million euros in kickbacks from the Hungarian energy company MOL in return for granting it control over Croatia's oil and gas markets.
The court ordered Sanader to pay 4 million euros to the state within 15 days. Previously, the judges ordered one of the key witnesses in the process, Robert Jezic, former owner of the Dioki petrochemical company, to return 5 million euros from his account to the state budget, the amount of the bribe paid in the case. Sanader's defense has said it will appeal the verdict, which is being seen as a milestone in the fight against corruption in the country.
"We will certainly file a complaint on the verdict, because we think it is too high. The Supreme Court will decide whether to accept the appeal and whether the case will be returned for a new trial," Cedo Prodanovic, a lawyer on Sanader's defence team, told SETimes.
During the year-long trial, more than 50 witnesses took the stand.
"Now we should expect all the others to be sentenced, and new judgments in other proceedings for corruption offenses. Reimbursement of unlawfully acquired money is ... [also] extremely important, because if someone spends 10 years in prison, and stolen money is 'hidden' somewhere, the state [loses the money]. Only a refund and penalty together back faith in the judiciary, make sense and caution all future potential offenders that it is not worth breaking the law," Nikola Kristic, president of Transparency International Croatia, told SETimes.
Politicians in Croatia agree.
"If this judgment become final, we can consider it as a new beginning in the fight against corruption in the country," Dragutin Lesar, MP and President of the Croatian Party Labour Party, told SETimes.
Representatives of the HDZ declined to comment.
Citizens said that they expect a similar outcome in the other cases brought against the former prime minister.
"Politicians are the ones who steal the most. Sanader was obviously a champion at it. This will be a good example to other politicians who dare to steal," Zagreb resident Nevena Milasinovic, 28, told SETimes.
Sanader is waiting for three more sentences. The biggest case, named after the firm from which the money was allegedly drawn , Fimi Media, charges Sanader and his associates with pulling nearly 10 million euros from state institutions and companies. Part of the money allegedly ended up in the HDZ bank account, and some in private pockets.
Croatia is due to join the EU in July 2013 and Sanader's conviction is likely to be seen as proof it is cracking down on corruption. Its efforts to fight crime and graft are being carefully monitored by Brussels before it formally joins the bloc.