Croatia: Court Releases Disgraced Ex-Prime Minister on Bail
Former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, who has spent the last five years in courts over a series of financial crime charges, may leave pretrial custody on posting bail of nearly two million dollars, the Croatian Supreme Court has decided.
The decision has come out of a complicated and turbulent legal battle between state prosecutors and Sanader's lawyers, who have been appealing several sentences received by Sanader in cases put forward against him since 2011.
In June 2014 he was sentenced to eight and a half years in prison for two cases after a combined indictment charged him with receiving a five million euro (US$ 5.5 million) bribe in exchange for manipulating a public tender enabling the Hungarian oil company MOL to buy the Croatian state-owned energy company INA in 2008.
Sanader was found guilty of abusing his position as vice minister of foreign affairs between 1994 and 1995. He had acted on behalf of Croatia during wartime negotiations with the Austrian Hypo Alpe Adria Bank, which granted a credit for the newly independent country to buy buildings around the world in which to base its embassies. The court found that Sanader took an illegal five percent cut of the overall credit, amounting to 3.6 million Croatian kuna (about US$ 523,000).
Sanader's lawyers appealed the sentence. Meanwhile, they were also appealing another prison sentence he had received in a separate case in March 2014. The Zagreb County Court had sentenced him to nine years in prison on charges alleging that he was the main conspirator in a high profile case known as “Fimi media” – in which prosecutors found that public funds had been siphoned off from state-owned assets through a private marketing company to the benefit of his political party, the right-wing Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ). The party was also found guilty and fined more than US$ 4.4 million.
Sanader's appeal against the former sentence was successful. In July, the Constitutional Court declared a mistrial stating procedural errors, and ordered a retrial which began last month.
Since he was technically to be released from the prison term he received in this case, his status in prison merely switched to pre-trial detention for the Fimi Media case.
Sanader’s lawyers then complained that the Croatian legal limit for pre-trial detention, which is set at a maximum of three and a half years, had expired, and asked that he be released. He had been in pretrial detention in Zagreb's Remetinac prison since July 2011 linked to several cases after being arrested and extradited from Austria whileattempting to flee justice.
At the time, the Supreme Court disagreed, and Sanader was ordered to remain behind bars.
On Thursday, however, the Supreme Court accepted Sanader's appeal in the Fimi Media case, and the nine year prison sentence was annulled. Again, procedural errors were found to affected his right to a fair trial and the court ordered a retrial, the date of which has not been set. While the court found that there were reasons to prolong Sanader's pretrial detention, it also took into account the circumstance of him being tried in multiple cases which resulted in him exceeding the legal duration of serving pretrial custody. Thus, Sanader may may leave on bail set at 12.4 million Croatian Kuna (US$ 1,827,076).
Sanader has maintained his innocence in each case brought against over the years. He says that he is a victim of political persecution.