Croatian Ex-PM Arrested In Austria


Ivo Sanader, a former Croatian prime minister, has been arrested on an international warrant, a day after he left the country amid a corruption probe.

An official at the Austrian Federal Office of Criminal Investigations said Sanader was arrested on Friday on the expressway connecting the provinces of Salzburg and Carinthia.

Sanader was then brought to detention facilities of the Salzburg provincial court, said the official.

Sanader has been wanted by crime and corruption investigators for ""associating to commit a criminal act and abuse of power,"" the warrant said.

Sanader, 57, crossed into neighbouring Slovenia on Thursday, just hours before parliament stripped him of immunity at the prosecutors' request, paving the way for his detention.

A Zagreb court judge had ordered a one-month detention for Sanader since ""he is on the run and due to the danger of influencing witnesses"".

Meanwhile, police were searching Sanader's house in downtown Zagreb on Friday.

Sanader, Croatia's first prime minister to be probed for corruption, led the former Yugoslav republic from 2003 to 2009.

Taking the HDZ helm in 2000, he steered the party away from the nationalist bent it had under late president Franjo Tudjman and put it among Europe's mainstream conservatives."

Former Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader was arrested Friday on an international warrant a day after he left his home country amid a corruption probe.

An official at the Austrian Federal Office of Criminal Investigations said Sanader was arrested on the expressway connecting the provinces of Salzburg and Carinthia. He is the highest office holder in Croatia to be charged with a crime since Croatia became independent in 1991.

Sanader was then brought to the detention facilities of the Salzburg provincial court, said the official who did not give his name on the telephone. He was expected to be transferred to prison in Salzburg which issued the detention order acting on the international warrant.

In a statement mailed to the Zagreb office of The Associated Press, Croatian police spokesman Krunoslav Borovec said Austrian police informed them that Sanader had been arrested at 3:50 p.m. (1430 GMT) "in the Salzburg area."

Borovec said that after receiving written report from Austria, Croatia will launch extradition proceedings. He added that at the moment, they had "no more details" about the arrest.

Croatia's Office for Suppression of Organized Crime and Corruption said Sanader is suspected of conspiring to commit crimes and abuse of office. It did not disclose details of the ongoing investigation, but at its request Zagreb district court ordered Sanader's 30-day detention.

Several former government officials and businessmen — including Sanader's closest allies at a time he was the prime minister — have been jailed as Sanader's successor, Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor, works to fight high-level corruption — a key condition for Croatia's entry into the European Union. Croatia hopes to join the bloc in 2012.

The daily Jutarnji list reported in its online issue that Sanader was arrested as he was paying a road toll near Salzburg.

Sanader opened a consulting company in Innsbruck a few months ago and he lived in Austria in late 1970s and 1980s before returning to Croatia in 1990. Croatian media speculate he also may have Austrian citizenship — a status that would protect him because the Austrian constitution does not allow the extradition of citizens for criminal prosecution.

Sanader, who abruptly resigned as prime minister 17 months ago, left Croatia on Thursday morning, when it became clear that prosecutors wanted to investigate him for allegedly conspiring to commit crimes and abuse of office.

Sanader was once hailed at home and abroad for uprooting the nationalism that reigned in Croatia in the 1990s and making it pro-Western. Biographical information and his photo appeared on a Croatian police and Interpol lists of wanted persons Friday, and police searched his home.

Sanader was last seen driving into neighboring Slovenia on Thursday morning. Repeated efforts to reach him on his cell phone Friday were unsuccessful.

The Croatian parliament lifted Sanader's immunity from prosecution Thursday afternoon.

Croatian media have been speculating for months that Sanader was under investigation in Kosor's anti-graft crackdown. The opposition claims that graft was widespread in his government and that he either condoned or led it.

According to a U.S. cable published by WikiLeaks website, chief state prosecutor Mladen Bajic told the U.S. Embassy in Zagreb in January 2010 that there are several ongoing corruption cases targeting Sanader and that at least one case could lead to his indictment.

Bajic referred to one case in which Sanader allegedly arranged a bank loan for a neighbor in the 1990s in return for an 800,000-German mark (€410,000; $542,000 at today's rates) kickback.

It also quoted Bajic as saying that, although some cases against Sanader may seem minor, "Al Capone was brought down for tax evasion rather than for his more notorious activities."

Sanader quit as prime minister at the middle of his second term, saying only that he had decided to leave politics. Kosor later removed him from her governing conservative Croatian Democratic Union, but he returned to parliament as an independent lawmaker last month.

Source: statesman