|The probe against Sanader is seen as a crucial move to show the country’s committment to battle corruption [AFP]|
Croatian authorities have issued an arrest warrant for the country’s former prime minister, who left the country shortly before parliament lifted his immunity from prosecution to allow a graft probe.
Ivo Sanader is 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”.
It was not immediately clear where Sanader was headed, but a ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) deputy said the former premier planned to return to Croatia later on Friday.
“He told me (over the phone) that he is returning. He will cease a meeting due to which he left … and later in the afternoon or in the early evening hours at the latest he will be in Croatia,” Jerko Rosin told national television.
“It is a small step for democracy but a giant and decisive leap for Croatia. For the first time such a high official will be most likely charged.”
Damir Grubisa, political analyst
The information on Sanader’s possible return was confirmed by a lawyer, whom he had contacted earlier.
“I talked to him and my impression was that he would cease his activities and promptly return to Croatia,” Mate Matic told the AFP news agency.
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.
But Croatian media have repeatedly linked him with corruption.
The probe against Sanader is seen as a crucial move to show the country’s committment to battle corruption in line with the European Union’s standards, as it hopes to complete EU entry talks early next year.
Globally it is “nothing new or sensational,” but for Croatia it is a “giant” step, commented Damir Grubisa, a political analyst.
“It is a small step for democracy but a giant and decisive leap for Croatia. For the first time such a high official will be most likely charged,” he said.
Earlier in the week, a Zagreb court sentenced Berislav Roncevic, the country’s former defence minister, to four years in prison after he was found guilty of graft.