ivo sanader.jpg
Photograph: HINA/ Lana SLIVAR DOMINIĆ/ lsd

The Zagreb County Court on Friday overruled a request by the Office for the Suppression of Corruption and Organised Crime (USKOK) to exempt Judge Jasna Smiljanic from the trial of former Prime Minister and Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) leader Ivo Sanader in a case dubbed "Planinska Street".

The Court finds that USKOK has not offered enough evidence to prove the partiality of Judge Jasna Smiljanic, who has admitted that one of Sanader's lawyers is an acquaintance of hers, but she insists that she has never discussed the Planinska Street case or any other case with the lawyer in question.

In the Planinska case, Sanader is in the dock together with former HDZ parliamentarian Stjepan Fiolic, the owner of a meat-processing company, and Mladen Mlinarevic, whose company allegedly facilitated a bloated value contract for the sale of a building owned by the Fiolic company to the regional development ministry in 2009.

Sanader is charged with pushing for the purchase of the building in Planinska Street at an inner cabinet meeting in 2009, as a result of which the sales contract was signed the next day, hence defrauding the state budget of HRK 26.4 million, according to USKOK. He is also accused of having received a kickback of 17 million kuna for that disputable transaction.

After being arrested during the investigation, Fiolic admitted the building was sold at an inflated price and said he kept the money. Later, however, he testified that he had taken about HRK 17 million to Sanader at the latter's request. Fiolic also showed investigators a place on his estate where he was hiding some of Sanader's valuable works of art which police were looking for.

Sanader has dismissed all the charges and his defence team insists that the charges were based on Fiolic's claims.

Five months ago, the delivery of a verdict in this case was postponed as the court decided it needed to hear more expert witnesses to be able to rule on the graft charges against Sanader and others in this case.

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