A retrial of former Prime Minister and leader of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) party, Ivo Sanader, and other indictees, charged with siphoning millions of kuna from state institutions and companies through the marketing agency Fimi Media, started before a new Zagreb County Court panel of judges on Monday.
All the defendants pleaded not guilty at the start of the retrial, including former HDZ treasurer Mladen Barisic, who at the initial trial admitted to having siphoned money from state institutions and companies into the HDZ's slush fund.
Sanader said that the indictment was a false construct and that he would prove it.
All the defendants said that they would present their defence after evidence was presented.
The new trial is presided over by Judge Irena Kvaternik. The panel of judges is to hear about 220 witnesses, and the presentation of evidence will start with the reading of documents and opening statements by teams defending the accused and representatives of the anti-corruption agency USKOK.
Reading the indictment, USKOK deputy head Zeljka Mostecak said that Sanader organised a criminal group which in the period from 2003 to 2009 acquired financial gain for him and other defendants.
Sanader and the other accused in this case will be tried anew because the Supreme Court last year quashed a non-final verdict of the Zagreb County Court that sentenced Sanader to nine years in prison and under which he was to return to the state HRK 15.27 million in illegal gain.
In the first instance trial, the HDZ was fined five million kuna and ordered to return illegal gain in the amount of HRK 24.2 million. Despite the fact that he pleaded guilty, Barisic was sentenced to three years in prison, Branka Pavosevic, former HDZ accountant, was sentenced to a year and a half, and Nevenka Jurak, owner of Fimi Media, was sentenced to two years in prison and was to return HRK 2.5 million in illegal gain. Ratko Macek, Sanader's former spokesman, was given a conditional sentence which he did not appeal against.
The Supreme Court ruled that Sanadar did not have the opportunity to question all the witnesses he had planned to question or his co-defendants who had pleaded guilty and who after presenting their defence that seriously incriminated him, would not answer questions from the former PM or his attorneys.
The Supreme Court also accepted claims by attorneys for the HDZ, as the first political party to have been charged with corruption, that the trial failed to clarify what Sanader had done as an office-holder and what as a person in charge. The more so as the law does not explicitly cover the prime minister as an office-holder in terms of criminal liability.
Sanader, who soon after stepping down as Prime Minister on 1 July 2009, became the focus of interest of USKOK due to numerous scandals, has not been convicted in any of the cases that are being conducted against him because the Constitutional Court in 2015 quashed the final ruling in the Hypo and INA-MOL case.
In mid-April he was to have received a verdict in another case, dubbed Planinska, but on the day when the ruling was to be made public, the court decided that additional consultations with expert witnesses were necessary.