Slovenia has filed a lawsuit against Croatia at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg for breaching the right of the now defunct Ljubljanska Banka in Zagreb to collect its claims from Croatian companies, Slovenian Justice Minister Goran Klemencic said on Thursday.

Prime Minister Miro Cerar last year announced the possibility that Slovenia might sue Croatia over a law obliging Slovenia to start paying to Ljubljanska Banka clients in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina their savings deposits once held by that bank, in line with a ruling by the Strasbourg court.

Slovenia claims "at least EUR 360 million in damages" from Croatia, Klemencic said at a news conference.

He added that over the past 25 years the Croatian authorities had systematically prevented Ljubljanska Banka from collecting its claims from Croatian companies through courts.

In its lawsuit, Slovenia refers to several conventions on the protection of human rights and freedoms and claims that Croatia has violated Ljubljanska Banka's right to a fair trial, the right to have a court ruling enforced and the right to a trial within a reasonable time.

Proceedings launched by the bank in Croatia against companies owing it money lasted more than 18 years on average, said Klemencic.

He said that he had informed his Croatian counterpart Ante Sprlje of the lawsuit and that he expected the Strasbourg court to make a ruling in two years' time at the earliest.

"The lawsuit won't either improve or worsen relations between the two countries but a ruling on damages to Ljubljanska Banka would put an end to that issue," said Klemencic.

PM Cerar announced last year that Slovenia could sue Croatia after the Slovenian parliament, acting in line with a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, decided that Slovenia should pay Ljubljanska Banka's clients in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina the foreign currency savings deposits they held at Ljubljanska Banka at the time of the former Yugoslavia. After it gained independence in 1991, Slovenia declared that issue an issue that should be dealt with as part of the process of succession to the former federal state.

Slovenia has claimed for years that Ljubljanska Banka's claims from Croatia are much higher than its debt to Croatia, the reason being that the bank has charged default interest on the debt of Croatian companies while treating its debt to its clients as sight savings deposits with low interest rates.

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