Zagreb: Former Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader pleaded not guilty Thursday to new corruption charges that accuse him of accepting a €10 million ($13.63 million) bribe from a Hungarian oil company.
The 58-year-old is the highest ranking former official tried for alleged graft in Croatia, which has pledged to root out corruption as it works toward European Union membership in 2013.
"Not guilty," Sanader told the court. "I fully reject the charges."
Thursday`s indictment alleges Sanader took the bribe from the Hungarian company MOL for securing it controlling rights in Croatia`s state oil company INA while also agreeing to split INA and have Croatia keep its non-profitable part.
Croatian prosecutors said they are also investigating MOL board chairman Zsolt Hernadi as a suspect in the corruption case. He and Sanader were reportedly caught on security cameras making the deal while dining in a Zagreb restaurant.
Hernadi and MOL have repeatedly rejected the accusations. Hungarian prosecutors have rejected Croatia`s demands to question Hernadi over the allegations.
Sanader also faces charges accusing him of taking $695,000 (euro503,000) in kickbacks for a multimillion credit deal with Hypo Alpe Adria Group in 1994-95 that allowed the Austrian bank entry and a leading position in the Croatian market.
The war profiteering charges say that as Croatia was fighting for independence from Yugoslavia in 1991-95 Sanader "used the difficult position of the country to gain personal financial profit."
Sanader once led the governing Croatian Democratic Union party. He was credited with reforming the party, which had been founded by late nationalist leader Franjo Tudjman.
However, the party currently faces a separate anti-graft investigation for allegedly setting up secret funds.