Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

The long way home

Dessislava Dimitrova, May 11, 2011

For some May 9 was V Day, for others – Europe’s Day, while for Croatia’s former prime minister Ivo Sanader it was the day when he refused to admit his defeat and return to its home country, after fleeing from it in December and being arrested later in Austria. After having spent several months in custody in Salzburg, the regional court there ruled on May 9 that the former Croatian Prime Minister could be extradited to Zagreb to face corruption charges.

However, he is refusing to go back home and, after the court announced its decision, his lawyers said they planned to appeal it before a higher instance court in Linz. His legal team has two weeks to file the appeal, during which Sanader will remain in custody. What will happen afterwards no one can predict yet. Once having refused to go back to his homeland with the motive that there he expects an “unjust trial”, Sanader can continue to appeal and thus the process could be prolonged with months. According to Croatian lawyer Zvonimir Hodak, who has experience with such a prolonged trial, Sanader could return to his country at least after six months or even in a year.

Only a few days ago the Constitutional court in Zagreb dismissed as unjustified the appeal of former General Vladimir Zagorec, whose lawyer was Hodak. Zagorec appealed his sentence in the regional court in Zagreb, confirmed by the Supreme court. Thus he was sentenced to eight years in prison for abuse of power in 2000, when, while leaving his position as a deputy minister of defence, he left the Ministry with a bag full of valuables.

Unlike him Sanader did not steal diamonds but the common thing between the former general and the former prime minister is that both are suspects on the case of the Austrian bank Hipo Group Alpe Adria, which was on the verge of failing last year.

Another common thing between them was that Zagorec was also extradited from Austria, where he used to live since the year 2000 after Croatia issued an international warrant for his arrest and demanded his extradition in 2007. Then he was arrested in Austria but spent only 3 days in detention. He was released under a bail of 1mn euro. Just like Sanader at the moment, Zagorec refused to be sent back home and was extradited as late as in 2008.

So, as a lawyer of Zagorec, Hodak knows best how and how much a similar procedure could get prolonged. In the words of the lawyer, if Sanader's appeal would be rejected by the court in Linz, the next stage is the Supreme court of Austria, and in case the scenario would be repeated, the extradition could happen after the personal consent of the Austrian Minister of Justice, which, according to Hodak, might take a whole year.

According to Croatian media Sanader would try to plead not guilty, given that the Austrian authorities unblocked part of his bank accounts in Austria, so he will have enough money to pay his trial expenses. There are already rumours that the former premier has hired an apartment in Austria, as he relies to be released early from detention. Nevertheless, the Sanader affair is yet to be untwined. The interesting thing in this case is that the current Prime Minister of Croatia and former deputy and Sanader's right hand - Jadranka Kosor - commented quite concisely the decision of the court in Salzburg.

"Everything you are asking me is in the hands of the judiciary and Croatian judiciary is completely independent", Kosor said responding to a journalist's question about Sanader's extradition. Since she inherited Sanader on the post and especially in the last months, Kosor said multiple times that her government would not stop before anything in the fight against corruption and organised crime - mainly to show to Brussels that the country is ready for EU membership. Brussels's response on how the Croatian government is doing will come probably very soon, probably sooner than Sanader's extradition.

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