ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) — A court in Croatia on Tuesday convicted a former prime minister of siphoning millions in state money while in power, and sentenced him to nine years in prison as part of efforts by the European Union's newest member to root out corruption.
The verdict was the second conviction for Ivo Sanader, who ruled from 2004 to 2009. Sanader, the highest-ranking former official ever tried in the Balkan country, was sentenced separately to 10 years in prison for bribery in 2012.
The County court in Zagreb ruled that Sanader and his associates siphoned millions from state-run companies through a private firm and then to their own accounts and to the Croatian Democratic Union's party funds.
Judges ordered Sanader to return some 2 million euros (nearly $2.8 million). His former conservative party, which led Croatia to independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991 and remains a major player, must pay nearly 3.8 million euros (over $5 million.)
Judge Ivana Calic said the verdict was a message to both politicians and political parties that corruption does not pay off.
"They were elected to enforce the law, not to break it," she said.
Sanader denied guilt and said the charges were politically motivated. Four other defendants were handed prison sentences of up to three years.
In 2012, Sanader was found guilty of accepting a €10 million ($13 million) bribe from Hungarian oil company MOL in return for securing it controlling rights in Croatia's state oil company INA.