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Former Croatian PM Guilty of Corruption, Trafficking Up in Tajikistan

Plus, accusations that some highway funds have gone missing in Macedonia and Romania will try to bar entry for Jobbik’s leader.

by Ioana Caloianu, Sarah Fluck, Marketa Horazna, Annabel Lau, and Karlo Marinovic 13 March 2014

1. Ex-Croatian PM convicted of corruption, sentenced to prison

 

The biggest corruption trial in Croatian history has resulted in a guilty verdict against former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader and the party he led for nearly a decade, Index reports.

 

Ivo Sanader
Sanader and the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), along with four other defendants, were convicted 12 March of siphoning off 70 million kunas ($12.7 million) from state companies.

 

Sanader was given nine years in prison and ordered to repay 15.2 million kunas, while the HDZ must return at least 19.3 million kunas in addition to paying a 5 million kuna fine.

 

The court’s judgment, as quoted by Index, said Sanader had “reduced trust in the system, where corruption in politics is now seen as a rule, and not as an exception,” and that the scheme had cost many companies money and forced them to shed employees.

 

The defendants “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,” the Associated Press reports.

 

The trial is the latest in the series of cases against the former prime minister, part of an anti-corruption campaign that began during Croatia’s negotiations to join the EU.

 

Sanader has so far been convicted of war profiteering and taking a commission for selling shares of the national oil company, INA, to Hungarian oil company MOL, for a combined sentence of 10 years in prison, Slobodna Dalmacija reports.

 

He is awaiting two more trials, one on charges that he took a 17 million kuna kickback to arrange the sale of property at an inflated price to the government, the other for allegedly securing cheap electricity and loans for an associate's company while serving as prime minister.

 

All sides have announced they will appeal this week’s verdict. Sanader’s lawyers complained that it was based on the testimony of only one witness, while the Croatian Bureau for Combating Corruption and Organized Crime (USKOK) will seek to have Sanader repay a larger sum.

 

HDZ, which denies any organizational responsibility for the scheme, will also appeal. The party kicked Sanader out in 2010, before he fled to Austria to avoid prosecution.

 

2. Human trafficking on the rise in Tajikistan

 

Officials in Tajikistan recorded a nearly 30 percent jump in the number of reported cases or people being trafficked in and out of the country last year, IWPR reports.

 

In 2013 officials recorded 679 cases, compared to 524 in 2012.

 

An anemic economy and high unemployment are helping to drive up the numbers, human rights activist Nodira Abdulloeva said. The victims are often offered ostensibly legitimate work abroad that turns out to be sexual slavery or forced labor, according to IWPR.

 

While its economy grew by nearly 8 percent per year from 2000 to 2008 and has largely recovered ground lost with the global economic crisis, Tajikistan remains one of the world’s poorest countries, with a gross national income per capita of $860 in 2012. The jobless rate was 11.5 percent in 2009, the most recent year for which the World Bank listed data.

 

Activist Umeda Sadriddinova told IWPR the profile of traffickers has changed, with some switching from trade in drugs to trade in humans. “They earn an income from one person over a five-year period, whereas narcotics would bring only one-off earnings,” she said.

 

Of those trafficked in 2013, 72 were women and 25 girls. Most were “sent abroad to work as sex slaves in Gulf states, Turkey, and increasingly also China and Iran,” according to IWPR, which reports that seven criminal cases have been launched in the last eight months against suspected traffickers.

 

Tajikistan has long been a source country for human trafficking. Men, women, and children are trafficked for sex work or forced labor. The destination countries for sexual slaves are mostly the United Arab Emirates and Russia, followed by Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, and Afghanistan, according to the U.S. State Department’s most recent annual report on global human trafficking.

 

3. Macedonian prosecutor to probe ‘missing’ EU cash

 

Macedonia’s chief prosecutor will follow up on opposition politicians’ charges that some EU funds meant for construction of a major highway have disappeared, Balkan Insight reports.

 

About 3.5 million euros ($4.88 million) has gone missing from the 290 million euro project’s coffers, according to Petre Silegov of the Social Democratic Party.

 

Prosecutor Marko Zvrlevski said he is waiting to hear from the agencies that would normally take the lead in such a probe, the Financial Intelligence Office and the Financial Police, but he plans to investigate even if they decline to do so.

 

On 10 March, Silegov presented what he said were bank documents showing that in May, June, and July Greek citizens withdrew hundreds of thousands of euros from the Macedonian bank account of Greek construction firm AKTOR, which is building the highway.

 

According to the Social Democrats, those who collected the cash did not report it to border authorities as they left Macedonia, Balkan Insight reports. “Where did this money go?” Silegov said.

 

 

The Social Democrats claim the cash was given to an accountant for AKTOR and alleges criminal activity involving the firm and the Macedonian government. The party has not presented evidence that the people making the withdrawals work for AKTOR, Deutsche Welle writes.

 

The ruling VMRO-DPMNE party denies the allegation. Party member Elena Kuzmanovska said the case was “just another failed attempt by the [Social Democrats] to stain infrastructure projects carried out by the government of VMRO-DPMNE.” She tied the accusations to the country’s parliamentary elections in April, Balkan Insight writes.

 

The money in question is for construction of a 28 kilometer (17 mile) stretch of highway in southeastern Macedonia. When complete, the highway will link Greece and Austria. About 130 million euros of funding for this segment comes from the European Investment Bank, 107 million euros from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, 45 million euros from a grant for EU candidates, and 6 million euros from the Macedonian government, according to Balkan Insight.

 

No officials from AKTOR, the European Commission or other creditors have yet commented on the accusations, Balkan Insight writes.

 

4. Romania aims to ban Hungarian far-right politician after rowdy rally

 

Romania is looking into ways to keep members of Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party out of the country after a rally by Hungarians in Transvylvania nearly got out of hand earlier this week, Politics.hu reports.

 

Romanian President Traian Basescu has asked the Interior Ministry to draft a proposal barring Jobbik members and party leaders from entering Romania. Jobbik is a nationalist Hungarian party known for xenophobic and anti-Semitic rhetoric.

 

About 4,000 people attended a 10 March rally in the city of Targu Mures commemorating the Day of Szekler Freedom. The Szeklers are Hungarians in Transylvania, many of whom have long agitated for autonomy.

 

According to hotnews.ro, local officials had granted a permit for a demonstration but not the larger rally that followed, which was attended by Jobbik leader Gabor Vona, members of the Hungarian far right Sixty-Four Counties Youth Movement (HVIM), and the Hungarian Guard, a paramilitary group that has its roots in Jobbik. 

 

Several people wearing HVIM T-shirts and shouting slogans about Szekler independence tried unsuccessfully to provoke local police officers, hotnews.ro reports.

 

In response to Basescu’s request, Romanian officials have begun a process to ban Vona from the country. Prime Minister Victor Ponta said the government “cannot prevent members of a particular party who are EU citizens from entering Romania, but it can ban a particular person,” according to Politics.hu.

 

Jobbik lawmaker Szavay Istvan said an EU country cannot ban legislators from another EU country, adding that Jobbik counts Romanian citizens among its ranks, Romania’s Mediafax agency reports, citing Hungarian-language site maszol.ro. Szavay called the proposal an attempt by a “toothless lion” to play the nationalist card. Basescu is about to retire.

 

In February Jobbik staged a pre-election rally in a former synagogue north of Budapest that drew furious protests.

 

5. Swiss investigators widen net to catch Uzbekistan president’s daughter

 

An ongoing money laundering probe by Swiss investigators into Uzbekistan’s telecommunications industry was widened last fall to include Gulnara Karimova, daughter of the country’s president, Islam Karimov, Radio Free Europe reports.

 

Gulnara Karimova
A 12 March statement by the Swiss attorney general’s office says Karimova was added to the investigation in September. The probe began in July 2012 with four Uzbekistanis close to Karimova. Two of them were arrested in Geneva but released in October 2012.

 

“Alleged illegal acts taking place in the telecommunications market in Uzbekistan are considered as the initial money-laundering offenses,” Jeannette Balmer, a spokeswoman for the Swiss attorney general’s office, told RFE. “The link with the investigation conducted in Switzerland is the existence of assets in our country."

 

According to the statement, Swiss authorities seized more than 800 million Swiss francs ($918.4 million) in assets.

 

The Swiss investigation proceeds alongside probes in France and Sweden. Swedish prosecutors have been looking into claims that Scandinavian mobile operator TeliaSonera paid hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to Karimova through intermediaries to secure an operating license in Uzbekistan.

 

One of the accused intermediaries, Bekhzod Akhmedov, is the target of the money-laundering probe in Switzerland.

 

French authorities have searched property owned by Karimova in the south of France as part of a money-laundering and corruption investigation.

 

Balmer told RFE that Swiss authorities are seeking to cooperate with their Swedish and French counterparts.
Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Sarah FluckMarketa Horazna, Annabel Lau, and Karlo Marinovic are TOL editorial interns.
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