Court rules on corruption

February 23, 2007

A contract to provide universities and academic institutions with new telephone switchboards does not, at first glance, seem to offer much scope for corruption.

But such a contract was at the heart of the trial of Nevenka Tudjman, daughter of the first President of Croatia, Franjo Tudjman, which this month concluded in the bizarre verdict that she had illegally performed a legal act.

The case went to court in April 2003. Ms Tudjman, it was alleged, had used her "social position" to get the Science Minister at that time, Ivica Kostovic, to give her associate Igor Knezevic a post in the Science Ministry. He wanted the position so he could be in charge of bids to supply and install the switchboards in academic institutions. The prosecution said Mr Knezevic paid her 1.7 million kuna (£155,000) in kickbacks.

Mr Knezevic, who faced charges of tax evasion and "unlawful appointment", was a key witness against Ms Tudjman.

In November 2004, Ms Tudjman was acquitted; the Zagreb county court decided that her actions constituted an "act of unauthorised consulting", which is not a crime. Mr Knezevic, who pleaded guilty, received a two-year suspended prison sentence.

However, the Office for the Prevention of Corruption and Organised Crime (USKOK) appealed against Ms Tudjman's acquittal, and in July 2005 the Supreme Court ordered a retrial.

This month, the court ruled that Ms Tudjman interceded "unlawfully" to get Mr Knezevic the job, but that the business projects involved were legal. It ruled that she had committed a minor offence that carried a maximum prison sentence of three years. Under Croatia's statute of limitations, the term for prosecution of this offence ran out in February 2005. She was accordingly acquitted.

But the prosecutor, Ksenija Pavic, said that the verdict made it clear that a crime had been committed and that the USKOK would again appeal.

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