Croatia sentences former army chief to jail for graft

ZAGREB Mon Mar 31, 2014 9:34am EDT

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ZAGREB (Reuters) - A Croatian court sentenced the country's former army chief to prison on Monday, saying he and five others had manipulated real estate prices in deals that eventually cost Croatia 61.2 million kuna ($11 million).

A county court in the eastern city of Osijek jailed retired general Mladen Kruljac to 18 months, as the European Union's newest member kept up a campaign against corruption it began in 2009 to bolster its bid for membership.

Kruljac had been the commander of Croatia's ground forces in 2007-2011. Croatia joined NATO during his tenure, in 2009.

The court said Kruljac had taken part in a scheme that allowed some companies and individuals to buy land slated for development, paying prices below market value. The land was then re-sold at higher prices.

Four other defendants were given longer prison terms than Kruljac, who was charged with helping to raise the value of the acquired land by allowing an army engineering unit to carry out construction work there. Army engineers can only engage in construction for military purpose.

Since 2009, Croatia has jailed a number of top officials and managers in state companies for graft. Among them is former prime minister Ivo Sanader. His entire political party, the conservative HDZ, was also found guilty of corruption.

($1 = 5.5655 Croatian Kunas)

(Reporting by Igor Ilic; Editing by Zoran Radosavljevic and Larry King)

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