ZAGREB Former Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Tuesday for taking bribes from two foreign companies, becoming the highest state official to be convicted of corruption in the future European Union member state.
A Zagreb county court found Sanader guilty of agreeing in 2008 to accept a payment from Hungary's energy group MOL of 5 million euros in exchange for granting it full management rights over Croatia's oil concern INA.
Unless the ruling is overturned on appeal, it may prompt Croatia to review MOL's shareholder agreement with INA.
Judge Ivan Turudic also said Sanader had taken a fee from Austrian Hypo Alpe Adria Bank in 1995, which prosecutors had described as "war profiteering".
Sanader has strongly denied wrongdoing and dismissed the trial as politically motivated.
Croatia is due to join the EU in July 2013 and Sanader's conviction is likely to be seen as proof it is cracking down on corruption. Its efforts to fight crime and graft are being carefully monitored before it formally joins the bloc.
Separately, Sanader is on trial - together with his former conservative HDZ party, which is now in opposition - for allegedly creating slush funds for the party by skimming off profits from state companies and by manipulating public tenders.
Sanader was prime minister from late 2003 to the summer of 2009, when he quit the government unexpectedly and without explanation.
Jadranka Kosor, his hand-picked successor, then launched an anti-graft campaign which helped Zagreb complete European Union entry talks in June 2011. (Reporting by Zoran Radosavljevic; Editing by Andrew Osborn)