Croatia begins second corruption retrial of former PM

ZAGREB, Oct 23 (Reuters) - Croatia’s former prime minister Ivo Sanader pleaded not guilty at the start of a retrial on Tuesday on charges that he accepted a bribe from Hungary’s MOL in exchange for letting it become the dominant shareholder in Croatian energy firm INA.

In 2015 Croatia’s Constitutional Court ordered retrials in two corruption cases against Sanader, ruling that procedural errors had affected his right to a fair trial.

Sanader was sentenced to 8-1/2 years in prison in the case in 2014. His fellow defendant, MOL’s Chief Executive Zsolt Hernadi, is being tried in absentia after Hungary refused to heed an international arrest warrant for him.

“Not guilty,” Sanader told the court when entering his plea at the first hearing, state news agency Hina reported.

Hernadi and MOL also deny charges. Sanader served as premier from 2003 to 2009.

Sanader’s other retrial ended on Monday with the judge handing him a two-and-a-half-year prison sentence for taking a bribe from Austria’s then Hypo Alpe Adria Bank when he was deputy foreign minister in early 1990s.

Sanader is not in custody now as he already spent in detention on various grounds around four years.

MOL is the biggest single shareholder in INA owning close to 50 percent. Zagreb owns some 45 percent. The two sides have been at odds for years over management rights in INA and two years ago the Croatian government announced a plan to buy back INA’s shares owned by MOL. (Reporting by Igor Ilic Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)