A former Croatian prime minister and the country's long-time ruling party have pleaded not guilty to corruption charges. The case is regarded as one of Croatia's biggest since it gained independence.
Former Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader and his conservative party have pleaded not guilty of charges of embezzlement.
"I don't feel guilty on any count of the indictment and we will prove that it was manufactured," Sanader told the county court in the capital, Zagreb, as the trial opened on Monday.
Damir Sesvecan, an official with the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), pleaded not guilty on behalf of the party.
Three of the four other officials charged in connection with the case pleaded guilty.
Slush fund allegations
Prosecutors have charged Sanader and the HDZ with abuse of power for allegedly siphoning off around 70 million kuna (10 million euros, $13 million) from state-owned companies or through illegal donations. They say they have evidence that the former prime minister did so by ordering state-owned companies to make payments to Fimi medija, a Croatian marketing firm, often for fictitious services during his time in office, from 2003 to 2009. The owner of the company then allegedly passed on the payments to HDZ slush funds.
The case, which is part of an anti-corruption drive, has been billed as the biggest since Croatia broke off from the former Yugoslavia in 1991.
The HDZ, which ruled Croatia for all but three years since the country gained its independence, was swept out of office in December elections, largely due to a series of graft allegations.
Sanader, 58, who resigned from office abruptly in 2009, is also facing charges in connection with two other major corruption trials.
Tackling corruption was key to Zagreb's bid to join the European Union. It is expected to become the bloc's 28th member state in July of 2013.
pfd/ncy (AFP, AP, dpa)