Croatia ex-premier Sanader sentenced for graft

Croatian ex-prime minister Ivo Sanader was in power from 2003-2009

Croatia's former prime minister Ivo Sanader was sentenced to four and a half years in jail by a Zagreb court on Friday for taking more than two million euros ($2.1 million) in bribes while in power.

Sanader, who led the government from 2003-2009, has also been indicted in three other graft cases in which he is suspected of embezzling millions of euros.

On Friday the tribunal found him guilty of pushing his cabinet to buy a building in Zagreb for the rural development ministry for twice its market value.

The government agreed to pay some 10 million euros for the property but 2.3 million euros were given directly to Sanader, according to the indictment.

Sanader, 63, has to return that amount to the budget, judge Jasna Smiljanic ruled.

As the sentence is less than five years, Sanader will not have to go to jail until it becomes final.

"There was not a single piece of evidence, only false testimonies," Sanader told reporters after the verdict and said he would appeal against it.

Two other defendants -- former MP Stjepan Fiolic, who sold the building to the ministry, and head of the company that valued it for the deal Mladen Mlinarevic -- were sentenced to one year in jail each.

Their sentence will be reduced to community service.

The fight against corruption was a key criteria for Croatia's accession in the European Union in 2013.