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Croatian ex-PM leaves amid probe

A former Croatian prime minister under investigation in a corruption case has left the country hours before parliament was to vote on lifting his immunity from prosecution.

Ivo Sanader left Croatia at midday, crossing into Slovenia, police spokesman Krunoslav Borovec said.

Police "had no legal basis" to stop him, he said, suggesting they had no arrest warrant.

It wasn't immediately clear where Sanader, who abruptly resigned from office 17 months ago, was heading. But he has a firm in Austria and has frequently travelled to the US.

A number of former officials and businessmen have ended up behind bars as Sanader's successor, Jadranka Kosor, works to fight corruption, which is one of the key conditions for Croatia's entry into the European Union. Croatia hopes to become the bloc's 28th member in 2012.

Prosecutors had asked parliament to lift Sanader's immunity and a parliamentary committee then recommended to lawmakers that they approve the prosecutors' request.

The committee said the prosecutors want to investigate and detain Sanader on charges of uniting to commit a crime and abuse of position.

Media have speculated for months that Sanader was under investigation. Several of his closest allies - including his economics minister and head of the customs services - are already being prosecuted in the government's anti-graft fight.

The opposition has called Sanader "the head of the corruption octopus", insisting that graft was widespread in government offices during his term and that he either condoned or even orchestrated it.

Sanader, who quit at the middle of his second term saying only that he was leaving politics, returned to parliament last month as an independent deputy. Kosor evicted him from her ruling conservative Croatian Democratic Union in January.

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