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Ex-PM denies stealing millions

Former Croatian prime minister Ivo Sanader has pleaded not guilty to charges that he and his ex-ruling party siphoned nearly 10 million euros (£8.2 million) in public funds received from illegal donations.

The corruption scandal is the biggest since Croatia became an independent state in 1991. It is the first trial involving a major party, the Croatian Democratic Union, which was ousted from power in December elections mostly because of graft allegations.

Sanader is the highest ranking former official tried for alleged corruption in Croatia, which has pledged to improve as it heads toward European Union membership in 2013.

He is charged with ordering state companies to make illegal payments to a media firm, from which he and three other ranking party officials pocketed millions while he was prime minister.

Some of the slush funds were allegedly used by Sanader's party for different presidential and parliamentary election campaigns.

The conservatives led Croatia throughout its 1990s war for independence from the former Yugoslavia, and ruled for most of the period until the centre-left coalition took over in December.

Sanader is also on two separate corruption trials on charges that he embezzled millions for securing a Hungarian oil company and an Austrian bank entry and leading positions in the Croatian market.

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