VIENNA : An Austrian judge on Saturday ordered former Croatian prime minister Ivo Sanader held for two weeks pending his extradition to his homeland on suspicion of abuse of power, a prosecutions official said.
If he agrees to a simplified extradition procedure, he could be sent back to Croatia within days, spokeswoman Barbara Feuchtinger said.
If Sanader refuses to be extradited voluntarily the case would have to go before a court, which would take longer, she said.
Sanader was arrested in Austria on Friday, hours after Zagreb issued an international warrant in connection with a corruption probe. He had left Croatia shortly before parliament voted to lift his immunity from prosecution as a lawmaker.
Sanader, who led the government from 2003 until 2009, is wanted by organised crime and corruption investigators on suspicion of “associating to commit a criminal act and abuse of power”, the arrest warrant said.
Croatian media have repeatedly linked the 57-year-old with corruption, and a close associate was recently detained on suspicion of funnelling money from public companies into private pockets.
Austrian police said he was stopped on the Tauern motorway and taken to Salzburg.
The operation was carried out by Austrian police in conjunction with German and Croatian investigators.
The warrant was widely seen as significant as the country seeks to crack down on corruption in a bid to meet the criteria for joining the European Union.
In a text message sent to Croatia's state-run HINA news agency, Sanader reportedly said he had not fled the country, insisting he was a victim of political harassment.
Sanader, Croatia's first prime minister to come under investigation for corruption, was a dominant figure on the former Yugoslav republic's political scene for years.
He worked his way up the HDZ party in the 1990s, serving as science minister in 1992 and then deputy foreign minister for two terms. From 1993 to 1996, he headed the office of late autocratic president Franjo Tudjman.
He took the helm of the party in 2000, and steered it away from the nationalist bent it had under Tudjman and brought it closer to Europe's mainstream conservatives.
The party expelled Sanader in January after he criticised his successor Jadranka Kosor, but he returned to frontline politics in October.
Sanader has close links with Austria, where he studied and set up a consultancy in Innsbruck. He is a friend of former conservative chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel.
Croatia's Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor is due in Vienna on Monday for a previously scheduled visit and talks with Chancellor Werner Faymann.
– AFP /ls
Channel News Asia