ZAGREB: The trial of former Croatian prime minister Ivo Sanader for taking illegal kickbacks in dealings with a troubled Austrian bank during Croatia's 1990s war will start on October 28, national television reported on Friday.
Judge Ivan Turudic of the Zagreb county court, who is to conduct the trial, made the decision during a closed-door session, it said.
It will be the first ever trial against a prime minister of the former Yugoslav republic independent since 1991 and the first for war profiteering here.
The national anti-graft bureau charged Sanader with abuse of power as he allegedly negotiated to be paid 3.6 million kunas ($646,000) in bribes from the Hypo Alpe Adria Group in 1994 and 1995.
At the time he was deputy foreign minister while the country was still engulfed in its 1991-1995 independence war.
Sanader, 58, who has denied any wrongdoing, entered a not-guilty plea on Friday, the court spokesman said.
The former powerful prime minister has also been indicted for taking bribes from Hungarian energy giant MOL to ensure its control over Croatia's national oil and gas company INA, and is under investigation in several other corruption affairs.
Sanader, who led the government from 2003 to 2009, was detained in Austria in early December on a Croatian arrest warrant.
His return came at a sensitive moment for his former Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) party as the Balkan country prepares for general elections on Dec.4, with his successor Jadranka Kosor trailing behind a centre-left opposition candidate in opinion polls.
Sanader surprised observers when he suddenly stepped down in mid-2009.
Croatia is set to become the European Union's newest member in mid-2013.
Fighting corruption was among key criteria for Zagreb's bid to join the 27-nation bloc. The country has stepped up its anti-graft fight since Kosor took over.