A Croatian court sentenced a surgeon to nine years in prison on Monday for taking bribes, concluding a corruption case that had attracted intense media attention in the European Union aspirant state.
The surgeon, who pleaded not guilty, had been accused of taking 210,000 kuna ($43,570) in bribes between 1998 and 2006 from patients who needed urgent surgery.
The verdict came as Croatia seeks to prove it has stepped up efforts to counter graft -- a major hurdle for the country's EU membership bid -- before Brussels issues a progress report in November. Zagreb hopes to join the bloc in around 2011.
Analysts said a positive assessment was not certain, citing Brussels' continued concern about corruption in Bulgaria and Romania, which joined the bloc in 2007.
"Action plans have been made (in Croatia), but essentially not much has changed," said political analyst Zeljko Trkanjec. "There have been no large-scale police operations, no concrete results."
Croatia sent a new anti-graft plan to Brussels in June.
"The EU will not turn a blind eye or yield an inch on this demand," Trkanjec added. "They were bitten by Bulgaria and Romania and now know it is too late to demand more action after a country joins."
The executive European Commission suspended nearly 500 million euros in aid to Bulgaria in July, accusing Sofia of not doing enough to root out graft and organised crime.
It warned Romania that further delays in its anti-corruption fight could result in similar cuts.
Croat police arrested several top officials of the state privatisation fund and a few clerks at the Zagreb land registry last year, but their cases have yet to be concluded.
"We are working hard to step up the fight on all levels to eliminate corruption, in line with EU demands," government spokesman Zlatko Mehun said on Monday. "Now it is up to relevant bodies to put this into practice."
Observers say corruption is deeply rooted in Croatia, and surveys show widespread payment of bribes to expedite service in the public health sector, judiciary and state administration.
"I am not sure there will be enough political will to implement (the action plans)," said Zorislav Antun Petrovic of Transparency International, a watchdog that monitors corruption.
"As long as it remains customary to give presents to doctors and nurses, or take state inspectors to dinner, I don't expect big results."
Güncelleme Tarihi: 26 Ağustos 2008, 13:36