Croatia sentenced its former ambassador to Washington to 18 months in prison for spending around $130,000 on his private needs, continuing an anti-graft drive that is vital its attempt to join the European Union.
Neven Jurica, who is still Croatia's permanent representative to the United Nations but has been recalled to Zagreb, will appeal the sentence, his lawyer said.
A spokesman of the Zagreb county court said Jurica was also banned from work for five years.
Jurica denied all charges and said he had used the money -- during his tenure as ambassador to the United States in 2007/08 -- to buy gifts for diplomats and take them to lunch.
"There is no such thing as free lunch. We are a small country and being generous in entertaining people you need matters," he said, adding he had paid back the money to the Foreign Ministry after it declined to acknowledge his expenses.
Fighting corruption, cutting state subsidies and reforming the judiciary and administration are the main requirements from Brussels in Croatia's EU entry talks, which Zagreb wants to complete by the end of this year.
In the new anti-graft drive, which started after Jadranka Kosor took over as prime minister last July, a dozen managers in banks and state companies have been taken into custody. No indictments have been raised yet.
Last month police arrested former deputy prime minister Damir Polancec over alleged malpractice at the country's top food group Podravka.
Former Defence Minister Berislav Roncevic was indicted and put on trial in January over suspicious deals in a 2004 purchase of army trucks.
ReutersLast Mod: 22 Nisan 2010, 18:15