Ex-Croatian PM held in Austria pending extradition

Former Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader was questioned by a judge Saturday and then ordered held during extradition proceedings linked to charges in his homeland of corruption while in office.

The Salzburg Public Prosecutor's department said the judge established Sanader's identity and questioned him briefly about the charges before being he was sent to a detention cell at Salzburg's justice institute.

Sanader was arrested Friday on a stretch of the expressway linking Salzburg and Carinthia provinces. Croatia's Office for Suppression of Organized Crime and Corruption says he is suspected of conspiring to commit crimes and abuse of office.

Croatia's premier from 2003 to 2009, Sanader is the highest-ranking person to be charged with a crime while holding political office since Croatia became independent in 1991. The Croatian parliament lifted Sanader's immunity from prosecution Thursday afternoon.

Sanader says he is innocent. His Austrian lawyer, Werner Suppan, told the Austria Press Agency late Saturday that his client seeks to clear his name "as quickly as possible."

He also said Sanader wanted to emphasize that he was detained not while fleeing but while trying to return home, adding his client wanted to cooperate with the Croatian authorities.

Saturday's edition of the daily Slobodna Dalmacia quoted Sanader as saying that the charges are politically motivated and that "I was neither a thief nor a criminal."

Barbara Feichtinger, spokeswoman for the Public Prosecutor's department, said Sanader could be extradited relatively quickly if he agrees to the procedure but if not the process could drag on.

Several former government officials and businessmen — including Sanader's closest allies as prime minister — have been jailed as his successor, Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor, works to fight high-level corruption — a key condition for Croatia's entry into the European Union. Croatia hopes to join the bloc in 2012.