ZAGREB (Reuters) - A Croatian court sentenced six people to lengthy prison terms on Wednesday for the 2008 killing of an influential newspaper editor whose political weekly had worked on exposing crime and corruption in the Balkans.
Eight people, believed to have links to organised crime, have been indicted for the murder of the Nacional weekly owner Ivo Pukanic and another Nacional employee by a car bomb in downtown Zagreb in October 2008.
Three of them are on trial in neighbouring Serbia for the same crime, including one, Zeljko Milovanovic, who was indicted in both countries.
Milovanovic, tried in Zagreb in absentia, is believed to have activated the bomb planted under Pukanic’s car and received the toughest sentence of 40 years in prison.
The other five were given jail terms from 15 to 33 years at the end of a nine-month trial held under tight security in Zagreb. All of them had denied any involvement in the murder.
The Zagreb court could not determine who had commissioned the assassination, which prompted Croatia’s Prime Minister, Ivo Sanader, to sack the justice and interior ministers and pledge a crackdown on crime in the European Union candidate country.
Serbian prosecutors have accused Sreten Jocic, a wealthy Serbian businessman, of masterminding the murder. Jocic has also denied any wrongdoing.
Fighting corruption and organised crime is a key requirement for all Balkan countries seeking to join the European Union. Croatia, which hopes hopes to complete EU entry talks in 2011, is the closest to membership. Other Balkan countries have yet to open accession EU talks.
After the Pukanic murder, police from Croatia and Serbia showed unprecedented cross-border cooperation, quickly arresting several suspects in a sweeping action code-named Balkan Express.
Reporting by Igor Ilic; Editing by Zoran Radosavljevic and Peter Graff