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London court finds no evidence of political motivation for prosecution of Croatia's Agrokor owner

Author Maja Garaca
London court finds no evidence of political motivation for prosecution of Croatia's Agrokor owner Author: Agrokor. License: All rights reserved.

ZAGREB (Croatia), April 24 (SeeNews) - Westminster Magistrates Court in London ruled on Monday that there was no evidence of political motivation for the prosecution of the owner of Croatia's ailing concern Agrokor, Ivica Todoric, and that there was no close involvement of politicians in the concern.

"I accept that the Agrokor affair has a political dimension as it represents 15% of the GDP of Croatia but the prosecution is based on the evidence uncovered is not being pursued because of political pressure," Senior District Judge Emma Arbuthnot said in the judgement posted on the website of the Courts and Tribunals Judiciary before concluding that Todoric has to be extradited to Croatia.

"In the light of the decisions above and no other issues being raised, I order the extradition of Mr Ivica Todoric to Croatia. He now has seven days in which to apply for leave to appeal," the judge concluded.

Todoric, his two sons, and 12 other business associates are under investigation in Croatia for suspected wrongdoing at Agrokor that led the country's largest privately-held concern to the brink of collapse in 2017. A Zagreb county court ordered that Todoric be put in pre-trial detention in October.

The owner of Agrokor was detained in London in November on a European arrest warrant and was released on bail by the court just hours after. He was stripped of his passport and was required to wear an electronic tag and report to a police station three times a week.

Todoric's lawyers argued before the London court that the prosecution was politically motivated and that there was a close connection between the company and senior Croatian politicians.

A witness in the defence, economic expert William John Bartlett, said during the proceedings that the over-expansion of the company should have been prevented by the Croatian government.

"When the company started failing it was the government’s fault," he said.

"Dr Bartlett’s evidence was that the prosecution of Mr Todoric was to distract attention from the government’s own misdeeds and in particular the actions of a senior politician who was a senior financial controller in Agrokor before the near collapse of the company," Judge Emma Arbuthnot summed up on Monday.

She added, however, that she did not find the evidence persuasive, categorising it as weak.

"What I do understand from the evidence was that Agrokor was of great significance to the economy which would explain why the government was so involved in the repercussions of the near failure of the company," the judge explained.

Todoric will now remain at liberty while he exercises his right to an appeal, but with stricter precautionary measures. He will report to a police station every day and will not be able to leave his London home after 9 pm.

The Agrokor group employs some 60,000 people throughout the states of the former Yugoslavia.

In April last year, the Croatian government stepped in to prevent the collapse of indebted Agrokor by appointing a receiver under a special law governing the management of companies of systemic importance for the country's economy. Todoric was stripped of his managerial rights under the law popularly known as Lex Agrokor but remains owner of the concern.