Zagreb, Dec 10 (DPA) Former prime minister Ivo Sanader fled the country as Croatian prosecutors Thursday issued a warrant for his arrest and the nation's parliament stripped him of his immunity.
Croatian police confirmed that Sanader had driven to neighbouring Slovenia. Local media there said that he was spotted at Ljubljana airport, in a queue for a flight to London.
Prosecutors asked that Sanader be detained for 30 days. It is not known what charges he faces, but media have been speculating for months that he is the focus of a wide-ranging corruption probe.
The daily Jutarnji List reported that Sanader will be accused of organised crime and abuses of office punishable by at least five years in prison.
European Union enlargement commissioner Stefan Fule declined to comment on the case against Sanader, but said Croatia must have a 'track record' for tackling corruption if it is to become an EU member.
'Croatia is moving in the right direction ... the commission will have an opportunity to report on implementation ... through its interim report at the beginning of March next year,' Fule said.
Sanader, 57, would be the highest-ranking official ever arrested in Croatia. Two people from his cabinet, former deputy premier Damir Polancec and former defence minister Berislav Roncevic, have already been convicted of corruption charges.
Scores of other officials and businessmen have been investigated over questionable deals with possible links to Sanader, including the privatisation of state enterprises and embezzlement.
Sanader took control of the Croatian Democratic Union after its founder and former Croatian president, Franjo Tudjman, died in 2000. He became prime minister in 2003 and won re-election in 2007.
He stunned the nation by resigning without explanation in July 2009. His deputy, Jadranka Kosor, replaced him both as prime minister and HDZ leader and immediately began making good on a promise to crack down on corruption and organised crime.
Sanader tried to regain leadership of the HDZ early this year, but instead the HDZ expelled him from the party. He then returned to the parliament as an independent legislator.
Croatia is the next country in line for EU membership. It is also due to hold parliamentary elections in 2011.