Corruption trial opens in Serbia against 35 judges, lawyers, bankers

Nearly three dozen judges, lawyers, bankers and businessmen went on trial Monday in what officials have described as Serbia's largest-ever anti-corruption sweep.

The 35 defendants, including the former president of Serbia's Trade Court, are charged with criminal conspiracy, abuse of power and giving and taking bribes, according to the indictment.

The trial against the group opened at Serbia's special court for organized crime, which is handling the country's most prominent cases, such as the trial of the alleged assassins of the reformist Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic.

The suspects on trial Monday were dubbed the "Bankruptcy Mafia" by the authorities and Serbian media. They are accused of embezzling millions of dollars during bankruptcy proceedings and takeovers of state-run companies.

The group includes the former head of the Trade Court, Goran Kljajevic, and a number of other prominent figures.

"The Bankruptcy Mafia ... used trade and business structures and influenced the judiciary in order to make illegal financial gains through criminal action," the indictment said.

Authorities have declared the case against the group to be their biggest breakthrough in the fight against corruption because of the operation's wide scope and because it included dozens of prominent figures in important positions, reports AP.

Government critics, however, say the anti-corruption investigation is selective and a show for the public.

Corruption is widespread in Serbia, which faced years of mismanagement and international sanctions under the rule of former President Slobodan Milosevic.