Austria plans to extradite Croatian ex-official

At the end of May a Vienna court will decide on whether to extradite a former Croatian official arrested in Austria on charges of embezzling precious gems used in arms deals.

Christian Gneist, spokesman for the Vienna court handling the matter, told the Austria Press Agency that examining magistrate Christine Forstner heard testimony from Gen. Vladimir Zagorec, a former deputy defense minister, Friday and that she would decide on extradition by the end of the month.

"Today's hearing was meant to give Zagorec an opportunity to comment on the documents provided to us by the Croatian authorities," APA quoted Gneist as saying.

The court could not be reached for confirmation or additional comment Friday afternoon.

Zagorec was arrested in March 13 at his office in the Austrian capital on an international arrest warrant, and was released on 1 million EUR (US$1.3 million) bail.

A Croatian court has launched an investigation against Zagorec, with prosecutors accusing him of seizing 3.8 million EUR (US$5 million) worth of diamonds and other jewels used as collateral for a 1990s weapons purchase.

Prosecutors in southern Austria also began investigating bank accounts for possible links to Zagorec after Croatian authorities requested legal assistance.

Zagorec, who has denied the charges, is fighting against extradition to Croatia.

His lawyers have called the charges "completely absurd" and vowed to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Austria's Justice Ministry would have to give its go-ahead before extradition can take place, APA reported.

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Author`s name Angela Antonova