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Serb lawmaker accused of corruption stripped of immunity

BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbia's parliament stripped a senior opposition lawmaker and former minister of his immunity on Monday, paving the way for authorities to launch an investigation over corruption charges.

Oliver Dulic, a member of the Democratic Party and the former minister for spatial planning and the environment, had been charged along with two associates with corruption and abuse of office related to construction deals in 2009 and 2010.

Police attempted last week to bring Dulic in for questioning but he invoked his parliamentary immunity, prompting Serbia's prosecutor for organized crime to ask parliament to rescind it.

Dulic, who denies the allegations, was stripped of immunity by a vote in parliament and said he would hand himself into police. "I will go ... no need for them to waste fuel to bring me in," he said.

If convicted he faces a jail term of between two and 12 years.

The Democratic Party said the case was politically motivated and accused the Socialist-nationalist coalition government, which came to power in July, of persecuting the opposition.

"Dulic is innocent until proven guilty," Dragoljub Micunovic, a leading Democrat said in a debate before the vote.

Ivica Dacic, the prime minister and Socialist Party leader, who also serves as interior minister, said the investigation against Dulic had been initiated by the previous, Democrats-led coalition government in March.

"This is not a political issue ... they have started it (the probe)," Dacic, who also served as interior minister in the previous government, told reporters.

Dulic and associates are accused of issuing permits to a Slovenia-based firm to lay fiber-optic cables along highways in Serbia without proper tendering procedures and documentation.

Corruption is rife in Serbia, which is ranked 86th out of 183 countries in Berlin-based Transparency International's corruption perceptions index. Serbian authorities have repeatedly pledged to root out graft as they attempt to speed up the country's bid to join the European Union.

(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Pravin Char)

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