Croatian minister gets prison term for fatal crash

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By PABLO GORONDI, Associated Press

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Croatia's economy minister Radimir Cacic has resigned after being sentenced to prison for causing a traffic accident in Hungary in 2010 in which two people were killed and two injured.

Cacic, who has only been in the job for a little under a year, can be paroled after serving half the 22-month sentence, according to the ruling Wednesday by an appeals court in the southern Hungarian city of Kaposvar.

Following his sentencing, Cacic resigned from all his posts — he was also appointed deputy prime minister last December — in the center-left government led by Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic.

"The consequences are clear, I resign from my functions in the government," Cacic said at a news conference held with Milanovic in the Croatian capital of Zagreb. "Once again, I would like to express my regrets about the tragedy that happened in Hungary."

In June, Cacic was found guilty of crashing his car into another on Hungary's Budapest-bound M7 highway on Jan. 8, 2010. He was given a 22-month suspended sentence with three years' probation, but the verdict was appealed by both the prosecution and the defense. The prosecution said the sentence was not harsh enough while the defense wanted the guilty verdict quashed.

Cacic reiterated that he would respect all court rulings and "act accordingly" but that the start of his prison term depended on the decision of Hungarian authorities.

Cacic's lawyer in Hungary, Peter Zamecsnik, told The Associated Press that it was unclear when, or where, Cacic would go to prison. First, Cacic will have to receive a translation of the court ruling. It's also possible that Croatia may ask Hungary to allow Cacic to serve the sentence in his home country.

Opposition politicians saw the verdict as a blow to the ruling coalition, which is led by the Social Democratic Party of Croatia.

"I think Prime Minister Milanovic acted adventurously when he named a man with such a burden to the post," said Tomislav Karamarko, head of the opposition Croatian Democratic Union. "That created an impression in Europe that we are not serious, but I hope the prime minister will find the way out of this situation."

Milanovic said Cacic would be missed in the government.

"I regret all this very deeply, particularly that two people were killed in the crash," he said.

Croatia, which was part of Yugoslavia until declaring independence in 1991, is to become a member of the European Union in July 2013.

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Darko Bandic in Zagreb, Croatia, and Jovana Gec in Belgrade, Serbia, contributed to this report.

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