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Open Society Officials Convicted

November 21, 1997

ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) _ Two officials of a group backed by U.S. billionaire George Soros were found guilty of fraud Friday for tax evasion and received one-year suspended sentences.

A Zagreb district court judge ruled that the Open Society Institute’s executive director, Karmen Basic, and its chief accountant, Ivanka Morton, will not be imprisoned as long as they are not convicted of another crime in the next three years, the Croatian news agency HINA reported.

The institute finances projects to promote what it describes as a more democratic society. It also has financed some independent media critical of the authoritarian government of Franjo Tudjman.

The trial against the Soros-sponsored institution was seen as a government crackdown. President Tudjman has called the group one of Croatia’s ``enemies within.″ The organization denies it has been trying to destabilize Croatia.

The charges were filed against the Open Society officials early this year and followed Tudjman’s criticism of the group in a speech late last year. The trial began in May.

Basic and Morton were found guilty of deliberately keeping two sets of books that resulted in evading $485,000 in taxes. Employees’ salaries were under-reported so the institute paid less taxes, Judge Ranko Marijan said. A third employee, managing director Srdjan Dvornik, was acquitted for lack of evidence.

All had pleaded innocent, claiming they were not required by Croatian law to pay tax.

The government has often been accused of using the courts in attempts to curb critical media and human rights groups.

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