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Two officials from Soros society found guilty of fraud

November 22, 1997

ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) _ Two officials from an organization funded by U.S. billionaire George Soros were found guilty of fraud Friday and received one-year suspended sentences.

A judge ruled that Karmen Basic, executive director of the Open Society Institute, and Ivanka Morton, the group’s chief accountant, will stay out of prison if they are not convicted of another crime in the next three years, the Croatian news agency HINA reported.

The trial in Zagreb district court was widely viewed as an attempt by the government of President Franjo Tudjman to crack down on foreign-funded groups that he says ``often have illegal and subversive intentions.″

In an earlier speech, Tudjman had called the institute one of Croatia’s ``enemies within,″ and then promised to use all legal means against such groups.

The institute funds projects that promote what it describes as a more democratic society. It also has financed some independent media critical of the government.

The trial against the Open Society officials began in May, following Tudjman’s speech lambasting the organization.

Basic and Morton were found guilty of accounting irregularities. Employees’ salaries were underreported so the institute paid less taxes, Judge Ranko Marijan said. They underpaid an equivalent of $485,000.

A third employee, Managing Director Srdjan Dvornik, was acquitted due to lack of evidence.

All had pleaded not guilty to the charges, claiming they were not required by Croatian law to pay taxes.

The government has often been accused of using legal means or bureaucratic obstacles to stifle media and human rights groups.

Recently, the 23 government ministers privately sued the chief editor of the independent weekly, Globus, for publishing a report saying that the government was corrupt. Globus said it had reported on research done by the U.S.-based Kroll consulting agency.

In December, three reporters of the independent weekly, Feral Tribune, are to be retried on charges of libeling Tudjman in an article.

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