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Former Karadzic minister enters not guilty plea

By Staff
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SARAJEVO, Feb 22 (Reuters) Former Bosnian Serb wartime minister Momcilo Mandic has pleaded not guilty to charges of abuse of office, organised crime and aiding his former boss Radovan Karadzic, now a fugitive war crimes suspect.

A former justice minister, Mandic is charged with 14 counts at Bosnia's state court, alongside three other top Bosnian Serb officials, including ex-Serb presidency member Mirko Sarovic.

''I state that I am not guilty to all counts of the indictment,'' Mandic told the court yesterday.

The other officials also pleaded not guilty to charges of abuse of office and organised crime in the case of the Privredna Banka, owned by Mandic. The group is accused of transferring depositors' funds to political party accounts, causing Privredna to go bankrupt.

Some funds are believed to have financed the support network of Karadzic. The former Bosnian Serb president is indicted by the UN war crimes tribunal for genocide over the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslims and the 43-month siege of Sarajevo. He has been on the run since 1997.

Former peace overseer Paddy Ashdown accused Mandic of supporting Karadzic financially, which Mandic denied.

Mandic wanted to comment publicly on the charges because he had been in isolation since being arrested in Montenegro last August and transferred to detention in Bosnia.

Judge Susanne Moller dismissed his request, saying it was ''neither the time nor the place to comment on the indictment''.

The trial is due to begin in the next two to three months.

REUTERS PDS RAI0525

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