Top Croatian tycoon loses extradition from Britain fight

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London (AFP)

Croatian tycoon Ivica Todoric, who founded the Balkans' biggest employer Agrokor, on Thursday lost his bid to appeal against extradition from Britain to face fraud allegations back home.

Todoric was arrested in Britain in November 2017 on a European arrest warrant for allegedly falsifying accounts to hide huge debts at his self-built food and retail giant.

A hearing in a London magistrates court in April ruled that Todoric could be extradited.

The 67-year-old sought permission to appeal against that decision, but his bid was rejected on Thursday.

"This application is refused," High Court judge Duncan Ouseley ruled at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

Todoric, who was in court wearing a dark suit, vowed to continue his battle against the allegations.

"I'm pleased what I have managed while I was in London as regards my case," he told AFP afterwards.

"I'm very grateful to the court and I'm going to continue my fight."

There are no further legal avenues open for Todoric against his extradition.

One of his lawyers was Cherie Booth, the wife of former British prime minister Tony Blair.

"The European Arrest Warrant is designed to ensure that the British courts respect the decisions of the Croatian prosecution authorities and the Croatian courts. So the matter returns to Croatia," she told reporters.

- Agrokor takeover -

Agrokor is almost as important as tourism to Croatia's economy, with revenues accounting for 15 percent of the European Union member's gross domestic product (GDP).

The company was saved from bankruptcy earlier this year after creditors backed a multi-billion euro debt deal.

Agrokor was weighed down by debts of 58 billion kunas ( $8.9 billion, 7.8 billion euros).

"Since leaving Croatia I have dedicated myself to revealing the truth about the shadowy, unaccountable, mafia-style group that stole Agrokor from me and more than 15,000 ordinary shareholders while risking the livelihoods of our 60,000 employees," Todoric said in a statement after the ruling.

Todoric accused "senior leaders of the Croatian government" of being behind the takeover, adding: "I will not be intimidated by the politically and financially motivated attacks against me".

"There is not a shred of evidence I ever took money out of Agrokor, a business I built from scratch," he added.

The case has posed a serious challenge to the government of conservative Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic.

Martina Dalic was forced to resign as deputy prime minister in May amid allegations of conflict of interest. She had played a key role in Agrokor's restructuring.

Plenkovic said after Thursday's ruling: "I haven't commented on that for several months so I will not do it today either."

Meanwhile Croatian Justice Minister Drazen Bosnjakovic rejected Todoric's claims that he is a victim of "political process".

"There is no political persecution in Croatia. These are concrete issues," the minister said.

"We know in which situation was Agrokor, we know how it could have reflected on the economy. He will face a fair and correct trial. A political trial is not possible."

Agrokor is the largest employer in the Balkans, and its network of suppliers means tens of thousands more jobs are at stake.

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