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Star midfielder Modric appears as star witness in Croatia graft trial

Croatia’s midfielder Luka Modric will swap his football kit for a suit on June 13, 2017, as he appears in the witness box to testify in a corruption trial against Dinamo Zagreb’s ex-chairman © AFP/File / JOE KLAMAR

Zagreb, Croatia, Jun 13 – Luka Modric will swap his football kit for a suit on Tuesday as he appears in the witness box to testify in a multi-million-euro corruption trial against Dinamo Zagreb’s ex chairman.

The 31-year-old star midfielder is to give evidence at the trial of controversial Zdravko Mamic, considered the most powerful man in Croatian football.

Mamic is being tried along with three others: his brother and former Dinamo Zagreb coach Zoran Mamic, former club director Damir Vrbanovic, and a tax inspector.

They were charged last year with abuse of power and graft that cost the former Croatian champions more than 15 million euros ($17.6 million), and the state 1.5 million euros.

Most of the money — more than 12 million euros — was illegally acquired by the Mamic brothers, said the indictment. The cash was allegedly embezzled through fictitious deals related to player transfers.

Dinamo Zagreb’s ex-chairman Zdravko Mamic is considered the most powerful man in Croatian football © AFP/File

Modric is expected to testify over the details of his 2008 transfer from Dinamo to Tottenham Hotspur. From there he joined Real Madrid in 2012.

His testimony given to prosecutors in Zagreb in 2015 could be embarrassing for the Mamic brothers.

“I acted as I was told, to withdraw cash and give it to them,” Modric told the prosecutors, according to the Jutarnji list newspaper.

He explained that he paid them some seven million euros, as instructed, from the nine million that arrived in his bank account from Dinamo.

Another Croatian international, Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren, will follow as a witness on Wednesday.

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The 27-year-old is expected to be questioned over his 2010 transfer from Dinamo to French side Lyon.

– ‘Fakers and manipulators’ –

The trial has attracted huge interest from media and residents in the eastern city of Osijek, where it is being held, reportedly to avoid Mamic’s influence on judges in the capital Zagreb.

Mamic’s connections extend into many spheres of Croatian public life and he donated to the election campaign of President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic.

Most Croatian football fans consider him the real boss of the Croatian Football Federation and believe its formal chief Davor Suker is merely Mamic’s puppet.

The magnate has bragged to media about feeling like a “Hollywood star” in Osijek because local people regularly approach to greet him.

Since the trial opened in April under strict security, Mamic lived up to his controversial reputation, easily losing his temper and trying to turn the process into a performance.

The indictment is the “most disgusting lie I’ve heard in my life” and the trial “a politically-rigged process”, he said, lambasting the anti-corruption prosecutors as “fakers and manipulators”.

State attorneys were even allocated extra protection after Mamic verbally attacked one of them.

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– ‘Modern Dinamo creator’ –

Judge Darko Kruslin has often warned and threatened him with fines over his behaviour.

But unlike the other suspects, he regularly attends the trial.

“I’m not a criminal, I’m the creator of a modern Dinamo. With my arrival to the club the fight against corruption began,” Mamic told local media.

Dinamo have won 18 national championships since the former Yugoslav republic declared independence in 1991.

Witness Modric, who grew up as a refugee child in Zadar on the Dalmatian coast, is highly popular in Croatia where he has a reputation for modesty.

He was only six when Croatia’s independence war broke out, and although Zadar was heavily bombed his football skills in the corridors of a refugee hotel and in cratered car parks did not go unnoticed.

Mamic’s trial is a major one for Croatian football, which is known for the success of its national team but also hooliganism and poor infrastructure.

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