The executive director of Croatian champions Dinamo Zagreb, Zdravko Mamic, has been charged with inciting violence and ethnic hatred following remarks he made against en ethnic Serb government minister, prosecutors said here on Thursday.
Considered the most powerful man in Croatian football, Mamic was indicted "for publicly inciting hatred against the education and sports minister ... and all ethnic Serbs," in his comments to a local radio station, a Zagreb prosecutors statement said.
Mamic told the Soundset Plavi radio in March that Education and Sports Minister Zeljko Jovanovic, an ethnic Serb, "hates everything Croatian" and was an "insult to the Croatian brain."
"When he looks at you, blood squirts from his eyes ... Looking at his smile, one can only see eye-teeth ready for slaughter," Mamic, 54, said.
The comments were made just a week ahead of a highly-charged World Cup qualifying match between Croatia and Serbia. The match, won by Croatia 2-0, eventually took place without incidents.
Mamic, known for his controversial behaviour and threats to journalists, was briefly detained for questioning.
Serbs make up Croatia's largest minority, accounting for around four percent of the country's population of 4.2 million.
Relations between Zagreb and its ethnic Serbs remain sensitive since the 1991-1995 war during which Serb rebels fought against the former Yugoslav republic's independence.
Mamic's statements were immediately strongly condemned by the country's top officials, the Serb community and human rights groups.
If found guilty he faces up to three years in jail.
Respect for minorities' rights was a key condition set by the European Union for allowing Croatia to enter the 27-member bloc. The country will join the EU on July 1.