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BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbia's Special Court sentenced a former minister to three-and- a-half years in jail on Wednesday over graft and the abuse of office related to an infrastructure development deal in 2009, the state-owned Tanjug news agency reported.

Oliver Dulic, a member of the now-opposition Democratic Party and the former minister for planning and the environment, was tried along with two of his associates, who received sentences of one and three years, respectively.

The report said that the court, which handles high-profile cases, found Dulic and two other defendants guilty of issuing permits to a Slovenia-based firm to lay fibre-optic cables along highways in Serbia in 2009 without proper tendering procedures and documentation.

Neither Dulic, who has previously denied allegations, nor his lawyer could be reached for comment. All three defendants can appeal to a higher court.

Dulic's Democratic Party which was in power in Serbia until 2012 and which initially launched a probe in his dealings, previously said the case was politically motivated and aimed at persecuting opposition.

Serbia, which is ranked 72nd out of 183 countries in Berlin-based Transparency International's corruption perceptions index, must root out graft if it wants to speed up its European Union membership bid.

(Corrects para 2 to say Dulic was tried, not jailed.)

(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)

Reuters