Serbian police arrested 79 people, including a former minister, on corruption charges including abuse of office, money laundering and financial crime, the interior minister said.

Saturday's sweep marks the country's biggest anti-corruption investigation in decades and concerns alleged offenses dating back to 2004, Nebojsa Stefanovic, former president of the National Assembly of Serbia, said.

Several executives of state-owned companies, two former interior ministry officials and several mayors were also among those arrested. They are accused of embezzling a combined 7.8 billion dinars ($70 million), he told a news conference.

Authorities in Serbia, which Dec. 14 opened accession talks with the European Union, are working to root out a legacy of corruption and organized crime that gained a strong foothold during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s.

The ex-minister arrested was Slobodan Milosavljevic of the opposition Democratic Party, who held the Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management portfolio from May 2007 to July 2008, Stefanovic said.

He said police were searching for five more suspects.

In June, authorities charged more than three dozen police and customs officers with corruption.