USKOK Launches Investigation Into 13 Officials, Business People

By 30 May 2020

ZAGREB, May 30, 2020 - After an extensive police operation in a case involving the construction of a wind park, the USKOK anti-corruption agency has launched an investigation into 13 business people and state officials, including Josipa Rimac, a state secretary at the Public Administration Ministry who was fired on Friday.

Rimac and 12 other officials and business people are suspected of influence peddling, abuse of office and authority, of giving bribes and giving bribes in exchange for influence peddling, and of receiving bribes.

Apart from Rimac, who is the main suspect in the case, criminal reports were also filed against the owner of Lager Group and C.E.M.P. company, Milenko Basic, Lager executive director Dragan Stipic, state-owned Hrvatske Sume (HS) forest management company CEO Krunoslav Jakupcic, the head of the HS Split branch, Ivan Melvan, and the head of the Croatian Energy Regulatory Agency (HERA), Tomislav Jurekovic.

The other suspects are Sibenik businessman Ante Sladic, Zagreb businessman Josip Ravlic, HDZ Knin City Council member Marinko Tokmacija, the head of the Agriculture Minister's office, Ruzica Njavro, the HDZ mayor of Gracac, Natasa Turbic, Knin businessman Nikola Lapcic, and Assistant Economy Minister Ana Mandac, who was also fired on Friday.

A police report, which does not reveal the suspects' identity, says that they are Croatian nationals, while Basic and Stipic also hold Bosnian citizenship.

Rimac is suspected of having acted in collusion with Basic and Stipic, in the period from early 2019 to the end of May that year, to secure for them, by using her position as state secretary, permits, certificates and contracts needed to build and put into operation the Krs-Padjane wind park as well as enable it to produce and sell power, despite the fact that the necessary conditions had not been met.

In exchange for the permits, Basic and Stipic promised Rimac to sign an insurance policy for the wind park, with Rimac receiving a commission of €45,000 as the policy would be arranged by her sister as the insurance agent.

USKOK stressed that as part of the deal, Rimac undertook a number of activities towards officials at the State Assets Ministry, HERA, and Hrvatske Sume so as to favour Basic's company.

She is suspected of having used her office and authority as well as the fact that she had access to available information to ask the relevant ministry on several occasions to urgently amend and put out of force decisions obliging Basic's firm to pay a due fee of HRK 6.9 million for the right of servitude.

Police note that Basic's company had avoided paying the fee ever since April 2015 even though it unlawfully used the land in question the whole time.

By ensuring that the relevant decisions were put out of force, Rimac is believed to have made it possible for amended regulations that entered into force in the meantime and that made payment terms and calculation of the fee for the right of servitude more favorable, to apply to C.E.M.P., thus enabling the company to pay a much lower fee for the right of servitude, in the amount of one million kunas.

Rimac is also suspected of having used her position to ask Hrvatske Sume CEO Krunoslav Jakupcic and the head of the Split branch of Hrvatske Sume, Ivan Melvan, to urgently withdraw negative opinions and estimates of damage issued by Hrvatske Sume after technical inspections into the built part of Basic's wind park, which were required for the company to obtain an operating permit.

Even though Hrvatske Sume had earlier sued C.E.M.P. for damage caused during the construction of access roads needed for work on the wind park, which Rimac was aware of, Jakupcic and Melvan secured the withdrawal of the previous negative opinions.

Based on the withdrawn opinions, they made it possible for C.E.M.P., despite the fact that it did not meet the necessary conditions, to sign with the State Assets Ministry an agreement on the right of servitude over state-owned forest land, and thus meet one of the conditions for the issuance of operating permits, which were subsequently obtained, police said.

HERA director Tomislav Jurekovic is suspected of having enabled Basic's company, at Rimac's asking, to acquire the status of a preferred power producer, thus enabling it to secure a 118% increase in the price of electricity charged.

Rimac is also suspected of having exerted influence, in agreement with Ante Sladic and Josip Ravlic, on the head of the office of the agriculture minister and member of the steering boards of the Paying Agency for Agriculture and the Croatian Agriculture and Food Agency, Ruzica Njavro, to secure, for €10,000 and an additional HRK 500,000, changes to a regulation on the lease of state-owned forest land to enable Sladic and Ravlic's companies specialising in the purchase and sale of cattle to obtain much higher state incentives and support than they were entitled to, as well as to lease a much larger area of land.

Rimac is also suspected of having exerted influence on Gracac mayor Natasa Turbic through Marinko Tokmacija as the middleman, to publish a changed tender for the lease of farmland and karst pastureland in the area of Gracac and to choose Sladic and Ravlic's bid.

In exchange for that, acting in agreement with Ravlic, Sladic promised Rimac the transfer of ownership over a construction plot in the coastal town of Rogoznica and a larger sum of money for third persons who were to be involved in the deal.

Sladic gave Rimac an undetermined sum of money for Tokmacija who kept a part of the money for himself and gave at least €10,000 to Natasa Turbic.

Police believe that Rimac also exerted influence on Assistant Economy Minister Ana Mandac to secure the allocation of ministry grants to Knin stonemason Nikola Lapcic, who in exchange did work in Rimac's house at a price much below the market price.

Rimac, Jakupcic, Melvan, Jurekovic, Sladic, Ravlic, Tokmacija, Njavro, Turbic, Lapcic, and Mandac have been detained while Basic and Stipic are currently beyond the reach of Croatian police.