Kaj?! Five Things We Learned About Milan Bandic This Week

By 9 February 2020

February the 9th, 2020 - The Mayor of Zagreb is a colourful fellow. Mired in controversy and often the culprit in many an eyebrow-raising, funny, or just plain ridiculous story - Milan Bandic has seen (and probably done) it all. In his many years serving the City of Zagreb as mayor, many a scandal has found itself at his doorstep. With USKOK (Bureau for Combating Corruption and Organised Crime) now hot on his heels, let's take a look at what we've found out about Milan Bandic in the last week or so alone.

Milan Bandic holds the citizenship of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Hold your horses, you might say, many Croats and indeed many citizens of neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina hold each other's citizenship. You'd be right. Zdravko Mamic, Dinamo Zagreb's former main man, who also spent much of his time in a quagmire of controversy, also holds citizenship of Bosnia and Herzegovina. He used his second passport as a way to escape justice in Croatia and live just over the border in Medjugorje - Bosnia typically does not extradite its citizens. 

Could Milan Bandic be thinking along the same lines now that certain unwanted events from his past are catching up with him more and more quickly? Potentially. According to the Croatian media, it isn't known just when Bandic obtained citizenship of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the appropriate ministry doesn't want to reveal it. Telegram reports that according to checks carried out, Milan Bandic, who was indeed born in Grude, Bosnia and Herzegovina, does hold citizenship of the country and it seems he obtained citizenship based on ethnicity/descent.

Bandic was born in 1955 in Grude, and then held what was Yugoslavian citizenship. He has held Croatian citizenship since Croatia declared independence, and has lived in Zagreb since 1974. Bandic believes questions about his second citizenship are ''racist questions'', as he made sure to say in response to questioning from a journalist. 

''I'm a citizen of Croatia and I'll be the President of Croatia. Your question is racist,'' exclaimed Milan Bandic when asked about him holding citizenship of Bosnia and Herzegovina back in 2009. 

Milan Bandic divorced his wife so he could acquire a cheap apartment

Marital bliss means very little when there's a bargain to be had. 24 years ago, Milan and his wife Vesna apparently went through a rough patch, which all relationships and marriages go through at some point or another. They filed for divorce in 1996 and their very short-lived divorce was amicable and friendly, as the then ex-husband, Milan Bandic, immediately approved his ex-wifes request to buy an apartment for a price seven times lower than its market value.

Cunning? An insult to marriage? Or just plain old good sense in a world of unpredictable inflation? Click here to read our full report on the situation and decide for yourself.

Milan Bandic has a Croatian diplomatic passport

So what? You might ask. He's a prominent Croatian politician and he's the mayor of the capital city of the holder of the rotating EU presidency. Well, it seems that Milan Bandic has taken up the hobby of collecting passports and other travel documents. Along with him holding the citizenship of Bosnia and Herzegovina, he has now got his hands on a Croatian diplomatic passport. As Telegram reports, that information was confirmed to Index by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

This document, as should be emphasised, belongs to the Mayor of Zagreb under the Law on Travel Documents; for official travel abroad, and a number of Croatian officials have the right to obtain a diplomatic passport.

These include, for example, the President of the Republic of Croatia, the Prime Minister, government ministers, the Chief of the General Staff of the Croatian Armed Forces, the heads of the Constitutional and Supreme Courts, MPs, the Attorney General, directors and secretaries in the ministries, and the President of the Croatian Chamber of Commerce (HGK).

Diplomatic passport users can cross the border faster and easier, their luggage isn't checked, and they basically don't have to go through the endless waiting and treatment from airport staff and border guards that is... let's just say ''lacking''.

Milan Bandic exercised this right and his diplomatic passport was issued to him on the 16th of June, 2015, and is valid until the 16th of June, 2020.

The aforementioned law is highly convenient in Croatian circumstances (of course it is). By his function, Nadan Vidosevic, who was arrested on the 12th of November, 2013, charged with misappropriating 32.9 million kuna from the Croatian Chamber of Commerce, could also take out a diplomatic passport. Once again, you can come to your own conclusions about that and what it might imply.

USKOK claims Milan Bandic was found in possession of a 40 million kuna fraud document

As Ana Raic Knezevic/Telegram reported on the 5th of February, 2020, Milan Bandic was questioned on the aforementioned date as a witness on the continuation of the process in the dry ice affair. The allegations are against former Zvonimir Sostar, who has been one of Milan's closest associates for many years.

In Sostar's tenure, between 2006 and 2013, the City of Zagreb's budget was scammed by a little less than 40 million kuna in the affair according to USKOK. USKOK claims that fictitious bills were being paid to clean air conditioners in sports halls across Zagreb, though that work was largely not carried out.

Bandic says he only heard about that case in passing. He remembers learning that the sanitary inspection had ordered the air-conditioners to be cleaned because of the risk of Legionnaires disease, but he left everything else, he claims, to his good friend Zvonimir Sostar.

To counter his claims, USKOK then presented Bandic with a document found in his own home which was discovered during a search after his 2014 arrest. This paper shows certain budget items, one of which is particularly clear in reference to the dry ice affair. Bandic, as he himself admitted, wrote on it "10 percent", "15 percent", "300,000", and then "Mirna must ask Anica". Therefore, it concludes that Bandic was much more involved in the case than he cared to admit.

"I'm not a chemist and I don't know what dry ice is. I know I have an air conditioner at home, but I don't know how it gets cleaned. This was a working document on the redistribution of funds in the budget, and Mirna Situm, then head of the department, had to consult with Anica Tav, the assistant to the Public Procurement Office,'' Milan Bandic said without explaining, however, why he kept that document in his own house.

The indictment charges Zvonimir Sostar, former head of the City of Zagreb's Office of Health, Labour, Social Welfare and Veterans' Affairs, with having agreed with Davor Ljubic, the owner of Ekotours, at the beginning of 2006, to provide him with the job of cleaning the air conditioning and ventilation systems in the sports halls of the City of Zagreb. According to Sostar's promise, Ljubic would have all the expenses, including transportation and fees, paid for from the City of Zagreb's budget.

Although in the end, the City of Zagreb did not provide the funds from the budget, Sostar nevertheless initiated an air conditioner cleanup programme, launching public tenders in which, according to USKOK, clearly favoured Ljubic. The cleaning method was just expensive "dry ice". Ljubic was paid according to the invoices, regardless of whether the work was done, the indictment alleges.

In addition, the investigators found that there was not much control over the work carried out at all. The indictment alleges that Sostar hired Mira Loncar, a health expert at the City of Zagreb's Office of Health, Labour, Social Welfare and Veterans' Affairs, to compile the bidding documents that would best suit Ekotours. She did so, and Ljubic's company got the job very easily, USKOK claims.

According to USKOK, Loncar knew that Ekotours hadn't done some of the work and that part of the cleanup hadn't been accomplished using "dry ice", as had been previously agreed. The city received a 52.4 million kuna invoice by 2013, while it is suspected that Ekotours did work worth a mere 13.4 million kuna. However, Sostar still approved the payment of all of Ljubic's invoices. As a result, he is charged with nearly 39 million kuna in damages to the city budget.

The indictment further alleges that Sostar paid Ljubic off by paying for his travel, hotels and even for fishing. In total, it is suspected that the former city health minister received 177,000 kuna in bribes.

The second indictment charges Ljubic with fraudulent business relationships with several private companies, which falsified his accounts in order to justify the enormous value of the business he did. He paid the money to his alleged subcontractors, but it was just a way to get the money out of Ekotours' account. At the same time, Ljubic were allowed to avoid paying taxes on profit and VAT.

In total, between January 2014 and December the 31st, 2015, according to the indictment, 2.2 million kuna in tax was evaded. Ljubic and his director, Zonja are also accused of faking business books and money laundering. Some of the defendants involved in this chain of drawing money out of the city budget have previously pleaded guilty. They have agreed with USKOK on relatively lenient fines, and they have to pay back some of the illegally earned money.

Citizens of Zagreb paid for a full page of advertisements in the newspaper, just for Milan Bandic to tell his ''truth''

According to a repoty from Telegram on the 8th of February, 2020, an advertisement with the official logo of the City of Zagreb appeared in the papers.

"Dear residents of Zagreb...'' the ad text begins, "we have been witnessing for a long time, and especially over recent days, various pieces of information related to the GUP Amendments is coming to you."

It goes on to say that the atmosphere of "politicking and manipulation at all costs" prevails in the public space, so the ''facts'' and the ''real truth'' have been lost sight of. So now the city government has decided to publish their side, with the word TRUTH (ISTINA) being repeated rather strangely in each and every paragraph.

There are many points made, but none explain why Mayor Milan Bandic doesn't set his arguments out with the use of regular channels, which recently serve him mostly for insulting journalists. Instead, he seems happy for Zagreb's citizens to pay for the publication of these advertisements without being asked.

Now we've covered five of the latest scandals, controversies and face-palm moments related to Milan Bandic, we'll do our best, as Plenkovic desires, to get back to ''focusing on Croatia's EU Presidency'' and hope these constant skeletons in closets stop falling out at such an incredible pace.

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