Wednesday, 31 August 2022

INA Supervisory Board's Croat Members Meet with PM and 3 Ministers

ZAGREB, 30 August, 2022 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Butković in charge of the economic affairs, and finance and economy ministers, Marko Primorac and Davor Filipović, on Tuesday held a meeting with the Croatian members of INA's nine-member Supervisory Board.

The meeting took place in Government House on Tuesday afternoon ahead of a session that the Supervisory Board is expected to hold on Wednesday after the arrest of five suspects who are believed to have been involved in the gas resale scam and thus embezzled at least HRK 848 million (approx. €113 million) from INA.

The President of the Supervisory Board, Damir Mikuljan told the national broadcaster (HRT) on Tuesday evening that during the meeting in Government House they had exchanged information concerning that case.

"So we have exchanged all the information available to us, however, it is not enough to help us to get a complete insight into the case. Therefore we expect tomorrow's session (of the supervisory board) to help us to get a complete insight."

Mikuljan expects the answers to the questions of how the management chain failed and what should be now done to amend the business processes in INA and to make them transparent.

Mikuljan said that the claims made by the ex-chairman of the Supervisory Board, Damir Vanđelić, that he had warned about the losses and personnel changes in INA, surprised him since the Supervisory Board "has made all the decisions unanimously."

 Of course, discussions were held and some differences in the opinions were expressed at that session, however, in the end we would make unanimous decisions, said Mikuljan, who wondered about the purpose of Vanđelić's claims.

INA is jointly owned by the Hungarian energy group MOL and the Croatian state, with MOL being the biggest individual stakeholder.

The nine-member Supervisory Board consists of five seats allocated to MOL, three to the government, and one to the employees. The Supervisory Board chair is designated by the Croatian government.

INA's Management Board has six members, of whom three represent the government and three MOL, while MOL nominates the Management Board chair, who has a casting vote.

Wednesday, 31 August 2022

Croatia Osiguranje's LAQO Introduces Cryptocurrency Payment Option

August the 31st, 2022 - Croatia osiguranje's (insurance) LAQO has introduced cryptocurrency payments on its webshop, making it the first insurance company in all of the Republic of Croatia to enable this type of payment.

As Poslovni Dnevnik writes, the owners of cryptocurrencies can now buy Compulsory and Kasko car insurance, completely digitally, in a simple, quick and smart way on the LAQO website. This innovation was introduced in cooperation with the well-known Croatian fintech company Electrocoin, and payment with cryptocurrencies takes place through their electronic payment service PayCek, which guarantees security to customers.

As many as thirteen different cryptocurrencies can be used on the LAQO webshop - bitcoin (BTC), bitcoin cash (BCH), ether (ETH), ripple (XRP), EOS, stellar lumen (XLM), DAI, tether (USDT), USDC, binance USD (busd), saltwater (SOL), dogecoin (DOGE) and litecoin (LTC).

"LAQO is the first insurance company in the Republic of Croatia to introduce payment with cryptocurrencies, which has brought us even closer to our more digital users, offering them a completely new shopping experience. As a digital insurance brand, we continuously introduce innovations which take care of the community in which we operate and encourage a wave of innovation throughout the market, and we're preparing even more news soon," said Ana Zovko, Director of the Digital Development Sector of Croatia osiguranje.

The cryptocurrency payment option can be selected at the end of the insurance purchase, where a list of available cryptocurrencies is provided. When choosing the option of paying with cryptocurrencies and accepting the conditions, the amount in kuna equivalent is displayed where you need to enter your email and select the desired cryptocurrency. After choosing a cryptocurrency, the customer can then scan the QR code with their crypto wallet, and after making the payment, they will receive a confirmation email.

LAQO osiguranje is a digital brand of Croatia osiguranje, which operates as part of the Adris Group, and in its current offer offers car insurance which can contracted in just a few clicks on their website. The introduction of cryptocurrency payments is just one in a series of LAQO innovations, another one being LaqoPrevent, a digital platform that uses telematics technology to promote responsible behaviour when on the road.

For more, make sure to check out our dedicated business section.

Wednesday, 31 August 2022

If 40% of Tourists Aren't Registered, How Can Croatian Numbers be Correct?

August the 31st, 2022 - How can Croatian numbers tallied up during the summer tourist season be accurate if as many as 40% of visitors are allegedly not even being registered properly?

As Morski writes, the Republic of Croatia has just passed the peak of the height of the summer tourist season. Forecasts say that income from tourism could reach an enormous twelve billion euros, that is, it will exceed the previous record set back in pre-pandemic 2019 by at least 800 million euros. However, not everyone in tourism did equally well. Travel agencies aren't keen on opening the champagne just yet. They're not at 2019's levels and for them, this season isn't exactly a "record" one.

Among those specialising in "organised tourism", this year also saw a major consolidation of the market. A major global player in the private accommodation segment recognised the potential of smaller renters, this was commented on by the president of the Association of Croatian Travel Agencies, Tomislav Fain.

He said that tourists have arrived at various Croatian destinations as evidenced by the congestion on the roads and at the airports, adding that the post-season now stretches until November the 1st, which is the result of the work of both the public and private sectors.

Croatian numbers aren't even close to accurate

''I'm extremely satisfied with the tourist season and we have a large number of guests here, however, the Croatian numbers that are displayed through eVisitor, which we have at our disposal, aren't even close to being accurate. The actual numbers of guests are up to 40 percent higher because a large number weren't even registered at all,'' he pointed out.

''I don't think any agency operating along the coast can possibly complain about July or August this year. Even if this year ends like 2019 did, we can't forget that we had two years in which we worked at a mere 10 to 30 percent, and just one normal season isn't enough for travel agencies to recover from what happened. In order to keep hold of our clients, property was sold, debt was incurred and it will take at least 4.5 years to recover,'' he said.

''School trips are coming back, and as the situation was uncertain, everyone showed up at the last minute. At one point, we couldn't respond to all the needs of the market. I hope that with the beginning of this school year it will also normalise. As for congress tourism, one part of that was completed in April and May, and in September and October, we can expect that additional boom in that regard,'' Fain believes.

For more, make sure to check out our dedicated travel section.

Wednesday, 31 August 2022

Has Croatian Festival Tourism Made a Successful Comeback?

August the 31st, 2022 - Has Croatian festival tourism made a successful post-pandemic comeback? The organisers of music festivals across Croatia and the region can breathe a sigh of relief given what they've experienced over the last two years.

As Poslovni Dnevnik/Marija Crnjak writes, festival organisers got to see the end of the summer season without any new closures due to the pandemic, all announced and planned large and small festivals took place. The global geopolitical situation didn't stop partygoers from Croatia's immediate region and the rest of Europe, including British guests who had available low-budget flights, crucial for the realisation of traffic. Croatian festival tourism is a huge, lucrative business that generated around 4.5 billion kuna in revenue in the years before the pandemic struck, and is an important base for the development of tourism in destinations such as Pag and Tisno.

Precisely how the Croatian festival tourism industry fared this year, and what the biggest challenges in terms of the organisation and implementation of all of the events were, from inflation and price increases to staffing challenges, will be discussed at the beginning of September at the second edition of the Croatia Beach Music Conference, which will be held from the 7th until the 10th of September in Novalja on the island of Pag. The conference will be held under the auspices of the Ministry of Tourism and Sport, with the support of the Croatian Association of Employers (HUP).

This year, international experts and organisers of successful festivals, well-established and popular ones, as well as younger and promising electronic music performers, production teams, publishing houses and all lovers of musical beats will be present at the CBMC stage.

"The CBMC's goal is to gather people from the music industry in one place, especially those focused on the Croatian festival tourism and club scene, where they will be given the opportunity to exchange new information through networking and sharing experience with their colleagues from all over the world. The main guiding thought is that with the quality of the speakers and the solutions that our lecturers will convey to the participants, the conference will gain a reputation and status among its target group, and thereby include Croatia as one of the leading places in Europe when it comes to events like this,'' pointed out the main organiser of the conference, Ivan Jokic, the co-owner of the famous Noa Beach Club in Zrce.

One of the topics of the conference will be how much music festivals contributed to a successful tourist season and media promotion at the global level.

For more, make sure to check out our dedicated travel section.

Wednesday, 31 August 2022

Istrian Town of Umag Plans Construction and Further Development

August the 31st, 2022 - The beautiful Istrian town of Umag is set to redefine itself as a modern European city with new construction plans and further development.

As Poslovni Dnevnik writes, the eighth session of the Umag City Council was held on Monday, where several important decisions were made for the further development of the city and the improvement of the quality of life of its residents, writes local portal The Voice of Istria/Glas Istre.

To speak more precisely, the Umag-East Spatial Plan was adopted and passed, which will enable the further economic development of the trade and service zone along the stretch from the entrance roundabout into the town of Umag itself. In the continuation of the zone in the direction of Lovrecica, it will soon be possible to build a completely new quarter, which, due to its appearance, functionality and sustainable green construction, will completely change and redefine Umag as a small, more modern European city.

Furthermore, although the implementation of the POS-4 project, i.e. the construction of the fourth building within the framework of encouraged housing for young families, is still ongoing, the implementation of the construction of a new, POS-5 building was initiated by the majority of votes within the Umag City Council. The move shows that the powers that be within Umag's administration are actively thinking about future needs of young men and women from the area who will, at a far more favourable price, manage to solve their housing issues in this way.

After all the necessary procedures and approvals which needed to be obtained from the Ministry of Agriculture, the Decision on the selection of the best bidders for the long-term lease of agricultural land was also unanimously voted on. A 25-year lease will make it much easier for local farmers to plan and plant what they need to on a longer-term basis, creating the prerequisites for investment security and future business within this gorgeous and seemingly up and coming Istrian town.

For more, make sure to check out our dedicated lifestyle section.

Tuesday, 30 August 2022

INA: Vanđelić Neither Warned Nor Sent Email about Money Losses

ZAGREB, 30 August, 2022 - The INA oil company on Tuesday reported that a former chairman of its supervisory board, Damir Vanđelić, never said anything at meetings of the board nor did he send any email that would have indicated that INA was losing money, as Vanđelić claimed earlier in the day.

"INA does not support any attempts to score political points in reference to the investigation launched in the gas resale case, and twisting facts to one's own advantage could have a misleading effect on the public. In the six years he spent as the head of INA's Supervisory Board Mr Vanđelić never voted against any decision that was adopted by that body that was related to the work of the Management Board or about the company's operations," INA said in a press release.

It added that Vanđelić "never said anything at the Supervisory Board meetings nor did he send any email that would indicate that INA was losing money," as he claims.

INA added that Vanđelić is "clumsily trying to corroborate his insinuations with e-mails as alleged evidence" by claiming that an e-mail he sent in July 2021 indicated that INA was losing money, unlike MOL.

"The graphs that were sent show the operations of the mentioned companies in 2020, which is more than a year before the signing of the gas contracts that are now under investigation. The graphs compare the return on assets and the return on equity of MOL and INA, which due to different business portfolios by the companies is incomparable. Furthermore, the losses he mentions in the context of suspected unauthorised gas sales refer to INA's losses from 2020, which occurred as a result of the downtime caused by the coronavirus pandemic," INA says.

Vanđelić is also twisting the facts about the dismissal and appointment of new managers at INA.

INA underscored that Vanđelić did send an email requesting an additional item on the agenda regarding managers who left the company, and they consider it important to note that some of them did so at their own request.

"As was the case usually Mr. Vanđelić supported the Management Board's decisions without any further questions or requests," INA said.

Vanđelić was first a member of the INA Supervisory Board and in 2016 he was appointed its chair for a term of five years.

Today, he stated to the N1 broadcaster that the contract that enabled the resale of INA's gas was not in the domain of the supervisory board, but of the management board, and that he saw that INA was losing money, which he reported to the supervisory and management boards, and to then Minister of Economy, Tomislav Ćorić.

Tomislav Ćorić, now a vice-governor of the Croatian National Bank (HNB), also reacted to Vanđelić's statement.

"Vanđelic is very creative in presenting alternative facts," Ćorić said.

In the operation launched on Saturday by the Uskok anti-corruption office and the police, investigators targeted the director of INA Damir Škugor, the president of the Croatian Bar Association (HOK) Josip Šurjak, his business partner Goran Husić, with whom he co-owns the OMS Upravljanje management company, Škugor's father Dane, and the director of the Plinara Istočne Slavonije gas company Marija Ratkić.

The five suspects were arrested on suspicion of defrauding INA of more than one billion kuna by buying natural gas supplies from the company at below-the-market price and then selling that gas at market prices, thus making an illegal gain of at least HRK 848 million (approx. €113 million).

Tuesday, 30 August 2022

Australian Court Orders Judicial Review of the Croatian Six Case

ZAGREB, 30 Aug (Hina) - Australia's New South Wales Supreme Court has called for a review of the case of the 1981 guilty verdict of six Croats convicted of plotting multiple terrorist attacks, saying they were convicted based on the testimony of a possible UDBA (Yugoslav secret service) agent provocateur.

Judge Robertson Wright ordered an investigation into the 1981 verdicts of Maksimilijan Bebić, Mile Nekić, Vjekoslav Brajković, Anton Zvirotić, Ilija Kokotović, and Josip Kokotović, who were sentenced to a maximum of 15 years in prison, Australia's Sydney Morning Herald reported on Tuesday, stating that this was a "historic decision."

"The NSW Supreme Court has ordered a judicial inquiry into the 1981 convictions of the so-called 'Croatian Six' over an alleged conspiracy to bomb four businesses in Sydney and cut the city’s water supply, amid grave concerns the men were framed by a Yugoslav spy," the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

The "Croatian six" were accused in 1979 of planning to plant bombs in two Yugoslav agencies in Sydney, a Serbian home, a theatre in Newtown, and the city's water supply.

The verdict was based on the testimony of Vice Virkez (real name Vitomir Misimović), who, as an alleged member of the group, denounced his colleagues to the Australian police in February 1979.

Virkez was sentenced to only two years in prison and after serving he returned to Yugoslavia.

The Australian Croat community warned that Virkez (Misimović), was a Serb from Bosnia and Herzegovina and that he was an UDBA agent who joined a Croatian emigrant group fighting for Croatia's independence and the overthrow of Yugoslavia.

Judge Wright said on Tuesday he was "comfortably satisfied … there are a number of doubts or questions as to parts of the evidence in the case and the guilt of the Croatian Six", and that a key witness for the Crown, a suspected Yugoslav spy, may have given evidence that was "deliberately false".

Judge Wright was quoted by the newspaper as saying that there was a "real possibility that the Yugoslav Intelligence Service used Mr. Virkez as an agent provocateur or informer, to cause false information to be given to the NSW Police, and possibly ASIO, as to the existence of a bombing conspiracy involving the Croatian Six, in order to discredit Croatians in Australia”.

Wright said, "a significant amount of … material in the declassified ASIO documents forcefully suggests that, at least, Mr. Virkez was an informer to the Yugoslav Consulate-General for a number of months prior to the arrest of the Croatian Six in February 1979, if not a Yugoslav agent or agent provocateur."

Although the requests for review were submitted on behalf of Bebić, Nekić, and Brajković, the court will investigate the verdicts of all those convicted.

Higher courts rejected previous requests to review the verdict.

The Court of Criminal Appeal dismissed the men’s appeals in October 1982, and in 1986 the High Court refused special leave to appeal against the convictions.

All six men denied they had made confessions NSW Police sought to attribute to them, Wright said, and four of the six alleged they had been severely beaten by police.

The doctors confirmed that the day after the interrogation, Brajković had an injury on his neck resembling strangulation, bruises around his eyes and on his face, and a possible hearing loss in one ear, which could be caused by a blow to the jaw, ABC wrote earlier.

Did Australian authorities know that Virkez was a secret agent?

Australian investigative journalist Hamish McDonald, who published the book Anatomy of Injustice – Australian Croatian Six Case Up For Judicial Inquiry 40 Years On - in 2019, reviewed declassified Australian Secret Service (ASIO) documents on Virkez in 2018.

Those documents, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, were key in the request for judicial review.

Other Australian media outlets also wrote about the suspicion that the verdict against the Australian six was the result of an operation by the Yugoslav secret service.

In February 2021, ABC published a story about the case, stating that the bombs were found only in Virkez's house, car, and a nearby bush.

Australia's largest daily newspaper, The Australian, recently announced that documents marked "top secret" show that the Australian Federal Police warned then-Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser that they believed Virkez was acting "as an agent of the Yugoslav government."

"For tactical reasons, the New South Wales authorities want Virkez to be convicted on the indictment so that his evidence against the accomplices is not tainted by the accusation that the agent is a provocateur," reads the notice received by Prime Minister Fraser, reports The Australian.

As early as March 1979, a year before the start of the trial, ASIO informed the New South Wales police that Virkez was a spy.

The six Croatians were released from prison in 1991 before they served their sentences, allegedly for good behaviour, but their sentences were not overturned.

Tuesday, 30 August 2022

City of Split Refuses to Issue Amended Building Permit for "Dalmatia Tower"

ZAGREB, 30 August, 2022 - The city authorities in Split have refused to provide the Westgate Tower company with an amended building permit for the Dalmatia Tower high-rise building, the construction of which will soon be completed.

The layout of the last floor, as shown in the documentation submitted for the building permit, differs from the present state of affairs, but it is not a big difference, the head of the city's department for zoning and environment protection, Teo Vojković, said on Tuesday.

However, the departure from the initial layout was to such an extent that it required consent from the mayor whose opinion should be corroborated by the prior opinion of experts, according to Vojković's explanation. He said that also some steps in the procedure were not taken which resulted in the refusal of the amended building permit. 

Mayor Ivica Puljak (Centre) writes on his Facebook page that the same rules will be applied to all, including big investors.

The refusal to issue the amended building permit comes just weeks before the expected technical inspection of the 135-metre-high office building and its official opening, set for this autumn.

Tuesday, 30 August 2022

Ćorić says Never Discussed Škugor with PM, Slams Vanđelić for "Alternative Facts"

ZAGREB, 30 August, 2022 - Croatian National Bank Vice-Governor Tomislav Ćorić said on Tuesday that he had never talked with Prime Minister Andrej Plenković about an INA director, Damir Škugor, one of the five suspects in the gas trading scam.

Ćorić told Hina today that INA Supervisory Board's former chair, Damir Vanđelić "is creative in presenting alternative facts" after Vanđelić said that the INA gas resale contract was not within the remit of the Supervisory Board but of the Management Board and that he notified the competent officials, including former minister Ćorić when he realised that INA was losing money.

"I never talked about Damir Škugor with Plenković," Ćorić told Hina, dismissing allegations presented by the Nacional weekly about this case.

Škugor, one of the five suspects in the INA gas resale scam, was, according to the report made by the Nacional, "among trustworthy persons in Plenković's inner circle" and the newspaper also says that INA Management Board chairman Sándor Fasimon stated that it was Plenković in fact who in 2019 pushed for Škugor to be appointed the director of INA's natural gas trade division.

"Two independent sources claim that Fasimon said that he came to that conclusion after talks he had conducted with the then Economy Minister, Tomislav Ćorić," Nacional alleges.

According to the Nacional, it was Ćorić who directly asked Fasimon for Škugor's appointment, adding that he was conveying Prime Minister Plenković's wishes.

"During my ministerial term, I have never insisted or requested any personnel appointments during the talks with Fasimon, including in Škugor's appointment," Ćorić said.

"This also means that I have never referred to the Prime Minister," said Ćorić.

The five suspects, including INA executive Damir Škugor, were arrested last Saturday on suspicion of defrauding INA of more than one billion kuna by buying natural gas supplies from the company at below-the-market price and then selling that gas at market prices, thus making an illegal gain of at least HRK 848 million (approx. €113 million).

Investigators believe that from June 2020 to 27 August this year, Damir Škugor, head of INA's Gas and Power division and deputy chair of the Plinara Istočne Slavonije Supervisory Board, conspired with the other suspects, including his father Dane Škugor, their business partners Goran Husić and lawyer Josip Šurjak and Management Board chair of the Plinara Istočne Slavonije gas distributor, Marija Ratkić to sell INA's gas below market prices.

Minister can't know about transactions conducted at four levels below Management

Commenting on the gas resale scam, Ćorić said that the relevant minister "could not have known the prices at which transactions were being conducted four levels below the Management."

Ćorić also commended the Ministry of Finance, the Tax Administration, and the Anti-Money Laundering Office for successfully revealing the operation aimed at exposing criminal wrongdoings in INA.

Ćorić says Vanđelić presented "alternative facts"

A former chair of the INA Supervisory Board Damir Vanđelić has said that the INA gas resale contract was not within the remit of the Supervisory Board but of the Management Board and that he notified the competent officials, including former minister Tomislav Ćorić, after realising that INA was losing money.

Vanđelić was first a member of the INA Supervisory Board and in 2016 he was appointed its chair for a term of five years.

Responding to the claims, Ćorić said that "Vanđelić is very creative in presenting alternative facts."

"We emailed all members of the Supervisory Board to say that INA's business has been lagging behind and that we are losing 200 million euros annually, so there is obviously a problem. I sent the email to all members of the management and supervisory boards, as well as to (then Economy Minister Tomislav) Ćorić," Vanđelić told the N1 broadcaster today, adding that he did not receive any response, but a phone call in July, "when we were practically reprimanded for problematising the matter."

"Ćorić said that I was politicising the matter," Vanđelić said, adding that "at that meeting, Škugor's name was not mentioned, I do not know him."

Tuesday, 30 August 2022

Croatia Registers 568 New COVID Cases, 17 Deaths

ZAGREB, 30 August, 2022 - In the past 24 hours, 568 coronavirus cases and 17 related deaths have been registered in Croatia, the national COVID crisis management team said on Tuesday.

There are 4,829 active cases, including 635 hospitalised patients, 17 of whom are on ventilators, while 3,127 people are self-isolating.

Croatia has registered 1,212,547 coronavirus cases to date, the death toll stands at 16,690, and 70.87% of adults have been vaccinated.

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