Wednesday, 25 May 2022

Banožić: I'll Pay Fine But Won't Return Apartment

ZAGREB, 25 May 2022 2022 - Defence Minister Mario Banožić told a press conference on Wednesday he respected the decision of the Conflict of Interest Commission, which fined him HRK 7,000 for granting himself an official apartment, but he does not want to return the apartment to the state property management company.

During a ceremony for the handover of the Black Hawk helicopters, donated by the United States, the Croatian defence minister recalled the period when he was the state assets minister. In September 2019, Banožić signed a decision granting himself an official 92-square-metre apartment in Gundulićeva Street in Zagreb. However, the minister reiterated that he did so in accordance with legal provisions.

"I will not move out of the apartment because the Commission proved what I had said during the proceedings. However, I respect the decision and I will pay the fine," he said.

He added that as a state official he was entitled to a three-room apartment of at least 60 square metres, but he did not choose it himself, the administration of the state property management company did.

I signed the decision just because Article 49 of the State Assets Management Act explicitly states that the state assets minister makes the decisions on apartments, Banožić said.

The defence minister criticised President Zoran Milanović for the overhaul of Croatian MiG fighter jets in Ukraine during his term as prime minister. He thinks there were many irregularities in that business deal and that the aircraft had false technical documentation.

We have solid evidence that the numbers on them were overwritten, that the documents were falsified and that is why a claim for damages should be filed, in accordance with the signed contracts, he said.

However, Banožić stressed "it's insane to talk about asking Ukraine to pay damages now given the situation the country is in", adding that the blame was not on the Ukrainian state but the company that did the overhaul of the aircraft.

For more, check out our politics section.

Thursday, 19 May 2022

Karamarko Says Damages To Be Paid To MOL Possibly To Amount To Billions Of Kuna

ZAGREB, 19 May 2022 - In a comment on the High Administrative Court's ruling quashing a decision that he had been in a conflict of interest, former HDZ leader and Deputy Prime Minister Tomislav Karamarko has said that the damage caused to Croatia would possibly amount to billions of kuna.

The 2016 decision by the Conflict of Interest Commission, which found that Karamarko had been in a conflict of interest, resulted in his withdrawing from politics.

Commenting on the ruling quashing the decision, Karamarko said in a Facebook post on Wednesday that Dalija Orešković, chair of the Conflict of Interest Commission in 2016 and now a member of parliament, "was rewarded by being launched into high politics after completing her task."

As for the Bridge party, which made its participation in the then government led by the HDZ conditional on Karamarko's resignation, Karamarko said that it had caused considerable damage to the Croat people whose interests it claimed to protect.

Describing Orešković and Bridge as "pawns", Karamarko said that damages to be paid by Croatia to the Hungarian MOL oil company would be known soon and that they would possibly amount to billions of kuna.

Karamarko resigned after the Conflict of Interest Commission concluded that his wife Ana's company Drimia had received money from individuals lobbying for MOL.

In June 2016 the Commission concluded that Karamarko, at the time First Deputy Prime Minister and HDZ president, had been in a conflict of interest because he presented his personal views and proposals for Croatia's withdrawal from arbitration proceedings with MOL, notably at meetings of the Cooperation Council.

For more, check out our politics section.

Wednesday, 18 May 2022

Ex-commission Chair: Decision on Karamarko Served to Prevent Probes into Plenković

ZAGREB, 18 May 2022 - After the High Administrative Court quashed the Conflict of Interest Commission's decision that former HDZ leader Tomislav Karamarko had been in a conflict of interest, former Commission chair Dalija Orešković said the case was a political pretext serving to prevent the Commission from investigating PM Andrej Plenković.

"It was clear what epilogue the situation would have from the moment the Constitutional Court ruled on that case in July 2019. All subsequent decisions by administrative courts, including in Karamarko's case, as well as in all the cases in which the Commission decided about the violation of principles of conduct, followed the basic decision and instruction of the Constitutional Court," Orešković told reporters in the parliament.

She was commenting on the High Administrative Court's final ruling quashing the 2016 decision by the Conflict of Interest Commission which found that former HDZ leader and Deputy PM Tomislav Karamarko had been in a conflict of interest, which was why he withdrew from politics.

Orešković, a member of parliament from the Centre party, said the Constitutional Court's decision contested the Conflict of Interest Commission's authority to decide and make declaratory decisions on breaches of principles of conduct.

"That decision was not primarily motivated by justice-seeking or defence of constitutionality in the case of Tomislav Karamarko but was a political front for aborting the Conflict of Interest Commission as an anti-corruption body with the aim of preventing it from looking into cases involving Andrej Plenković," she said.

Orešković recalled that at the time when the Constitutional Court decided on the Karamarko case, the Conflict of Interest Commission was expecting to deal with reports filed against PM Plenković (concerning the appointment of his close friend Igor Pokaz as ambassador to the UK, the HDZ party's trip to Helsinki aboard a government plane, and the Agrokor and Borg affairs), which involved Plenković, Finance Minister Zdravko Marić and former Economy Minister Martina Dalić.

"The degree of conflict of interest in Karamarko's case is insignificant compared to the gravity of violations of law in Plenković's case, and if such practice had been supported by the system, the government of Andrej Plenković would have fallen long ago," she said.

The Constitutional Court's decision not only protected Plenković from facing political responsibility but was used by the HDZ to fully erase from the new Conflict of Interest Act the provision on the violation of principles of conduct, she said.

Orešković said that instead of the Conflict of Interest Commission "we now have a scandalous novelty that has enabled the government to adopt a code of ethics for office-holders, with the relevant decisions being made by a body directly under government control."

"The standards are being eroded and today we have a completely paralysed anti-corruption system," said Orešković warned.

For more, check out our politics section.

Saturday, 5 March 2022

Conflict of Interest Commission Launches Proceedings Against Minister Banožić

ZAGREB, 5 March 2022 - The Conflict of Interest Commission on Friday launched proceedings against Defence Minister Mario Banožić over his controversial decision to allocate himself a flat in downtown Zagreb for use at the time when he was State Assets Minister.

The proceedings were launched based on an article in the Nacional weekly, which in September 2021 reported that at the time when he was State Assets Minister, Banožić allocated himself a 92-square-metre flat in downtown Zagreb for use, as well as based on a report that sought determining the place of residence of Banožić's family.

The state-run Državne Nekretnine company, which manages state-owned property and which invested HRK 165,000 to renovate the flat allocated to Banožić, said in a submission to the Conflict of Interest Commission that the procedure to allocate the flat had been launched by the State Assets Ministry secretariat, by a note to Državne Nekretnine on 26 July 2019.

Državne Nekretnine said that in line with the relevant law, the allocation of the flat was conducted by the State Assets Ministry, and that the decision on the allocation of the flat in question was made by Banožić, at the time serving as State Assets Minister, on 6 September 2019.

Conflict of Interest Commission member Tatijana Vučetić said the Commission should establish if the office-holder met the criteria for the allocation of a flat of that size, to which he would be entitled in case his spouse and children lived with him.

However, it has been established that the place of residence of Banožić's wife and children is Vinkovci and that it has not been changed for the duration of both of his ministerial terms.

At the start of his term as State Assets Minister, Banožić was given a smaller flat in downtown Zagreb for use, with Državne Nekretnine saying at the time that the flat was not adequate and that another flat would possibly be available at another downtown location soon.

For that flat, as well as another two flats to be given to office-holders for use, their status had to be changed to that of flats used by office-holders, Vučetić said, noting that even though a decision to that effect is made by the competent commission, in this concrete case, Banožić himself made a decision changing the status of the flats in question and on the same day allocated himself one of the flats.

The Commission also notes that the regulation cited by the State Assets Ministry as the basis for changing the status of the flat and its allocation reads that decisions on the allocation of state-owned flats for use by office-holders are made by the competent body, which, the Conflict of Interest Commission notes, does not mean by default that such decisions are made by the body's head.

The Commission therefore believes the case is a possible violation of the law on the prevention of conflict of interest and that the official abused his special rights and made decisions securing for himself the right to use a state-owned flat.

Proceedings not launched against FinMin Marić

The Commission did not launch proceedings against Finance Minister Zdravko Marić for spending some of his vacation time on a yacht owned by his friend, businessman Blaž Pavičić.

It was established that Marić had in no way been involved in the making of decisions, identification of violations or misdemeanor proceedings involving businesses owned by his friend and that the ministry he heads did not have business relations with those companies.

Commission rapporteur Davorin Ivanjek said that the Commission had previously stated that in the case of declared friendships one could not speak of impermissible gifts considering that common gifts between family members, relatives and friends are allowed.

For more, check out our politics section.

Wednesday, 16 February 2022

Croatian National Bank: No Irregularity or Conflict of Interest in Vice Governor's Purchase of Property

ZAGREB, 16 Feb 2022 - Croatian National Bank's (HNB) Vice Governor Roman Šubić on Tuesday confirmed media reports about his purchase of a house in Zagreb below the market price, explaining that the advertisement of the sale of the property was made public and that transaction was in line with law.

He also underscored that the purchase of that villa was not in contravention of the rules on conflict of interest prevention.

Media outlets have reported that in late 2021, Šubić bought a 1,077-square-metre large villa in Zagreb's residential area of Gornji Stenjevec from a debt collection agency at the price of €230 per square metre, which was far below market price. Thus, he paid approximately €250,000, that is 1.9 million kuna, for that property, and he stated in his declaration of assets that the house's value is HRK 3.05 million.

Vice Governor Šubić coordinates and manages the Statistics Area and the Credit Institutions Resolution Office.

Following inquiries from HINA about a possible conflict of interest in this case, the central bank responded on Tuesday that Šubić is not authorised to sign HNB opinions on whether the planned sale to be conducted by a credit institution is in compliance with the existing regulations on the transactions of credit institutions. Therefore, he had not signed an opinion on the sale of the Gornji Stenjevec house, which media outlets have been reporting in recent days. 

The HNB also underscores that the scope of activities within the remit of the Credit Institutions Resolution Office have nothing in common with the activities of these transactions, specifically the sales and purchases between credit institutions and debt collection agencies. The HNB explains that it means that data on individual credit obligations of consumers were not available to Vice Governor Šubić.

The HNB elaborates that February 2021 was when Šubić got the information about the sale of that debt pertaining to the property via a digital classified advertisement on real estate, and also via the public auctions conducted by a municipal court in Zagreb. This means that there was public access to the pertaining information available.

Thus, all the interested parties had an opportunity to express their interest in buying the property.

The central bank also says that the purchase and sale agreement in this case was concluded in compliance wit the existing regulations.

Therefore, the purchase of that property cannot be viewed as an illegal transaction or a conflict of interest case.

The HNB also says that the below-the-market price was a result of the failure to sell the property at the two previous public auctions.

For more on politics, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Saturday, 5 February 2022

Conflict of Interest Commission Looking Into Parliament Speaker Jandroković

ZAGREB, 5 Feb 2022 - The chair of the Conflict of Interest Commission, Nataša Novaković, said on Friday they were looking into media reports concerning Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković.

"The Commission is investigating facts concerning Mr Jandroković, and that's all I can say. I can't go into details. We are focusing on everything that has been published in the media, the relevance and truthfulness of those reports," Novaković told Nova TV.

The Commission is investigating the link between Jandroković and businessman Vedran Gajski. Jandroković has confirmed that Gajski contacted him because he was paying rent to the Državne Nekretnine state property management company for business premises that were not connected to the power grid and that Gajski then contacted the then state secretary in charge of state property, Krunoslav Katičić, and informed him of the problem.

Novaković said that the Commission is also gathering facts regarding the case of the prime minister's chief of staff Zvonimir Frka Petešić, after which they will decide on further steps.

The Commission is also looking into the case of Defence Minister Mario Banožić.

Nova TV said that Vanja Bilić, former assistant justice minister in the government of Zoran Milanović, had used a state-owned apartment even though he had a permanent address in Zagreb at the time.

Thursday, 2 December 2021

Novaković Says Would Be Surprised If GRECO Approves Conflict of Interest Bill

ZAGREB, 2 Dec 2021 - Conflict of Interest Commission chair Nataša Novaković said on Thursday she would be surprised if GRECO, the Council of Europe's anti-corruption body, gave a positive assessment of the conflict of interest bill currently in the first reading in parliament.

Speaking to the press, Novaković said she would be surprised because the bill did not show that Croatia had acted on GRECO's recommendations.

"Those who know how to read GRECO's report and the bill think it's quite clear that the essential recommendations haven't been complied with. Whether they have or not, we'll see when we get the report."

Novaković said that as far as she knew, GRECO was expected to assess if Croatia's new conflict of interest bill was in line with its recommendations today, and the assessment would be forwarded to the Conflict of Interest Commission.

"The bill is between two readings and it would be a bad message if later on, we were to receive a message from GRECO that the law we passed in the meantime is bad."

Novaković was speaking after a meeting of the National Council monitoring the implementation of the Corruption Prevention Strategy, whose chair Nikola Grmoja said GRECO insisted on principles of conduct and that the bill was a big step backward.

For more on politics, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Tuesday, 13 July 2021

Conflict of Interest Commission Head: We Have to Probe Disputed Donations Yet

ZAGREB, 13 July, 2021 - The Conflict of Interest Commission has yet to examine all the circumstances of the disputed donations concerning the Zagreb Mayor, the commission's head, Nataša Novaković, told the commercial N1 broadcaster on Tuesday.

Two conflict of interest cases were opened against Mayor Tomislav Tomašević after media reports, and it is now up to the commission to explore the circumstances and decide whether or not to launch proceedings against the mayor.

On Monday, the commission opened a case against Tomašević after media outlets revealed that one of the newly appointed members of the Srebrnjak hospital's steering council, Tomislav Lauc, was one of the major contributors to Tomašević's campaign, as he donated 10,000 kuna to Tomašević's camp before the elections.

In mid-June, the commission opened the first case against Tomašević on suspicion that some appointments of officials in the Zagrebački Holding company were against the procedure.

Commenting on the latest case, Novaković said that two contributors of the election campaign were reportedly appointed by the new administration to the said council of the hospital.

"This is what we have to investigate," Novaković said adding that the commission needs to establish whether the donation was connected with the subsequent appointment and business relations.

She also elaborated that membership of the steering council was not interesting only because of the monthly reimbursement of 750 kuna (€100) but also because of possibility of exerting influence as a member of that body.

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Monday, 28 June 2021

Milanović: HDZ in Conflict of Interest Regarding Supreme Court President

ZAGREB, 28 June 2021 - President Zoran Milanović repeated on Monday that he considered the ruling HDZ party to be in a conflict of interest regarding the election of the Supreme Court president because proceedings against the party for "the crime of plundering the state" were underway at the Supreme Court.

"They (HDZ) care very much about who is at the helm of the Supreme Court. That person can always have a certain amount of influence, that's why it is a problem, and the HDZ is in a conflict of interest," Milanović said.

Addressing reporters after a commemoration for Croatian defenders in Osijek, Milanović said that there were not many candidates for the Supreme Court president who would not tolerate intimidation like his candidate Zlata Đurđević.

Public call unconstitutional, harmful, unintelligent

As for the public call for the post of the Supreme Court president, which is advertised by the State Judicial Council (DSV), Milanović said that "it is an unconstitutional category, very harmful and unintelligent" because it had transpired that it had to be repeated.

"That makes it impossible for me to, in a way, reach prior agreement on the candidate with the main stakeholders - the president of the biggest party, the HDZ, and some other people in the parliament. If we have a public call, all that is left for me to do is to pick a person who has applied to the public call," said Milanović.

Otherwise, the entire concept of public call is a mockery, he said, adding that with a public call there were no prior agreements.

"Politics requires a degree of intelligence that is higher than room temperature," he said, adding that this referred to all those involved in the amendment and adoption of laws that were contrary to the Constitution.

He repeated that the Courts Act was amended to restrict the powers of the president of the republic, not his but his predecessor Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović's, in which process damage was caused.

"We now have something some call a constitutional crisis, and I call it a crisis of legitimacy. The person who will now stand in (as Supreme Court president) does not have any legitimacy. That is some judge on whom agreement has been reached in line with the annual work schedule," he said.

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Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Tomislav Tomašević: Decision on Zagreb Holding Appointments According to Law

ZAGREB, 16 June, 2021 - Zagreb Mayor Tomislav Tomašević said on Wednesday that the decision on new management and supervisory boards in the Zagreb Holding utility company was legally valid and in accordance with the law on local and regional government and the Companies' Act.

The Conflict of Interest Commission has launched a case against Tomašević, the commission's president Nataša Novaković said on Tuesday, who underscored that the case was opened due to a possible breach of Article 15 of the Conflict of Interest Act, after staff were appointed in Zagreb Holding contrary to normal practice. 

Tomašević noted that the decision has already been registered in the Commercial Court register.

"With reference to launching the procedure before the Conflict of Interest Commission for an alleged breach of procedure, we assessed that the situation in Zagreb Holding warranted immediate action and so we decided to adopt decisions according to valid laws and the usual practice. We need to underline an additional circumstance, that until the representative body is constituted, it cannot propose new members to management and supervisory boards," Tomašević said in a press release.

The mayor's office recalled the Conflict of Interest Commission's opinion in 2013 in which it notes that "in cases where collision between the provisions of Article 15, Par. 2 of the Conflict of Interest Act and the provisions of Article 48 of the Local and Regional Self-Government Act occur, the provisions of the law that enter into force later are applied - lex posterior derogat legi priori - hence the provisions of Article 48 of the Local and Regional Self-Government Act."

Based on that article, mayors and county prefects appoint and relieve representatives of local government in local companies in which the local government holds a stake or ownership shares.

After the signing of a coalition agreement between Tomašević's We Can! party and the Social Democratic Party (SDP), SDP leader Peđa Grbin said that the Conflict of Interest Commission had reacted to an article in the law that until yesterday it had called to be erased, considering that the 2012 law on local government regulated the issue of appointing members to management and supervisory boards in companies owned by local government in a different way.

"With due respect to the Commission and to the excellent work it does in numerous spheres, this isn't its duty but that of the legislator," said Grbin, who called on the government to send amendments to the laws to parliament as soon as possible.

"I expect the government to forward amendments to the law on local government or to the law on the conflict of interest as soon as possible so that this issue is absolutely clear and unambiguous and to define how management and supervisory boards in companies in local government are to be appointed," added Grbin.

He urged that the amendment be brought urgently as this same situation could occur in other cities around the country and that a broad consensus should be reached on this matter.

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

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