Monday, 24 June 2019

Conflict of Interest Commission Opens Case into Administration Minister

ZAGREB, June 24, 2019 - The parliamentary Conflict of Interest Commission has opened a case into Public Administration Minister Lovro Kuščević based on a report concerning his failure to register his property in Nerežišća on the southern island of Brač.

The report also concerns an alteration of the urban development plan allowing him to build a residential property instead of a barn, an incorrectly filled declaration of assets, and a permit for house rental.

After checking the allegations from the report, the Commission will decide whether or not it will take action against the minister, the Commission's secretary Majda Uzelac said on Monday.

She would not reveal the name of the person who filed the report, but said that it referred to last week's media reports on the minister's property holdings.

Kuščević said on Sunday that the media reports about the registration and declaration of his property were fabrications based on false documents. "This is a recycling of old themes," he said, adding that he never tried to conceal how much property he owns.

More news about conflict on interest issues can be found in the Politics section.

Friday, 21 June 2019

Who Decides on Exemption of Conflict of Interest Commission?

ZAGREB, June 21, 2019 - The Commission on Conflict of Interest Prevention said on Friday it had no authority to decide on the exemption of the Commission Chair Nataša Novakovic in the case of Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, adding that this should be decided by the authorities that supervise the Commission's work, and if they declare that they have no jurisdiction, the matter should be decided by the Constitutional Court.

The Commission said that the only provision relevant to the exemption of the Commission Chair is Article 24 (5) of the General Administrative Procedure Act which stipulates that if there is no appellate authority (which is the case in proceedings before the Commission), exemption should be decided by the authority responsible for the supervision of the Commission. It noted that this law applies to all cases handled by the Commission.

Last month, the Commission was to examine the role of Prime Minister Plenković in the drafting of the law on emergency administration in systemically important companies, known as the Lex Agrokor, and whether he was in a conflict of interest. This prompted Plenković to ask the Commission to disqualify Novakovic from the case because between 2006 and 2018 she had worked with the Croatian Employers' Association, of which the Agrokor conglomerate was a member and former Agrokor owner Ivica Todorić was one of the organisation's founders, and because between 2007 and 2011 Damir Kuštrak, a member of Agrokor's management and supervisory boards, was HUP president.

More news about conflict of interest issues can be found in the Politics section.

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Plenković Continues to Argue with Conflict of Interest Commission

ZAGREB, June 14, 2019 - The Conflict of Interest Commission chairwoman, Nataša Novaković, said on Friday that that she did not consider herself biased and that there was no need for her to exempt herself from deciding on a case involving Prime Minister Andrej Plenković and the Hotmail case.

"Had I thought myself biased, I would not have been at all included in the work on that case. I do not consider myself biased. That would be against me and against the professional rules. Our rule book clearly specifies when we exempt ourselves and this is not such situation," Novaković said.

Members of the ruling coalition in the parliamentary Committee on the Constitution, Standing Orders and Political System on Friday outvoted the opposition with regard to whether the matter of the exemption of the chairwoman of the Conflict of Interest Commission should be put on the committee's agenda.

Novaković today would not comment on some of the remarks claiming that this issue fell within the jurisdiction of the Constitutional Court.

As for her exemption, Novaković says that the body responsible for the supervision of the Commission's work would have the jurisdiction of that matter too. They could actually be some of the parliamentary committees, according to her explanation. However, she admitted that the question could be raised whether that should be the Committee on Elections and Appointments or the Committee on the Constitution and the Standing Orders.

She also said that these were not good solutions as they involve "a political context", however, an extended consideration shows that it is the Administrative Court that supervises the work of the Commission.

As for the latest imbroglio, Novaković proposes that the parliament can consider the possibility of proposing amendments to the Conflict of Interest Law in fast track procedure, specifying which body can decide on exemptions and which deadlines must be honoured.

Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Friday that "there is a trend of disseminating misinformation" considering criticism that the request for the Conflict of Interest Commission chairwoman's exemption from a case involving him is perceived as an attempt of his manoeuvre to avoid the accusations that he was in the conflict of interest.

Plenković made it clear that in that case involving him and the Agrokor law, the Conflict of Interest Commission was actually debating if he had breached the principle of the conduct of public office. "The Commission has already established that there was no conflict of interest," Plenković said in his address to the press calling on journalists to be accurate when reporting on this case. This is about the element concerning the conduct of public office, he underscored.

He went on to say that it was up to the institutions to decide on whose jurisdiction it is to handle the request for chairwoman Nataša Novaković's possible exemption.

More news about the conflict of interest issues can be found in the Politics section.

Friday, 31 May 2019

Conflict of Interest Commission President Discusses Political Pressures

ZAGREB, May 31, 2019 - The chairwoman of the Conflict of Interest Commission, Nataša Novaković, said on Friday that Prime Minister Andrej Plenković's request that she be exempted from that case made the commission's work harder and added that if the prime minister considers that she may be biased, he had a lot more time to have made that request before yesterday afternoon.

Novaković did not wish to respond to reporters when asked if these developments were putting pressure on the commission and whether the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and prime minister were "waging a war" against her seeing that the commission has recently come under fire from HDZ's MPs and now that the prime minister has called for her exemption.

On Friday the commission was to have discussed if the prime minister was in conflict of interest regarding his activities in the drafting of the Act on Emergency Administration in Companies of Systemic Importance (Lex Agrokor) but failed to do so as Plenković on Thursday called for Novaković to be exempted from the case.

Novaković said the request posed a procedural obstacle to the further conduct of proceedings in the case until the relevant body makes a decision on her exemption.

Plenković claimed that Novaković had been an employee of the Croatian Employers Association (HUP), which was connected with Agrokor, which was why she had to exempt herself from any segment of the proceedings concerning the government's actions regarding Agrokor, including the adoption of a decision in the case against Plenković.

If the prime minister considers that I may be biased because Agrokor was a member HUP, then "there was plenty of time to have communicated that before yesterday afternoon," said Novakovic.

After Friday's meeting, Novaković said that they still do not know who the relevant body was that is to decide on her exemption as this is the first time this has ever occurred. She added that she has consulted with several experts about that relevant body but their opinions differ considerably.

Some experts said that should be a parliamentary committee while others claim that the relevant body is the Administrative Court, others yet again have said that the remaining members of the commission should make that decision.

More news about conflict of interest issues can be found in the Politics section.

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Conflict of Interest Commission to Investigate Agriculture Minister

ZAGREB, May 7, 2019 - The Conflict of Interest Commission will check Agriculture Minister Tomislav Tolušić's declaration of assets and look into media reports about a company that built a house for him, the Commission's spokeswoman Martina Jurišić told Hina.

According to media reports, the minister had his house built by a company that collaborated with the Virovitica-Podravina County administration while he served as county prefect.

Tolušić stated in his declaration of assets that his house in Virovitica measured 165 square metres, while according to data from the State Geodetic Administration, the property measures 330 square metres in surface area, the Telegram news website said, adding that on this plot there is one more house, measuring 121 square metres, which is not mentioned in the declaration of assets.

Tolušić told reporters outside government headquarters this morning that he thought he had done everything according to law, and if the Commission thought otherwise, he would be glad to rectify it.

He said that the space he lives in measures 153 square metres and denied that there are two houses on his property. "No, there is only one house. You can come and see for yourselves."

More news about the conflict of interest issues can be found in the Politics section.

Monday, 25 March 2019

Conflict of Interest Proceedings Launched against Žalac, Marić

ZAGREB, March 25, 2019 - The parliamentary Conflict of Interest Commission has decided to launch proceedings against Regional Development and EU Funds Minister Gabrijela Žalac and Finance Minister Zdravko Marić in cases involving a luxury Mercedes, a Croatian Reconstruction and Development Bank (HBOR) loan, and tickets for a Croatia-England World Cup match in Russia, Commission chair Nataša Novaković said after a meeting of the Commission on Monday.

"In the case involving Žalac, the Commission will see if there is a connection between the official's personal relationship with Šibenik businessman Josip Stojanović Jolly and the awarding of an HBOR loan to the businessman's company, the purchase of buses for the public transportation company in Split from the businessman's company, and the lease of a Mercedes car to members of the official's immediate family," Novaković said, adding that the Commission would determine if there had been any mutual favouring.

As for Minister Marić, she said, the Commission will determine the connection between the minister's personal relationship with businessman Stojanović and the awarding of an HBOR loan to Stojanović's company and the minister's travel to Russia.

"We will determine who paid for the tickets for the said game," she said.

As for Velika Gorica Mayor Dražen Barišić of the HDZ party, the Commission will inspect his declaration of assets in the part that refers to his salary and car.

Asked by reporters about officials' obligations with regard to car lease, Novaković said that officials were obliged to state car lease in their declaration of assets but that they did not have that obligation in the case of a short-term, month-long lease.

More news about conflict of interest issues can be found in the Politics section.

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

GLAS Party Leader Apologies for Omission in Declaration of Assets

ZAGREB, February 19, 2019 - The leader of the opposition GLAS party, Anka Mrak-Taritaš, on Tuesday apologised for her failure to state in her declaration of assets that she had received a remuneration of 38,950 kuna (5,200 euro) for sitting on an examination commission during her term as Construction Minister from mid-November 2012 to mid-January 2016.

This omission is now being dealt with by the Conflict of Interest Commission, after the case was reported to it in December 2018. Mrak-Taritaš believes that the purpose of raising this matter now is to smear her reputation.

The Jutarnji List daily reported on Tuesday that during her term as Construction Minister Mrak-Taritaš appointed herself the head of the ministry's commission for organising state qualifying exams and did not report the remuneration for that job in her declaration of assets. She issued an apology on her Facebook account for the omission in the declaration of assets.

Mrak-Taritaš said in her apology she is sorry to see that the issue has been raised now instead of as soon as she finished her ministerial term. She said she will submit all the relevant documentation to the Conflict of Interest Commission.

She said she had received a monthly remuneration of 800 kuna as the head of the commission for state qualifying exams, and that the reason for the omission was the fact that this income was paid by the ministry which also paid her monthly salaries.

She dismissed the claim that she had appointed herself to the post of the commission's head, adding that she and other members of the commission had been appointed by her predecessor in the ministerial post, Ivan Vrdoljak. As soon as she became the minister, she signed the appointment as the continuation of the commission's work, according to her explanation on her Facebook account.

More news on the GLAS party can be found in the Politics section.

Friday, 8 February 2019

Zagreb Mayor Fined by Conflict of Interest Commission

ZAGREB, February 8, 2019 - The parliamentary conflict of interest commission on Friday fined Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandić 30,000 kuna for signing a contract on the legal representation of the city and city companies by the law firm of the late Marijan Hanžeković because the law firm deposited 15 million kuna so Bandic could be released on bail during an investigation into a corruption case dubbed Agram.

Commission chair Nataša Novaković said that the contract between Hanžeković's law firm and the city of Zagreb and city companies amounted to 25 million kuna annually.

Novakovic said that after the law firm deposited bail money, Bandić found himself in a relationship of dependence on Hanžeković and his law firm and that he should therefore not have been involved in the procurement of legal services involving Hanžeković and his partners and especially, not sign decisions and contracts with that law firm.

The conflict of interest commission also decided that MP Milorad Pupovac of the SDSS party had breached the Conflict of Interest Act by failing to exempt himself, in his capacity as a member of the Council for Ethnic Minorities, from a vote the Council took on 5 May 2016 to reallocate budget funds for ethnic minorities, including, among others, to the Serb National Council (SNV), of which Pupovac is president.

Presenting his defence before the commission, Pupovac said that he believed that he had not breached the Conflict of Interest Act because the SNV was not a group of private persons linked with him by interest, adding however that he would respect the commission's decision.

He said that he took part in the debate at the Council session and remained during the vote but that neither he nor other Council members could remember him having taken part in the vote.

More news on the Zagreb Mayor Bandić can be found in the Politics section.

Saturday, 19 January 2019

No Conflict of Interest Proceedings Against Foreign Minister

ZAGREB, January 19, 2019 - The Conflict of Interest Commission decided on Friday that it would not launch proceedings against Foreign and European Affairs Minister Marija Pejčinović Burić, thus rejecting a motion tabled by an association of war veterans from Slavonski Brod that accused Pejčinović Burić of being in a conflict of interest as the minister who used to provide Serbia's government with counselling in the accession negotiations with the EU from 2013 to 2016.

The Commission concluded that having been an adviser in the project aimed at helping Serbia to expedite its accession negotiations, Minister Pejčinović Burić did not create any interest in contravention of Croatia's interest.

The association filed the report against the minister insisting that Pejčinović Burić's counselling activities before her ministerial term and her current position in which she monitors the achievements of Serbia in meeting benchmarks within the EU membership talks amounted to a clash of interests.

Dismissing the association's request, the commission explains that the contents of the project in which Pejčinović Burić offered counselling services from 2013 to 2016 and the duties to monitor Serbia's progress in fulfilling the benchmarks differed completely.

Tatijana Vučetić of the Commission explained that being hired as an international expert by the European Commission following the advertised tender for counselling Serbia in a specific project, Pejčinović Burić did not pursue private interests that might have clashed with Croatia's interests.

More news on the conflict of interest issues in Croatia can be found in the Politics section.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Controversial HDZ “Official” Flight to Finland Still Unexplained

Two months have passed since the disputed flight of an HDZ delegation to Finland for a political meeting of the European People’s Party, but the government has still not provided clear answers to questions who went there for a party political event and which expenses were paid by the taxpayers, reports on January 8, 2019.

On 7 November, the HDZ delegation flew to an event of the European People’s Party in Helsinki, where the political group elected its candidate for the European Commission president if they win the majority in the European Parliament. The trip was described as an official visit to Finland because Prime Minister Plenković met before the convention with Finnish Prime Minister Juho Sipila, while Speaker of Parliament and HDZ secretary general Gordan Jandroković spoke with Finnish Parliament Speaker Paola Risik.

The problem is that a number of ministers flew as party officials and, apart from the EPP’s Congress, had no other obligations, such as Administration Minister Lovro Kuščević, who is HDZ’s political secretary. The aircraft was also used by HDZ vice-president and Agriculture Minister Tomislav Tolušić and party international secretary and Interior Minister Davor Božinović. Also, the airplane and its crew waited for the party meeting to finish the next day, and only then did the prime minister and the delegation return to Croatia.

Since the official state aircraft cannot be used for private purposes, and a party event is not an official engagement, the Conflict of Interest Commission has initiated an investigation. Nataša Novaković, chairwoman of the Commission, said she would also demand answers to the questions of who paid for the daily travel allowances and accommodation and in what capacity did the officials use the aircraft. Before the New Year holidays, replies from the HDZ and the government, as well as from some of the ministers, arrived.

Besides, Plenković and the ministers were not the only ones who travelled to Finland. HDZ’s members of European Parliament also went there, as well as some of HDZ’s MPs, such as Miro Kovač and Davor Ivo Stier. Did the HDZ pay for expenses, the daily travel allowances and the accommodation for all those who went there? What engagements did party and government officials like Kuščević, Božinović and Tolušić had in Finland? Who was on the plane? These questions have not yet been answered.

“After we received the replies, additional information from the government and the HDZ were requested on Friday,” confirmed a source from the Commission. In their responses, the HDZ and the government did not provide answers to the questions that the Commission had specifically asked them. It is surprising that it takes them so much time to do it.

HDZ secretary general Gordan Jandroković said last week that everything was clear and that the Commission wanted to find a violation but would not succeed. Government spokesman Marko Milić said they did not yet complete the reply to the latest request. But the message is that everything is clear. “HDZ paid for accommodation and daily travel allowances to all those who travelled to Finland, either by a government plane or by a commercial flight. There is also a decree which allows the prime minister to use the official aircraft and decide who will join him,” said Milić.

The cost of the travel was 85,000 kuna.

For MOST’s MP Nikola Grmoja, this is a clear case of misuse. “It is obvious that they cannot justify this party political trip since otherwise they would have already given clear answers. HDZ behaves towards the budget as if it were their own, and the prime minister himself has said that he could do whatever he wanted,” said Grmoja.

More news on the conflict of interest issues in Croatia can be found in our Politics section.

Translated from (reported by Ivan Pandžić).

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