Friday, 3 February 2023

A Week in Croatian Politics - Kosovo, Energy Prices and the Uhljeb Curse

February the 3rd, 2023 - This week in Croatian politics, we've had energy price woes, ''uhljebljivanje'' through exposed messages, and questions by experts about precisely what Croatia is trying to do by allowing Zoran Milanovic to make such confusing and politically damaging statements about the Russia-Ukraine war.

The government is looking into what it can do when it comes to energy prices after the 1st of April this year

Energy costs are still causing a lot of concern among the general public and particularly among businesses who are struggling to pay their often extortionate bills. With an unusually mild winter seeing us avoid what could have been a much worse scenario, the government is now busy looking into what it can do when the measures they put in place expire (April the 1st, and it certainly is no joke). Claiming that the costs for energy would have been far higher and caused more issues had the government not capped their prices, Plenkovic has assured the public that his ministers are analysing the situation and seeing what they can do as we edge towards spring.

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic stated that without government measures, energy prices for many companies and individuals would have been much higher, adding that the ministers are currently analysing what the situation will be after April the 1st, given that government measures regarding these prices will last until March the 31st.

Given that some distributors have announced price increases of their own, journalists were naturally interested in whether the policy of regulating electricity and gas prices will continue from April the 1st, to which Plenkovic replied that the ministers of finance and economy are in charge of "preparing and analysing the situation for after that date".

"We believe that the [energy] price situation will stabilise"

Yesterday, the CBS published the first estimate according to which inflation during the month of January of this year (when compared to January 2022) was on average higher by 12.7 percent, and compared to December, prices remained the same on average. Plenkovic rated that announcement as very good.

"Obviously, the trend of inflation growth that we had in the last months of 2022 is now slowly going down, which is in line with the forecasts of the government and the European Commission (EC). We believe that the situation with prices will stabilise and that at this time next year we'll be talking about an annual inflation rate of around six percent, which would be very good considering these crisis circumstances," said Plenkovic after the government session.

Government spokesman Marko Milic allegedly sent messages to Croatian Forests (Hrvatske sume) to get his friend a job in the classic ''uhljeb'' fashion - he says not all is what it seems

Government spokesman Marko Milic recently had his alleged messages exposed by Nacional, in which he was organising for his friend to be employed within Croatian Forests. This type of employing peoples' friends, cousins, former housemates and estranged aunts who are in no way qualified to do the task at hand has been clamped down on in the past (apparently), but still goes on in many sectors. While in certain circles of society, who you know being more important than what you know can be expected, but the government spokesman being allegedly engaged in it is something Plenkovic likely won't stand for.

Despite the accusations against him and the messages published by Nacional, Milic spoke about the messages in which he apparently arranged ''uhljebljivanje'' within Croatian Forests. Index asked Milic about the messages published by Nacional, and in his response, he didn't dispute the authenticity of the messages, but claimed that the correspondence he had with the head of Croatian Forests at the time didn't affect the employment of an individual named Niko Dujmovic, nor did it have any bearing on the fact that Dujmovic was given an employment contract for an indefinite period after those messages were sent.

However, he failed to explain why he even questioned the head of Croatian Forests, Krunoslav Jakupcic, about a certain man named Dujmovic at all, nor why, after Jakupcic wrote to him that Dujmovic could work there and that he'd employ him indefinitely, he replied with the words "Thank you very much".

Marko Milic's answer to Index has been translated and transmitted in its entirety below:

"Regarding what's been published by Nacional, this is yet another in a series of inaccurate and misleading articles in which information is placed in such a way as to suggest the existence of illegal actions, which don't exist. I'm aware that the aforementioned 'correspondence' has been circulating in the media space, and as far as I know, Croatian Forests has already given an answer to some media outlets clarifying the factual situation.

Regarding the employment of Niko Dujmovic, the correspondence between me and Mr. Jakupcic dates from September the 30th, 2019, and Niko Dujmovic was employed by Croatian Forests in accordance with the prescribed procedure and on the basis of a public tender from back in July 2018. Therefore, his employment took place more than one year before this correspondence, from which it follows that it had no influence on the establishment of the employment relationship of Mr. Dujmovic.

In addition, as far as I know based on the response of Croatian Forests, Mr. Dujmovic received an employment contract for an indefinite period during the second half of 2021, and that is almost two years after the published 'correspondence' took place, which clearly shows that the said messages had no influence on him getting a contract for an indefinite period.

As for the mention of the company Biomasa, I have no connection with it, I don't know what it does, nor do I know the people who are employed there. It was very likely a specific complaint that was sent to the government at the time regarding the prescribed procedure (we receive such complaints on a daily basis), and we forwarded the case to Croatian Forests. Regarding the further actions of Croatian Forests, we didn't have any instructions or influence, which is also evident from this correspondence.

Regarding the employment of Branko Filipeti, I have no influence on the content of messages sent to me by other people, to which I haven't even responded. I don't know this person," Milic wrote.

Now we've seen Milic's response, let's look at the messages published by Nacional, allegedly sent by him:

"Niko Dujmovic" - this is the very simple message that Marko Milic sent to Krunoslav Jakupcic on September the 30th, 2019, while Jakupcic was still the head of Croatian Forests (before he was arrested).

"He'll work [at Croatian Forests] for up to a year on a fixed-term basis - this is the normal way of doing things within Croatian Forests, and then we'll accept him for an indefinite period. I heard that he's good. Best wishes," responded Jakupcic.

"Thank you very much, Kruno," replied Milic.

"You're welcome," responded Jakupcic.

Milic has since gone on to further defend himself and these messages which he claims hold no weight by saying that USKOK (Office for the Suppression of Corruption and Organised Crime) hasn't been in touch with him during an appearance on RTL. Croatian Forests have had their own say, saying that everything was done according to the law. 

President Zoran Milanovic's bizarre statements regarding Russia has confused the wider public, and now a professor from King's College London has understandably asked what Croatia is trying to do and what it wants

In a longer interview for DW, security expert Peter R. Neumann (King's College London) commented on the Western policy towards Ukraine, and also referred to the statements of Croatian President Milanovic about both Russia and Ukraine, which have been increasingly odd and problematic.

Peter R. Neumann is otherwise professor of security issues at King's College London and the director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR), the world's leading research institute dealing with issues of radicalisation and terrorism. After studying political science in Berlin and Belfast, Peter R. Neumann earned his doctorate at London's King's College on the subject of the Northern Irish conflict.

While we won't bring you the interview translated in full, given that most of it focuses on the wider scope of the Russia-Ukraine war, we will publish what he said about Milanovic's strange statements which have caused not only Neumann, but numerous other individuals on the European ans global political stage to ask what Croatia is even trying to say or do by allowing the president to make such bold statements. Neumann has even wondered if Croatia is trying to state that it wants to leave the EU by allowing Milanovic the space to come out with such politically damaging things.

One year after the start of the war, how united is the West in terms of its policy towards Russia? Although Western leaders try to give the impression that there is unity in the response to aggression, the fact is that there is still no consensus. Even in the European Union, there is no consensus about this correct policy, as you call it,'' asked the interviewer. Here is Neumann's response:

''It's true that there is no consensus in the West about the policy towards Russia. But it is also true that Vladimir Putin, when he attacked Ukraine on February the 24th last year, thought that this consensus would be even weaker. What has happened in the West over the last year has been surprising, it's surprising how united the West really was, and that there are very, very few countries that oppose the Western line, for example Hungary.

I think that surprised Vladimir Putin as well. When he launched the action on the 24th of February last year, he believed he would march into Ukraine, and that countries like Germany were too weak to defend against it. That is, he believed that there would be no Western unity.

That was a miscalculation. And that is why it's now important to preserve that unity of the West, because only with that unity can Ukraine be sent as much aid as it needs to be able to strike back at the aggressor.

But it isn't only Hungary which has taken the stance it has. And it's not only Orban. He isn't really alone in this regard. You must have heard the latest statements of Croatian President Zoran Milanovic, who criticises the Western policy, opposes sending weapons to Ukraine, says that a military solution to the war is not possible, that is, that Crimea will never be part of Ukraine and that the West annexed Kosovo. The president of a country that is a member of the European Union and NATO is saying these things...

I find that problematic. I think it's important that such statements aren't made because they are an encouragement in this situation, especially for Vladimir Putin. Because the Russians take advantage of such statements. Because they're used for Russian propaganda, because they say: look, even Europe is not united.

And the fact is that the European Union, with the exception of Hungary, has so far been relatively united in its support for Ukraine. It's important to continue this policy. I don't know what Croatia wants to achieve with this? What does it want to do here? Does it want to be on Russia's side? Does it want to leave the European Union? Does it want to lead a completely different policy from other EU countries? What exactly is the strategic goal for Croatia here?

In my opinion, such statements have no strategic purpose, except to encourage Vladimir Putin and offer him yet more new propaganda material.''

Milanovic has been busy deflecting, turning the attention away from his comments on Ukraine and Russia to the aforementioned scandal about messages sent to employ people within Croatian Forests. Using every possible opportunity to take a swipe at HDZ (which, let's be honest, are numerous anyway), Milanovic stated that the situation with these messages and ''uhljebs'' is ''worse now than it was twenty years ago'' before turning the attention to Plenkovic once again. He has also been busy clearing up after generating a very positive response from Serbia, of all countries, for claiming that yes, Kosovo was indeed ''stolen'' from Serbia. We'll look into that below...

Milanovic gets a round of applause from Serbia after claiming that Kosovo was stolen from it. He has since admitted that he ''could have worded it differently''

''Serbia will have to recognise Kosovo eventually in some way,'' President Zoran Milanovic said this week, adding that Belgrade must understand that it will be the one to emerge from the "Serbian-Russian romance" as the scorned lover.

Here in Zagreb, at a press conference with the new Slovenian president, Natasa Pirc Musar, Milanovic said that "some things must change" in Serbia in order for it to be more inclined to the West where it will apparently be "welcomed".

"The situation in Ukraine is the beginning of the end of this Serbian-Russian romance in which Serbia will realise that it is the scorned lover," said the Croatian president, adding that Serbia and the Kosovo issue "bothers Russia."

"Russia is trying something with Ukraine and the example of Kosovo sticks out like a thorn in the eye. Russia will have to recognise Kosovo at some point or pretend to recognise it in order to legalise what it is doing in Ukraine. That's the reality," Milanovic said, adding that "there is no love" between Belgrade and Moscow, but that it is merely an interest in which Serbia serves Russia.

The Croatian president also said that Serbia "will have to recognise Kosovo in some way", and Kosovo's politicians, "his friends", will have to give status to the Association of Serbian Municipalities, "which they agreed to and signed".

Regarding his recent statement that ''Kosovo was stolen from Serbia'', Milanovic said that this is a fact because Belgrade didn't agree to it. "Serbia was left without Kosovo, it did not give it up voluntarily, it lost it during the war," said Milanovic.

"I could have said differently, that Serbia was left without Kosovo or that Kosovo was excluded from Serbia, but I guess we all agree that Kosovo was part of Serbia," said Milanovic, adding that he does not have to convince anyone of his attachment to the Kosovo Albanians. He also said that he always invites statesmen from countries that have not recognised Kosovo to do so.

To the Serbian tabloids that reacted positively to his statement about the apparently ''stolen'' Kosovo, Milanovic responded with the title of Larry David's comedy series: Curb your enthusiasm. They won't like this now.''

 

For more on Croatian politics, make sure to keep up with our dedicated section and follow our Week in Croatian Politics articles which are published every Friday.

 

Friday, 9 September 2022

Ex Finance Minister Zdravko Maric Questioned by USKOK

September the 9th, 2022 - Former Croatian Finance Minister Zdravko Maric has been questioned by USKOK (Croatian State Prosecutor's Office for the Suppression of Organised Crime and Corruption), but seemingly only as a witness.

As Poslovni Dnevnik writes, ex Finance Minister Zdravko Maric was the chairman of the supervisory board of HBOR (Croatian Bank for Reconstruction and Development), and a month and a half before a certain loan was granted, he had a meeting with the investor Milenko Basic from the company C.E.M.P.

Basic had otherwise asked for a loan of 130 million euros to finance an investment, and in the end he was granted a loan of 80 million euros.

USKOK has as such accused former HDZ Minister of Regional Development Gabrijela Zalac and former HDZ State Secretary Josip Rimac of abusing their positions and long-term lobbying and pressuring members of the supervisory board and the bank's management to approve the loan.

It is important to note that former Finance Minister Zdravko Maric, who has managed to dodge his fair share of hot water over the years, has actually not been included in that investigation, so it can now be assumed that he gave his testimony as a witness who was involved in the approval of the aforementioned loan which is of interest to USKOK, 24sata writes.

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

Thursday, 1 September 2022

INA Case: How Croatian Government Directly Facilitated Theft of Century

September 1, 2022 - Citizens of the Republic of Croatia are not used to a high level of political culture, honesty, and truthfulness. While in the normal world politicians resign even for the smallest offenses or breaches of duty, in Croatia even those who are proven guilty should be forced out of their positions. Political responsibility and self-criticism simply do not exist. As the INA case unfolds, this becomes more and more apparent.

As Index writes, some statements are too much even for Croatia. It is one thing to cover one's ears, remain silent, and not admit responsibility for certain failures, and it is quite another to claim that these failures are proof of the abilities, moral qualities, and work of those who are responsible for them.

Plenković says that he should be congratulated after the theft of the century

This is what Andrej Plenković said at the press conference after the coalition meeting of the ruling parties where the INA case was discussed: "The key message is that the institutions of the Croatian state, rather the government, were the ones who discovered this case of abuse, not the police or the judicial authorities, but the Office for the Prevention of Money Laundering, a department within the Ministry of Finance". He added that the opposition, instead of demanding elections, should - congratulate the government.

But the facts do not support his arrogant statements. Not only did the government not detect the theft of the century, but it also directly facilitated it. This is the real truth, and it is not difficult to prove it, no matter what Plenković arrogantly claims.

Plenković and the HDZ government directly appointed the INA Administration, at which he is now theatrically "furious"

First of all, the Prime Minister, who claims to be furious with the INA Board, should be reminded that he appointed the people who make up the Croatian quota. According to the agreement, Croatia has the right to three members of the INA Management Board, and they are appointed by the government.

In 2020, Plenković, i.e., the government, appointed Croatian members of the Management Board, with whom the same Plenković is now theatrically "furious". On March 31 of that year, a meeting of the Supervisory Board of INA was held, where new members of the company's Management Board were appointed at the proposal of the government, led by Andrej Plenković: Barbara Dorić, Darko Markotić, and Niko Dalić.

They were the replacement of the previous members, who were also appointed by the HDZ government in 2011, and the prime minister and leader of the HDZ at that time was Jadranka Kosor.

If the Administration appointed by Plenković had done its job, there would have been no theft

If the Board had done its job the case wouldn’t exist, and the Board was appointed by Plenković himself. Admittedly, he only replaced the former HDZ members with a new set, except for one man. That is Niko Dalić, who has been on the INA Management Board for more than a decade. Jadranka Kosor appointed him there in 2011.

If that name doesn’t ring a bell,  remember who managed Agrokor during its collapse and who the ringleader was of the Borg group. For her "services", she was awarded the position of president of the Podravka Management Board in February of this year, which was personally advocated by Plenković. She was even at his place for a kind of job interview, which the media and economists interpreted as the prime minister's direct recruitment in a state-owned company.

Niko Dalić from the INA Management Board is, of course, the husband of Martina Dalić, the Minister of Finance in Plenković's government, who was appointed head of Podravka by Plenković and who led, to put it mildly, the dubious "restructuring" of Agrokor. He is much less exposed in the media, but that is why he survived a whole decade on the INA Management Board.

He was the only one who survived Plenković's change of Croatian members. A trustworthy man, one would say. The current government did not only appoint the Management Board of INA, but also appointed HDZ member Damir Mikuljan as president of the Supervisory Board at the end of last year, and Davor Filipović, a man who had previously been spectacularly defeated in the elections for mayor of Zagreb, as a member.

>> Nacional: Plenković personally chose Dalić and her husband, they have a salary of HRK 200,000

HDZ minister was informed that Ina was losing money. He did nothing and could have prevented the theft

In an interview for N1, Damir Vanđelić, the former head of the Supervisory Board of INA, who was replaced by Damir Mikuljan in December 2021, said that he had informed the authorities, including the then HDZ Minister of Economy Tomislav Ćorić, that INA was losing money.

By the way, Damir Mikuljan, who replaced Damir Vanđelić, is the head of something called the Honorable Court of the HDZ. He will probably decide on the party line of the alleged organiser of the theft of the century, Damir Škugor. The arrested Škugor was also the man of honor for HDZ general secretary Krunoslav Katičić.

That Škugor is active in HDZ was revealed through photos of him hugging Plenković himself and the President of the Croatian Parliament, Goran Jandroković, although the government spokesman claimed before the photos were published that the Prime Minister did not know him.

"Last year in May, we reacted to the Supervisory Board and asked for a session because eight people in high positions in INA were dismissed," said Vanđelić. "I put the topic on for the Supervisory Board at that time, that is May 2021, I asked in English what the plan was when eight people were dismissed. I didn't know about Škugor at the time, but something was happening. Eight good people were dismissed then, they were paid severance pay to leave. That's why I asked what the plan was. We did not receive satisfactory answers."

"The answer was that they were improving the organisation," he added. "I didn't get any answer. I got some calls, mocking us from Supervisory Board because we are problematising the topics of staffing and gas business," he said. "Ćorić told me to politicise and do some other business".

HDZ's Čorić responded: "Vanđelic is very creative in presenting alternative facts". After that statement, evidence was published, an e-mail in which Vanđelić stated that he noticed the "leakage of funds from INA" and informed Ćorić about the problem. Vanđelić sent the mail to his colleagues in the Supervisory Board two weeks earlier and then forwarded it to Ćorić, in which he compared the operations of INA and MOL.

>> Published email in which Vanđelić warned Ćorić that Ina was losing a lot of money

Soon after that, he was removed from the head of the Supervisory Board and was replaced by the previously mentioned Damir Mikuljan, head of the Honorable Court of HDZ.

It is not difficult to notice that just last year, while the theft of the century was taking place, HDZ's staffing in INA was going on. It is arrogant and insulting to the intelligence of the citizens that Plenković claims that the government exposed the theft. By all accounts, the government directly set up Škugor and all the others who made a billion kuna disappear right in front of their noses.

>> Tomislav Ćorić could have prevented the theft of the century. Vuković: This is astonishing

Rakar: The theft was discovered by the banks. It is impossible to declare this a discovery of the government

HDZ's responsibility does not end with staffing at INA. The government is, of course, only a branch of HDZ, and HDZ recruits all over the country.

"I don't see how it is possible to declare the fact that the banks discovered a suspicious payment to the account of a natural person (in no less than a nine-digit amount in kuna) a victory or a great discovery when that same money was created by manipulation and de facto theft from an extremely organised company traded on the stock exchange in which the Republic of Croatia possesses almost 50 percent of the ownership, the president and several members of the Supervisory Board and several members of the company's Management Board. In addition, the entire operation took place through another company, which is owned by a utility company owned by the county, and CroPlin (which is 100% owned by the same INA)", Marko Rakar from the Association of Authorized Fraud Investigators told Index.

"This is proof that the mechanisms of management, control, and supervision in a whole series of companies, but also the state and counties, have completely failed", he concluded.

One of the channels through which money was extracted from INA is The Gas Company of Eastern Slavonia, headed by Marija Ratkić, also a member of HDZ. She defended herself before USKOK that she was only carrying out the orders of her party colleague Damir Škugor.

The Gas Plant Eastern Slavonia is owned by the Vukovar-Srijem County, whose prefect is Damir Dekanić. You guessed it, he is also an HDZ member. He has been a member since 1990 and since 2020 the vice president of the party in Vukovar-Srijem County. You don't need to guess a lot to conclude which party is recruiting in Plinara of Eastern Slavonia.

>> Gas plant revenues from the theft of the century jumped sharply last year. No one found this strange

Fina praised the company through which the theft from INA happened. And Fina, of course, is managed by HDZ

The ones who reported the suspicious events that led to the exposure of the theft of the century in Croatia are - private banks. And in addition to the internal controls of INA and Gas Plant Eastern Slavonia at least two state institutions, Fina and the Tax Administration, also failed.

The first one had all the information related to the company OMS-Upravljanje d.o.o., through which money was primarily extracted from INA. "The small and micro-entrepreneurs with the highest profit for the period in 2021 were: CENTRICE ZAGREB d.o.o., HT HOLDING d.o.o. and SUPERNOVA BUZIN d.o.o. (small) and CENTAR BUNDEK d.o.o. in bankruptcy, BELVEDERE d.d. in bankruptcy and OMS-UPRALJANJE d.o.o. (micro)", announced Fina in a press release just two months ago.

According to information from Fina, OMS-Upravljanje is in third place among the micro-entrepreneurs with the highest profit. Their profit was HRK 117 million 277 thousand. In 2021, OMS-Upravljanje had a higher profit than all those who were on the list of the top 5 small entrepreneurs.

The fact that a micro-company with one employee founded in 2019 had a higher profit than most medium-sized entrepreneurs, which have from 50 to 250 employees, should have immediately set off an alarm in Fina. But nobody reacted, and by chance or not, the head of Fina is another HDZ member, Dražen Čović.

>> The key company from the INA theft was on Fina's top list. Nobody even blinked

Plenković insults the intelligence of citizens

Nothing was suspicious, and no one knew anything. And many not only could but had to know. They get paid to do it. Internal control and management of INA, external auditors of INA, internal control and external auditors of Gas Plant Eastern Slavonia, FINA, Tax Administration, and many others.

The impression is that many people knew, or at least more than have been arrested (so far). HDZ appears in one way or another connected with the name of everyone involved with this theft of the century, whether it was a person directly involved or someone who should have reacted to obvious signs that something strange was going on.

If Plenković had just said today that HDZ and the government have nothing to do with what is happening around INA, it would be a blatant lie. Claiming that the HDZ government is responsible for uncovering the looting is a step beyond lying, making fools of the citizens of the Republic of Croatia.

The arrogance of that statement alone is enough for resignation, and as it has been proven that HDZ and Plenković directly staffed INA while the theft of the century was taking place, the resignation should be insisted on because of the direct responsibility for the disappearance of billions of kuna.

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

Thursday, 21 July 2022

HDZ Member Franjo Lucic to be Jailed for Attempts to Bribe Journalist

July the 21st, 2022 - Influential HDZ member Franjo Lucic, HDZ a member of parliament in the last convocation, is set to be imprisoned for one year for bribing Telegram journalist Drago Hedl, the Supreme Court has decided.

As Poslovni Dnevnik writes, in a session which was held back on June the 7th, 2022, the Council of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia accepted the appeal of the state attorney, and the verdict of the first-instance court in the sentencing decision of HDZ member Franjo Lucic was changed in such a way that the accused was sentenced to a prison term of one year for offering a bribe to the aforementioned journalist, instead of being given community service.

With that decision, the defendant's appeal was rejected as unfounded, the Supreme Court announced.

The Supreme Court considers that the first-instance court, after correctly determining mitigating circumstances on the part of the accused (who has no criminal record otherwise), overestimated the circumstances, ignoring the fact that the accused committed a serious crime of corruption against a journalist, thereby grossly violating the provisions of Article 38 of the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia, which guarantees the freedom of thought and expression, which includes, in particular, freedom of the press and other means of communication, freedom of speech and public speaking, although as a member of the Croatian Parliament he (Franjo Lucic) was obliged to protect and promote the rights of citizens guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia.

For not writing and publishing a certain text, HDZ member Franjo Lucic offered the journalist three times more compensation than the media company would be paying him.

As a reminder, in the indictment from back in March 2018, USKOK accused HDZ member Franjo Lucic that on July the 26th, 2017 in Pozega, he offered Telegram journalist Drago Hedl, who was collecting information about his business and financial transactions as a representative of the Croatian Parliament and his companies, a monetary reward to not write about information that he collected because the article would harm him as a member of parliament and as an entrepreneur.

Lucic was accused of telling the journalist in a telephone conversation, which Hedl recorded, that for not writing the text he would pay him three times more than the compensation he would receive from the media company and that the payout of said money was "not in question", as long as the gathering of information about him and his companies would not be made public.

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

Monday, 11 July 2022

EPPO's First Croatian Indictee Makes Plea Deal

ZAGREB, 11 July 2022 - The first indictee of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) in Croatia, Danijel Vinković, on Monday pleaded guilty to subsidy fraud worth €1 million, settling for a ten-month prison sentence which was replaced with community service.

The Zagreb County Court was to have decided today on the EPPO's indictment against Vinković, who pleaded guilty before the indictment panel and reaching an agreement with the prosecution, Hina learned at the court.

The businessman from Međimurje was charged with applying to the Paying Agency for Agriculture, Fisheries and Rural Development for a HRK 7.4 million grant in 2020. Of that amount, 85% was from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the rest from the Croatian state budget.

According to the EPPO's indictment, Vinković falsified documents on his eligibility for the aid. His application was rejected because the Paying Agency noticed that he did not meet the eligibility criteria.

The Paying Agency said earlier it paid HRK 176,435 in direct aid to Vinković from 2018 to March 2021 and HRK 3.9 million to his father from 2012 to May this year for farming equipment.

Vinković was indicted this past May and the trial was held at the Zagreb County Court which, under the law, is the only court in Croatia with jurisdiction over trials initiated by the EPPO.

(€1 = HRK 7.5)

For more, check out our politics section.

Wednesday, 25 May 2022

European Public Prosecutor's Office Indicts Ten Croatians for Bribery

ZAGREB, 25 May 2022 - The European Public Prosecutor's Office (EPPO) has indicted ten Croatians, including the Mayor of Nova Gradiška, Vinko Grgić, former Velika Gorica mayor Dražen Barišić and entrepreneur Krešo Petek.

The EPPO reported that the indictment was filed after an investigation of active and passive corruption and abuse of office between 2018 and 2021.

All four cases are related to construction projects with a total value of €22.6 million and the damage to the EU budget was largely prevented thanks to the efficacy of the investigators, the EPPO said in a statement.

Corruption in Nova Gradiška

Mayor Grgić is being charged with accepting two bribes amounting to €15,000 from the first accused Krešo Petek in order to secure the assignment of two construction projects.

The two projects were for a recycling centre and a solar power plant. The first project was valued at €900,000, of which the amount of €562,000 was financed by the European Union Cohesion Fund, and the value of the second project was €700,000, of which 85% was funded by the European Regional Development Fund.

Three other suspects were involved in these two corruption cases by helping Grgić and Petek in giving the bribes, abusing their office, and illegal favouritism in public procurement.

The recycling project was then awarded to companies connected to Petek who paid Grgić the agreed amount of the bribe.

This meant that the European Cohesion Fund was defrauded of €53,000 and the Town of Nova Gradiška of €32,500. 

The solar power plant project was not awarded as Petek and the others accused had already been arrested.

Abuse of office in Velika Gorica

Petek is also accused of arranging with former Velika Gorica mayor Barišić for the construction of a wastewater treatment plant and a supervisory management system as well as for the renovation of the public lighting system to be awarded to his companies.

The estimated value for the wastewater treatment plant project was €14 million, of which the European Union Cohesion Fund financed 67.34%. The value of the renovation project of the public lighting system was €7 million and it was co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund.

In these two cases, too, there were three accomplices who helped Barišić in abusing office and influence-peddling in public procurement procedures.

In both projects, although all necessary steps were taken in the public procurement process to select the companies connected to Petek, decisions to that effect were not made due to the arrest of all five accused persons, the EPPO reported.

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

Sunday, 20 February 2022

Horvat Scandal Too Much Even for Croatia, Time for Plenkovic to Step Down?

February the 20th, 2022 - The Darko Horvat scandal which has dominated the press over the last few days has been too much even by Croatian standards according to some. One Index journalist, Goran Vojkovic, believes it's time for PM Andrej Plenkovic to step down.

As Index/Goran Vojkovic writes, the State Attorney's Office Act states that ''any form of influence is prohibited, especially any form of coercion against state attorneys and deputy state attorneys, the abuse of public authority and personal influence, and the use of media and public appearances in criminal cases prosecuted ex officio and in cases where the state attorney or deputy the State Attorney performs his powers and duties in the protection of the property of the Republic of Croatia.''

It was a very difficult, rainy Saturday for the Prime Minister, it was a bit like the sky was crying for the HDZ (again). Things should have been completely different during that day. Over in Brussels, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic managed to get an extension of the deadline in which Croatia has to spend European Union money for reconstruction, because Croatia didn't manage to spend any of that money on time. The newly arrested Minister of Physical Planning, Construction and State Property, Darko Horvat, is in charge of this reconstruction process. It seems now that the Horvat scandal is only just beginning.

In addition to the above, Croatia was visited by an American carrier, which is, in fact, a matter of global relations and is nothing new for the country, the two nations from each side of the Atlantic Ocean have been allies in this regard since back in 1952, when Tito, dressed up in his white uniform, walked along the bridge of the American carrier Coral Sea. But in a country full of scandals, while energy prices are rampant, any extra time will come in handy for the post-earthquake reconstruction that we didn't bother to do and of course, for a walk on this American carrier.

The Prime Minister's easy Saturday morning coffee was interrupted by the Horvat scandal, and that's never a good way in which to start the day.

The prime minister was probably planning a quiet family morning donning a comfortable dressing gown, sipping a coffee, surfing the internet on his tablet which would have been packed with praise and good news and enjoying the view of the calming Zagreb rain through the window of his warm apartment. And then came some very awkward news - a search of the house of the Minister of Physical Planning, Construction and State Property. The Horvat scandal had broken.

This would never be good news, but it was a very awkward story indeed for Saturday, especially because Andrej Plenkovic himself had said a few days ago: "I will not be removing anyone until the end of my term." The kiss of death? Maybe. Moreover, as the slow recovery process after the earthquakes of 2020 was the reason for the opposition in parliament to demand the removal of Minister Horvat, just two weeks ago Plenkovic signed a sixteen-page document defending the newly arrested minister.

Plenkovic responded to Saturday's events and the Darko Horvat scandal with a direct verbal attack on the State Attorney's Office, asking for explanations, and his entire appearance in front of the camera can be described as: "Do you even know who I am?!"

According to the State Attorney's Office Act, the State Attorney's Office doesn't have to justify what it does to the PM. It is an autonomous and independent judicial body, not a government body, and it isn't under an executive branch. Just asking them for additional talks and some special explanations to the Prime Minister can be interpreted as an attempt to influence them, which is strictly forbidden. Andrej Plenkovic, very well versed in law himself, knows that all too well.

But why is Plenkovic so nervous about the unfolding Horvat scandal? Because he is personally responsible for the selection of Minister Horvat, as well as every member of the government. Let us remember - the person who collects 76 signatures in the parliament receives the mandate to form the government from the President of the Republic and becomes the Prime Minister when the Parliament confirms the election of the Prime Minister. Ministers don't come to their positions by way of interviews and tenders, they're people trusted by the future prime minister himself, who he himself proposes for the position.

If any of these people nominated by Plenkovic personally for the highest office in the country have been arrested on suspicion of very serious corruption, then this is not only the problem of that minister, but also the problem of Plenkovic on a very personal level. Why would we trust him any more if he can't put his team in order? Nobody imposed these people on him, he guaranteed both the deputies and the people of Croatia that they were the best choices for their respective positions.

Does Plenkovic still guarantee the knowledge, ability and honesty of his ministers?

Plenkovic repeatedly vouched for all these people, for their ability, honour and honesty. Therefore, we completely agree that he shouldn't remove anyone by the end of his term, but should resign, himself, as Prime Minister of Croatia.

The Prime Minister can't keep repeating until the end of the century that he didn't know about the problematic behaviours of the people he himself elected or at a lower level signed for their appointment. He, by proposing these people to these positions, vouched for them personally. As far as the legal responsibility of Minister Horvat is concerned, it is, of course, a matter for the courts, but political responsibility for this affair, this crisis and this shame (because of the brazen inaction of Minister Horvat, Plenkovic was forced to ask the EU for a new deadline for the spending of the funds from the Solidarity Fund) is on Andrej Plenkovic.

The news that Plenkovic fired Minister Horvat at his request doesn't change anything. It is only a small legal maneuver. Horvat knows that he cannot remain in office, and in this way he makes things easier for the party chief.

If anyone knows how to embarrass this country - HDZ definitely knows

But, realistically, it's highly unlikely that Plenkovic will decide to resign on the back of the Horvat scandal. He has enough dogs in his fight, and most of the opposition is not going to want new elections, they wouldn't be re-elected to the parliament. In addition, his resignation would mean the end of Plenkovic's political career instead of its continuation somewhere else a bit more flashy, let's say in the European Commission. Even now, it will be difficult for Plenkovic to explain that billions intended for the reconstruction should have been managed by the minister who has now been arrested. If anyone knows how to embarrass this country, then HDZ definitely knows.

For more, check out our politics section.

Sunday, 30 January 2022

Pleso Airport Police Head and Two Others Being Investigated by USKOK

January the 30th, 2022 - Zagreb's Pleso Airport police head is being investigated by USKOK (Croatian State Prosecutor's Office for the Suppression of Organised Crime and Corruption or Bureau for Combating Corruption and Organised Crime).

As Poslovni Dnevnik writes, based on the criminal report released by the Zagreb Police, USKOK issued its decision to open an investigation against three Croatian citizens (born in 1982, 1965 and 1969) about whom there is reasonable suspicion of the commitment of the criminal offenses of the abuse of office, the incitement to commit abuse of office and trading in influence (influence peddling), according to a report from Dnevnik.hr.

There is a well-founded suspicion that the first defendant, in the period from April the 1st, 2021 to January the 27th, 2022 in Zagreb and Velika Gorica, as the head of the Pleso Airport Police Station, allegedly agreed for the second defendant to be allowed to pass through Zagreb International Airport's customs with goods without being checked.

Either personally or on his orders, through his subordinate police officers, without conducting any border and/or customs control, he allegedly made it possible for the individual in question to avoid the customs control of his luggage in which he carried clothes and footwear with non-original markings of various brands acquired while in Turkey, with the apparent intention to resell them on the black market here in Croatia. In this way, he also enabled him to avoid the collection of due customs duties/the confiscation of the goods.

The mayor parked free of charge

During the months of August and October 2021, the third accused person, the mayor of Ivanic Grad, allegedly abused his position in Velika Gorica and Ivanic Grad. He allegedly asked the head of the Pleso Airport Police Station to allow him to park the personal vehicle he was using without paying any fees, as well as to keep that vehicle at Pleso Airport Police Station's car park during his trip.

The mayor was aware that this car park was intended only for the official needs of the Pleso Airport Police Station. He succeeded in leaving his car there because his engagement was allegedly secured by subordinate police officers from the Chief of the Pleso Airport Police Station.

USKOK has proposed to the investigating judge of the Zagreb County Court to order the pre-trial detention of one of the defendants.

For more, check out our lifestyle section.

Friday, 28 January 2022

Milanović Accuses Plenković Government as Most Corrupt Yet

ZAGREB, 28 Jan 2022 - President Zoran Milanović on Friday accused the government of Prime Minister Andrej Plenković as the most corrupt Croatian government yet.

"Plenković is protecting the people who are simply corrupt. I cannot call it any other way," Milanović said in an interview with RTL television.

Milanović said that Plenković's chief of staff Zvonimir Frka Petešić had deliberately registered his residence on Dugi Otok island so that he could qualify for a state-owned apartment in Zagreb. 

Frka Petešić "is fully aware that what he has done is punishable under the law, yet he enjoys the prime minister's protection," he added.

Milanović rejected the idea of his being an opposition leader in Croatia. "Not only am I not, but I feel bad in this position. All this that I am saying, which I have to say and will keep on saying, is just an unnecessary burden to me. This should not be my job."

For more, check out our politics section.

Sunday, 2 January 2022

EU Funds Misuse in Croatia: 35 Alleged Cases Already Under Investigation

January 2, 2022 - The European Public Prosecutor's Office (EPPO) in Zagreb's Ilica currently has 35 cases indicating possible EU funds misuse.

The State Attorney's Office submitted 25 cases of EU funds misuse after 10 November, the date after which they were obliged to submit cases within the possible competence of the European Prosecutor's Office, reports Jutarnji List. Until that date, the State Attorney's Office had submitted 10 such cases, including the one on the so-called affair software that resulted in the arrest of former Minister Gabrijela Žalac. The former minister decided that the MRRFEU would make this purchase at a price much higher than the market price for the development of software with such technical specifications and functionalities.

It is alleged that, in order to carry out what was agreed, the former minister first decided, in 2017, to conduct a negotiated procurement procedure without prior publication of a public invitation to tender, with an overestimated procurement value of HRK 9,860,000.00 (EUR +/- 1.31 million); and in that process, the companies linked to the second suspect were invited to submit their bids.

A total of 35 cases are on the table of Tamara Laptoš, who heads the European Prosecutor's Office, which also includes Tomislav Kalember and Sani Ljubičić, but that does not mean that as many investigations are being conducted. Namely, these are cases submitted by the State Attorney's Office in which suspicions of misuse of European money are expressed.

The European Public Prosecutor's Office investigates and prosecutes the following types of fraud and other criminal offenses affecting the EU's financial interests: expenditure and revenue fraud, VAT fraud (if involving two or more Member States and worth at least 10 million), money laundering of the EU budget, active and passive corruption or embezzlement affecting the EU's financial interests and participation in a criminal organization if its activities are aimed at committing crimes against the EU budget.

For more, check out our politics section.

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