Wednesday, 29 January 2020

APN Head Fired Due to Controversial Purchase of Property

ZAGREB, January 29, 2020 - Construction Minister Predrag Štromar on Wednesday said that he would dismiss the State Real Estate Agency (APN)'s acting director Krešimir Žunić (Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ), after media outlets discovered that he had purchased a state-subsidised flat under the so-called POS scheme provided by that agency.

Štromar told reporters that he had submitted all the relevant documents in relation to Žunić to the prosecutorial authorities, who bought a flat in Zadar last year under the APN scheme which enabled him and his son to purchase the flat for a discount price of €975 per square metre. The scandal was uncovered by the commercial RTL broadcaster on Tuesday evening.

Last year, when he was deputy director of the APN, Žunić bought the property together with his son.

The so-called POS scheme for Socially Subsidised Housing Construction (POS) is intended to help young families and first-home buyers to purchase their own home in an affordable way.

Reporters also asked Štromar of the Croatian People's Party (HNS), whether he had reported his party colleague Slavko Čukelj, to the prosecutorial authorities, since Čukelj was the director of the APN agency at the time when Žunić signed the controversial contract and Čukelj signed the document on behalf of APN. Štromar however said that everything needs to be checked and that the procedure is being checked so as to see whether some other people from APN exploited the POS scheme to buy properties for themselves.

Later in the day Štromar said that the appointment of the new AN director could be expected on Thursday.

Commenting on the case concerning Žunić, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said that the whole situation "is unusual as well as his (Žunić's) statements."

He also said that he would discuss the matter with Minister Štromar.

Earlier in the day, Transport Minister Oleg Butković of the HDZ said that he had experienced many things in politics, however, something like Žunić's case and his explanations was "a precedent." Butković said that he felt embarrassed for him and Žunić being members of the same party.

In a bid to justify himself and the purchase of the property under the government subsidised scheme by the agency he headed, Žunić said that he was embarrassed that he virtually did not own anything.

"What can the prime minister say about me, for God's sake. I'm useless if I can't help myself," Žunić told the RTL last night.

Several members of the national parliament on Wednesday described Žunić's behaviour as scandalous.

More news about corruption can be found in the Politics section.

Monday, 27 January 2020

HDZ MP Pleads Not Guilty to Attempted Bribery of Reporter

ZAGREB, January 27, 2020 - An MP of the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) party, Franjo Lučić, pleaded not guilty to the charges of attempted bribery of Drago Hedl, a reporter for the Telegram news website, at the start of his trial before the County Court in the eastern city of Osijek on Monday.

The hearing opened with the prosecution presenting its evidence - an audio recording of a conversation between Lučić and Hedl.

Lučić was originally indicted by the USKOK anti-corruption office in March 2018 on suspicion of attempting to bribe Hedl in 2017 when he asked Hedl not to publish an article based on information the reporter had obtained about Lučić's and his companies' financial transactions, claiming that the article would harm him as a lawmaker and businessman.

Lučić was charged with trying to persuade Hedl not to publish his article and offering to pay him three times the amount the reporter would have earned from the article from his media organisation.

The next hearing was set for March 25.

The indictment against Lučić was upheld in November 2019 after Osijek County Court did not confirm it in May because the trial chamber suspended the hearing after deciding to remove a transcript of the conversation between Lučić and Hedl as inadmissible.

The Supreme Court upheld a complaint by USKOK and subsequently admitted the private audio recording of the conversation between Hedl and Lučić.

More politics news can be found in the Politics section.

Friday, 24 January 2020

Justice Minister Regrets Croatia's Fall in Corruption Perceptions Index

ZAGREB, January 24, 2020 - Justice Minister Dražen Bošnjaković on Thursday expressed regret over Croatia's fall in the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, but added that this was "solely an impression".

Global corruption watchdog Transparency International on Thursday released the Corruption Perceptions Index for 2019, ranking Croatia 63rd among 180 countries and territories, three spots down from the previous year. This is the fourth year in a row that Croatia has been stagnating or slipping in the ranking.

"I have to express my regret that we fell again in the ranking, although this is solely an impression," Bošnjaković told a press conference after an informal meeting of EU justice ministers in Zagreb.

He said that during the process of its accession to the European Union Croatia had incorporated "many mechanisms that guarantee judicial independence." He recalled constitutional changes and methods of appointing judges and state attorneys, adding that "politics has been completely eliminated from these processes."

Bošnjaković expressed regret that these measures had not yet been recognised by the public. "We must insist on conscientious and responsible work and on better results than we have now. These results are improving from year to year," he concluded.

More news about corruption issues in Croatia can be found in the Politics section.

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Zagreb Mayor Bandić Pleads Not Guilty to Waste Management Irregularities

ZAGREB, January 22, 2020 - Zagreb mayor Milan Bandić appeared before County Court on Wednesday morning and pleaded not guilty to irregularities relating to waste management.

Also accused are the owner of the CIOS waste management company, Petar Pripuz, and another 15 defendants. They all pleaded not guilty to charges that the City had awarded the job of waste disposal to CIOS without a tender.

The trial was watched by civil society activists, including Dario Juričan, who recently ran in the presidential campaign and publicly criticised Bandić for corruption.

A group of activists met Bandić outside the courthouse, booing at him and calling him a thief. They brought him a gift for prison: a toothbrush, a towel with his name, a bar of soap, a roll of toilet paper and a bag of mandarins.

Activist Gordana Pasanec of the Siget civil society group said the group wanted the court to finally pass a final and fair judgment. "It's impossible that he is never found guilty. It is disgraceful that witness testimonies and indictments are constantly changed because of somebody's interests," she said, adding that citizens would show today that they were fed up with bribery and corruption.

The anti-corruption investigating agency USKOK submitted the indictment against the mayor of Zagreb and his associates and business partners to the court back in December 2015. Seven counts of the indictment were upheld by the court in March 2018 and three were returned to the prosecution for completion.

In late March 2019 the Zagreb County Court suspended proceedings against Bandić in the part of the indictment that charged him with defrauding the budget by not paying taxes on donations he had received after the 2010 presidential elections.

At the end of October 2019, the court upheld the part of the indictment against Bandić and Pripuz relating to waste management.

More news about Milan Bandić can be found in the Politics section.

Friday, 17 January 2020

Civil Society Groups to Organise Another Protest Against Bandić on February 1

ZAGREB, January 17, 2020 - The initiative "Zagreb is calling you" and the associations Siget, the Green Action, and The Right to the City, have announced a new protest against Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandić, to be staged on February 1 in Zagreb's central Ban Josip Jelačić Square.

The activists said the reason for the new protest against the mayor, after two were held during a recent campaign for presidential elections, was that Bandić "is keeping the 'Manhattan Project' and valuable city land for his cronies, while leaving residents of Zagreb to drown in garbage whose collection he plans to charge for even more."

The activists believe that Bandić's power in Zagreb would be much smaller if he did not enjoy the firm support of Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) deputies in the city assembly.

"Prime Minister Andrej Plenković has decided to tie his fate to then USKOK indictee and he bears full responsibility for Bandić's maltreatment of Zagreb residents," said the activists.

They said they had decided to organise the protest on February 1 because a few days after the protest the City Assembly would be deciding on changes to the city's urban development plan, of which many are problematic, which was why members of the public had submitted more than 30,000 objections but they were all rejected.

"We need an urban development plan that deals with the consequences of climate change, provides answers to the burning problem of lack of affordable housing, and offers an answer to the chaos in the system of waste management and problems created by Bandić," the protest organisers said.

More Zagreb news can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Croatian Nursing Council Condemns Grabar-Kitarović's Statement about Corruption

ZAGREB, January 14, 2020 - The Croatian Nursing Council (HKMS) on Tuesday condemned a statement made by President Kolinda Grabar Kitarović in which she mentioned nurses in the context of corruption.

Talking about corruption in Croatian society, Grabar-Kitarović said that "friends asked her why she did not take anything to the hospital, because nurses expect that." The President insinuated that nurses "expect gifts" from their patients, HKMS stated.

"Nurses and medical technicians do their jobs in a professional and ethical manner, and they are wholeheartedly committed to their patients' well-being. We find linking this humane profession with corruptive actions unacceptable," they stated.

"Every concerned citizen who knows of or suspects a crime is being committed has the duty to report it, indicating the full name of the suspected person. Labelling nursing as a corrupt profession is unacceptable," said the president of the Croatian Nursing Council (HKMS) Mario Gazić.

The Croatian Nursing Council expects the government to finally start addressing the many burning issues in nursing, such as the shortage of nurses, non-recognition of nursing college degrees, poor organization and unsustainable working conditions in nursing, underpayment, injustices in promotions, irregular distribution of the workload, unclear systematization of work positions, and increasingly frequent cases of verbal and physical violence, HKMS said in a press release.

More health news can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Thursday, 9 January 2020

Juričan Continues His Campaign to Highlight Problem of Corruption

ZAGREB, January 9, 2020 - Film director Dario Juričan, who ran in the recent presidential election under the slogan "Corruption for All", highlighting the problem of corruption in Croatia, and who came in fifth, on Wednesday put up a tent outside the Zagrebački Holding multi-utility conglomerate in Zagreb, calling on "the Croatian people: criminals and others, to come and take their share of the city company".

"I am a petty criminal while those sitting across (in Zagrebaćki Holding) are nice people," Juričan told reporters, calling on citizens to come to his tent as part of the campaign "100% for Croatia & 366% for Holding" (an allusion to the slogan of a 2015 war veterans' protest and the name of Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandić's party), and help themselves to roast lamb.

Commenting on Mayor Bandić, who has been the main target of his campaign, Juričan said that he was "a reputable man who has taken Zagreb to European heights", and promised to name streets, avenues and parks after Bandić as much as possible.

Juričan also called on President-elect Zoran Milanović to come to his tent to spend some time with the people, noting that "if he does not come, that will mean that he is not a president from the people."

"He has allegedly said that he is a big fighter against corruption so he should come and support us, and it would also be good if he gave me the embassies in Indonesia and Romania where I won the elections, that's the minimum I expect of him," Juričan said.

Juričan's performance was announced on his Facebook wall, entitled "I want to be Milan Bandić, President of Croatia."

"To the Croatian people: Criminals and all the others, come to take your share of Zagrebački Holding which you have cheatingly won in the presidential election by voting for me," Juričan wrote.

The performance, to last until Thursday morning, includes "lamb eating, bribing of the media, consultations on how to steal off the Zagreb Advent event, as well as hiring at the Knjižnice chain of city libraries, the Čistoća city sanitation company and the Gradska Groblja city cemetery management company.

More Zagreb news can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Sunday, 29 December 2019

EU Tells Croatia It Hasn't Eradicated Corruption

ZAGREB, December 29, 2019 - The European Commission has warned Croatia that it has not eradicated corruption and that it should reform the system of public salaries, stimulate a longer working life and bring order in healthcare, Jutarnji List daily reports on Sunday.

Fighting corruption, notably locally and in public companies, reforming the public pay system, reducing healthcare budget risks, stimulating a longer working life and improving the welfare system are the main reform measures totally lacking in Croatia, the Commission says in its annual review of progress made in public policy measures to correct macroeconomic imbalances, the daily reports.

The review was made at the end of November and covers the period until November 5.

Aside from those measures, the Commission demands Croatia intensify efforts in reforms which are at a standstill, stagnating or not being implemented energetically enough, such as strengthening fiscal responsibility, modernising public administration, improving the state assets management, privatising state assets, reforming regulated professions, reducing parafiscal levies and reducing case backlogs.

As for reforms that are being implemented at an adequate pace, the Commission mentions the education reform and the regulatory reform.

As a result of the reform shortcomings, the biggest problems of the Croatian economy, despite the measures undertaken on the labour market, are a low active population rate and low productivity growth.

In the 2015-17 period, Croatia grew above the potential growth and since then the economy has grown somewhat in line with its capacity, with GDP in 2019 reaching the level of 2008, Jutarnji says, adding that unless the necessary reforms are launched, the economy will grow below its potential as of 2021.

More news about corruption issues can be found in the Politics section.

Thursday, 12 December 2019

Presidential Candidate "Renames" Zagreb Streets, Dedicating Them to Bribery, Corruption

ZAGREB, December 12, 2019 - Presidential candidate Dario Juričan on Thursday staged a mock show called "An operation to save Croatia" during which he changed the name of Zagreb's King Zvonimir Street to Dr. Ivo Sanader Street, while the Victims of Fascism Square was renamed the Square of USKOK Victims, and the Square of Croatian Great Men the Square of Croatian Tycoons.

Juričan, who during his presidential campaign has been introducing himself as Milan Bandić, briefly put up signs with the new street names, promising that once he came to power, he would "release the former prime minister and HDZ leader from prison" and "turn (the anti-corruption office) USKOK into a PR agency."

"We have renamed this street the Street of Dr. Ivo Sanader. He is a historic figure, an HDZ giant of whom the HDZ is ashamed," Juričan said, adding that Sanader advocated the same values as he did - "corruption for everyone and not just (those in power)."

Juričan briefly renamed the Square of Victims of Fascism the Square of USKOK's Victims, announcing that he would abolish USKOK, the office specialising in the fight against corruption and organised crime.

He said that he had renamed the Square of Croatian Great Men the Square of Croatian Tycoons in honour of Josip Gucić, Miroslav Kutle, Zdravko Mamić and Ivica Todorić, concluding that "those people have been neglected by the state."

Before his performance, Juričan showed reporters his banknotes featuring his image and the slogan "Visionary of corruption" and "Corruption, now or never". After he handed them out, pretending it was a bribe, Juričan said, "Now that we have done this, let's get to work", an allusion to an expression used frequently by Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandić.

More news about presidential elections can be found in the Politics section.

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Corruption Perception Among Croatian Companies Higher Than EU Average

ZAGREB, December 10, 2019 - Six in ten companies in the EU believe that tax rates, swift changes of laws and policies, and complex administrative procedures are their main problems in doing business, according to the findings of a Eurobarometer survey of the business sector's corruption perception.

The findings, published on International Anti-Corruption Day, show a downward corruption trend but 63% of the companies polled consider corruption to be widespread. In 2013, 75% of companies said corruption was widespread.

The corruption survey has been carried out since 2013 every two years. The latest one was carried out by phone in October, covering 7,722 companies in the EU28, including 300 in Croatia.

In Croatia, 76% of respondents consider tax rates to be a problem while 22% think they are not. In the EU28, 63% of respondents believe tax rates are a problem while 35% think they are not.

In Croatia, swift changes of laws and policies are a problem for 80% of respondents (63% in EU28), while they are not for 19% (36% in EU28).

In Croatia, complex administrative procedures are a problem for 70% of respondents (62% in EU28), restrictive labour regulations for 59% (48% in EU28), and inadequate infrastructure for 57% (46% in EU 28).

Lack of means or debt collection procedures is a problem for 64% of Croatian companies (45% in EU28), sponsorship and nepotism for 51% (37% in EU28), corruption for 57% (37% in EU28), and access to financing for 38% (36% in EU28).

Asked how widespread corruption was in their country in their opinion, 91% of respondents in Croatia said it was widespread and 6% that it was rare (63% and 30% in the EU28 respectively).

The feeling that corruption is widespread in their country has dropped in relation to 2017 in companies in 17 member states, while increasing in 11.

More news about the corruption issue can be found in the Politics section.

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