Monday, 17 December 2018

Text Messages Affair Discussed at National Security Council

ZAGREB, December 17, 2018 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Monday that the National Security Council discussed a number of topics today – the programme of activities of security and intelligence agencies, relations with neighbouring countries, the migration issue, information security – adding that there was also mention of "the text messages affair" but that no individual names were discussed.

"We can say that this issue was also mentioned and in two ways: First, that light needs to be shed on the affair all the way and second, that all those involved in information leaking, and they are part of the police or other prosecution systems, must be held responsible," Plenković told a news conference.

Plenković said that "no names have been mentioned," "only models for resolving situations like this one." Asked if the text messages scandal was dragging for too long, the prime minister said that "any topic as complex and as sensitive as this one requires time."

Asked about his opinion now, given that in the past he said that "it seems that the situation is getting worse by the day," Plenković said he stood by his statement.

Asked to comment on announcements of a further expansion of Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandić's parliamentary group and media speculations that Bandić's new MPs would not be from the ranks of the Social Democrats (SDP), Plenković said he knew nothing about that. Bandić's parliamentary group has announced that it will have 13 MPs by the end of the year and 16 MPs next year.

MPs who left the HDZ parliamentary group should have never been there in the first place, Plenković said.

Plenković reiterated that the HDZ had not talked to anyone and that the question of why "some people are leaving the SDP, because that party is falling apart and they no longer see the point of them staying with the party, should be directed at the SDP," Plenković said.

The fact that they want to support the majority is their choice and we will not stop anyone from supporting the work of the government, Plenković said. He declined to comment on media headlines about a change of coalition partners and a government reshuffle.

Commenting on alleged police brutality against migrants, Plenković said this case was very well clarified by the Interior Ministry. "This is something called the institute of returning people at the very state border, where authorities see people in attempts to illegally cross the border, Plenković said.

More news on the text messages affair can be found in our Politics section.

Friday, 14 December 2018

Prosecution Amends Indictment Against Zagreb Mayor Bandić

ZAGREB, December 14, 2018 - The national anti-corruption prosecutorial agency USKOK has amended an indictment against Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandić on suspicion that he and his associates favoured a company owned by businessman Petar Pripuz when awarding a waste disposal job, whereby Bandić allegedly defrauded the city budget of over 3 million kuna.

The amendments which USKOK submitted to Zagreb County Court on Friday also refer to suspicion that by evading to pay taxes on donations for his presidential campaign, Mayor Bandić defrauded the state budget of 542,000 kuna.

Apart from Bandić, the amended indictment implicates businessman Pripuz, former senior executive in the Zagrebački Holding company Slobodan Ljubičić, Bandić's advisor Željko Horvat, and four more suspects of being involved in a number of corruption-related crimes causing financial harm to the city budget.

USKOK requested merging this case with a trial on a scandal dubbed "Agram" which started before Zagreb County Court in mid-October.

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

Friday, 7 December 2018

Prosecution Appeals against Zagreb Mayor Acquittal

ZAGREB, December 7, 2018 - The anti-corruption agency USKOK has appealed against Zagreb County Court's acquittal of Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandić and his associates Ivan Lovrić and Zdenka Palac of the charges that they favoured the civil society group In the Name of the Family by allowing that NGO to use city stalls, free of charge, to collect signatures for a referendum on changes to the election law, thus defrauding the city budget of 308,000 kuna.

USKOK has appealed against the non-final ruling of October 19 citing significant breaches of the Penal Code and saying that the reasons stated in the ruling are unclear and, to a considerable degree, contradictory.

USKOK also believes that the county court had erroneously determined facts in the case and that it wrongly concluded that there was no evidence that the accused had committed the crimes they were charged with.

USKOK has suggested that the Supreme Court find the accused guilty or annul the county court ruling and order a retrial.

Before the end of the trial, USKOK amended its indictment to charge Bandić with not only abuse of office but also with influence peddling involving Palac, director of the city company operating farmers markets.

At the same time, the charges against Lovrić were changed and he was eventually not charged with abuse of office but with abetting and aiding abuse of office, while the charges against Palac remained the same.

Aside from this case, Bandić has been indicted in one more case, dubbed Agram, which involves charges of defrauding the city and state budgets. Bandić pleaded not guilty at the start of that trial, too.

For more on the Zagreb mayor, click here.

Thursday, 22 November 2018

USKOK Anti-Organised Crime Office Gets News Director

ZAGREB, November 22, 2018 - In her first appearance before the press since her appointment, the new director of the Office for the Suppression of Organized Crime and Corruption (USKOK), Vanja Marušić, pointed out the need for legislative amendments so that USKOK can work more efficiently on the most complex cases, adding that one of her first steps would be to meet with crime police heads to discuss the directions of their joint work.

Marušić said that she could not specify which legislative amendments might be made because this was something that isn't dealt with by the Chief State Prosecutor's Office alone, but also by the courts, the Justice Ministry and other institutions and experts.

Those amendments need to make sure that USKOK can work on the most complex corruption cases in the public and private sectors and on the most complex forms of organised crime. However, this does not mean backing down from the fundamental principle of zero tolerance to corruption, Marušić said.

She said that she expected support from the chief state prosecutor with regard to logistics, including the provision of adequate premises and hiring of IT and financial forensic experts.

In addition to good cooperation with the police, Marušić pointed out the importance of citizens' trust and support. "USKOK has always been and will be open to anyone who has information on corruption and are prepared to cooperate in proving criminal acts. Naturally, that doesn't mean that citizens should do USKOK's job, but the reality is that USKOK can't be present in all institutions and social spheres and have direct knowledge of all illegal activities," Marušić said.

She added that USKOK required good and checkable information that can be transformed into quality evidence and result in convictions.

Asked whether she was satisfied with USKOK's work so far and its image in the public, Marušić said that the public perception of the work of the judiciary generally isn't positive and that it is gauged by successes in "big cases." However, the greatest problem is the long duration of cases before the courts which USKOK isn't satisfied with either, and in that regard it is necessary to amend legislation to ensure efficiency and to expedite procedures, she concluded.

For more on the corruption issue in Croatia, click here.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Conflict of Interest Commission Clashes with Government

ZAGREB, November 21, 2018 - The chair of the Conflict of Interest Commission, Nataša Novaković, dismissed on Tuesday as "absolutely inappropriate" the statement by Public Administration Minister Lovro Kuščević that the Commission is slowly being put in the service of politics, saying that the Commission is an independent body and will not be influenced by politics.

Novaković had announced in an interview with the "24 sata" (24 Hours) newspaper that the Conflict of Interest Commission would look into the November 7 trip of a delegation of the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) party to a European People's Party (EPP) conference in Helsinki by government plane as well as who had paid for the officials' accommodation and possibly per diems.

Speaking to reporters earlier in the day, Kuščević said he had not received any request for information from the Conflict of Interest Commission. "I must say that there is certain concern in legal circles in Croatia about the quality of decisions rendered by the Commission. We have seen that its decisions have been frequently overturned by the Administrative Court. ... This is really a matter for concern and it suggests that this Commission, which should be apolitical and independent, is slowly being put in the service of politics. We could also see this in the case of former chair Dalija Orešković, and I wouldn't want other Commission members to follow her example," Kuščević said. He added that the Commission should do its job, but should not be politicised.

Commenting on Kuščević's statement following a query from Hina, Novaković said: "The Commission is an independent body and it will not be, nor has it been, influenced by politics. I don't understand the context in which Mr Kuščević advised the Commission to deal with the law and not with politics. We do not deal with politics at all. The Commission is a neutral body and I think that the minister's decision to communicate in this way with an independent body is absolutely inappropriate."

As for the case in question, she said that the Commission had opened it on Friday and had met on Monday to discuss what questions to address to state bodies. She said that most of the letters had already been sent to the relevant authorities. "If they don't get the requests for information and documentation by the close of business today, they will certainly get them tomorrow," Novaković said.

Novaković said that in the last six years the Commission had rendered 537 decisions, of which 10 percent ended up before the Administrative Court. Five decisions have been overturned by final rulings and another two have been overturned pending completion of the appeal process, she added.

For more on the conflict of interest issues in Croatia, click here.

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Political Scandals Multiplying

ZAGREB, October 23, 2018 - President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović commented on Tuesday on the involvement of her national security advisor Vlado Galić in the "fake text messages" scandal, saying that she was not aware that Galić had contacted the main protagonist in the scandal, Franjo Varga, a former police IT specialist accused of making fake text messages, but she would not give any statement on Galić's behalf.

Monday, 22 October 2018

Former Prime Minister Sentenced to Prison for War Profiteering

ZAGREB, October 22, 2018 - Former prime minister and former HDZ president Ivo Sanader was found guilty of war profiteering on Monday in a Hypo case retrial and sentenced to two and a half years pending appeal. Zagreb County Court judge Jasna Galešić said Sanader must return 3.6 million kuna into the state budget.

Monday, 22 October 2018

Suspects in “Fake Text Messages” Affair to Remain in Custody

ZAGREB, October 22, 2018 - The Osijek County Court has decided that former police IT specialist Franjo Varga and Agriculture Minister Tomislav Tolušić's chauffeur Blaž Curić will stay in custody for two more months. Varga is suspected of creating fake text messages for former Dinamo football club executive Zdravko Mamić, while Curić is suspected of having tipped off Varga that he was under police investigation and was about to be arrested.

Friday, 19 October 2018

President Criticises Citizens for Being Preoccupied with Scandals

ZAGREB, October 19, 2018 - President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović said on Thursday the Croatian public was too preoccupied with scandals and that her obligation was to work on improving living conditions and raising citizen's optimism.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Former PM Sanader’s Verdict Expected Next Week

ZAGREB, October 16, 2018 - A verdict against former prime minister Ivo Sanader in the retrial in the Hypo case, in which he is accused of abuse of office and war profiteering and which is just one of the trials conducted against him since he stepped down, will be delivered on October 22.

Page 8 of 16