Tuesday, 11 February 2020

Indictment Against Škaro "On Hold" Pending Decision on Evidence Admissibility

ZAGREB, February 11, 2020 - The indictment panel of the county court in Velika Gorica did not decide on Tuesday on the merits of the charge against Damir Škaro, a former member of Parliament from the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and former president of the Siget Automobile Club, who had been charged with rape and sexual harassment of an employee.

Court spokesperson Ante Željko told Hina that the indictment panel's session had been postponed following a request by the defence that all records of the examination of the victim and the witnesses should be declared inadmissible.

"The court has rejected the motion, but the defence has the right to appeal," Željko said, adding that the session of the indictment panel, which can uphold the indictment, dismiss it or return it to the prosecution for improvement, would continue after a higher court's decision on the admissibility of the evidence.

At the end of November 2019, the Velika Gorica county prosecutor's office charged Škaro with sexual harassment and rape of a female employee at the Siget Automobile Club between June and August 9 last year.

Škaro, who did not appear before the court in Velika Gorica on Tuesday, was released from detention on October 24, 2019 pending completion of the trial. He had been in detention since September due to the risk that he could tamper with witnesses or repeat the offence.

The criminal complaint was filed by a doctor after the victim told her that Škaro had sexually assaulted her on the premises of the Siget Automobile Club early in August.

Following the allegations, the HDZ Zagreb branch launched a disciplinary procedure against its former memebr of parliament, Olympic bronze medallist in boxing and former president of the Automobile Club Siget.

More politics news can be found in the dedicated 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.

Saturday, 11 January 2020

State Prosecutor Displeased at Sitting Next to Indicted Zagreb Mayor Bandić

ZAGREB, January 11, 2020 - Chief State Prosecutor Dražen Jelenić sent a letter to the government on Friday in which he expressed his displeasure with the seating arrangement during a concert at the Croatian National Theatre held on the occasion of Croatia's EU presidency, his office (DORH) said. Jelenić was caught on camera sitting in a box next to Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandić, against whom DORH has filed a number of indictments which have been upheld.

In a press release on its website, DORH referred journalists to putting questions about protocol and the seating arrangement to the organiser of Thursday night's event.

DORH said that since Jelenić confirmed that he would attend, the organiser "could have made a seating arrangement that would not bring into doubt the independence and impartiality" of Jelenić or DORH.

Jelenić believes that staying in the box he was put in by the government's Office for Protocol, without knowing the seating arrangement, was an appropriate reaction at an event of such high international standing, DORH said, adding that in response to the inappropriate seating arrangement, Jelenić sent the government a letter to express his displeasure.

DORH also noted that sitting at such an event next to a guest who is under criminal prosecution in no way influenced DORH's actions.

Mayor Bandić said he did not feel bad about having sat next to Chief State Prosecutor Jelenić at yesterday's concert. "Justice wins in the end. The presumption of innocence applies to the Zagreb mayor too," he told reporters.

Asked if he knew he would be sitting next to Jelenić, Bandić said he was sitting in a box in which the government's Office for Protocol placed state officials, including him as a co-host.

The Office for Protocol placed the mayor where it should have and the mayor goes where he is invited and where they sit him, he added.

The seating arrangement at the HNK concert was prepared by the Office for Protocol according to the order of precedence and respecting the fact that a high number of international guests attended the event, the government said on Friday after photos appeared of the chief state prosecutor and the Zagreb Mayor in the same box.

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

Friday, 3 January 2020

Report on State of Prisons and Correctional System Presented

ZAGREB, January 3, 2020 - The government on Friday adopted a report on the state and functioning of prisons and the correctional system in 2018.

Croatia has 14 prisons, seven correctional facilities and two juvenile correctional facilities with a total capacity of 3,900 prisoners. Over 11,000 prisoners passed through the prison system in 2018, Justice Minister Dražen Bošnjaković said while presenting the report.

A total of 4,119 prisoners were serving prison terms, over 4,000 were held in investigative custody, while the others were held in connection with minor offences.

"It is important to note that these 11,000 prisoners were subjected to only 56 coercive measures. That means that the conditions in our prisons are not such as would require the use of physical force, but that the system is well organised and functioning," Bošnjaković said.

He said that 18 inmates had died in prison in 2018 for various reasons, such as heart attack, and there was medical documentation for each case. "We are trying to give the best service we can, and if that is not enough, we refer them to other hospitals," the minister added.

The report shows that prisoners were mostly serving time for crimes against life and limb (36.59%), crimes against property (32.98%), crimes against values protected by international law (9.79%), crimes against sexual freedom and sexual morality (7.73%), crimes against security of payment and business transactions (2.92%) and crimes against public security of people and property (2.74%).

It also shows that the number of attempted prison escapes fell to five from six in 2017.

More news about the justice system in Croatia can be found in the Politics section.

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

News Agencies Report about Verdict against Sanader

ZAGREB, December 31, 2019 - Foreign news agencies on Monday carried reports of a non-final verdict against former Croatian prime minister Ivo Sanader and Hungarian MOL energy group executive Zsolt Hernadi, sentenced for bribery to six and two years in prison respectively, stressing that the Croatian court did not accept conclusions by an independent UN commission.

Earlier on Monday the former Croatian prime minister and the MOL executive director were found guilty of taking and receiving a bribe in the INA-MOL case.

Explaining the retrial verdict, Zagreb County Court judge Maja Štampar Stipić said Sanader had arranged with Hernadi to give MOL controlling rights in its Croatian peer INA in exchange for €10 million. In doing so, Sanader used his position and authority as prime minister to make it seem that it was necessary to divest INA's gas business and change the shareholders' agreement, the judge added.

The Hungarian news agency MTI carried MOL's comment in which the Hungarian company expressed dissatisfaction with the verdict, saying that Hungarian courts as well as the UN Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) established that the law had not been broken in the INA-MOL case.

MOL also claimed that this was not the first unfair trial in Croatia, dismissing the corruption charges and noting that it would continue to defend itself against unfounded accusations.

The Serbian news agency Tanjug, too, carried the comment by MOL, which also recalled that the verdict to Sanader and Hernadi was based on the testimony of only one witness who during the retrial had proved entirely unreliable.

Tanjug also reports that Hernadi continues to enjoy the trust of all MOL Group boards.

The Beta news agency reported that the verdict against the once most powerful Croatian politician and the Hungarian executive was announced in their absence as Hernadi is beyond the reach of Croatian authorities while Sanader stayed in Zagreb's Remetinec prison.

Agence France-Presse quoted prosecutor Tonči Petković as saying that as the highest state official, Sanader had jeopardised Croatia's vital economic interests.

AFP says that Sanader is the highest political official convicted of corruption since Croatia declared independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991, but also that the fight against corruption was one of the key factors for Croatia's accession to the EU in 2013.

Reuters quoted Zagreb County Court president Ivan Turudic as saying that a warrant had been issued for Hernadi's arrest and that Hungary should act on it.

The agency recalls that the verdict may be appealed against but also stresses that it is a new chapter in a legal saga that has been going on for more than a decade.

In the initial trial Sanader was sentenced to eight and a half years in prison. Apart from being tried for receiving a bribe from Hernadi, he was also tried for war profiteering in the Hypo case, namely for receiving a commission from that bank which granted Croatia a loan at the time of the Homeland War. In a retrial he was convicted to two and a half years for that crime, but the time spent in custody was credited to his sentence so he did not have to return to prison.

However, he was again placed in custody in April after the Supreme Court increased his sentence in the Planinska case so he was again behind bars at the time when the verdict in the INA-MOL case was announced.

The trial against Sanader in the Fimi Media case is still under way. In that case, he was originally sentenced to nine years' in prison pending appeal, but the Supreme Court quashed the verdict.

More news about Ivo Sanader can be found in the Politics section.

Thursday, 19 December 2019

Establishment of High Criminal Court Delayed by Constitutional Court

ZAGREB, December 19, 2019 - Constitutional Court President Miroslav Šeparović said on Wednesday that a decision on whether the establishment of the High Criminal Court, which should start operating on 1 January 2020, was in line with the Constitution, would be delivered within a reasonable period of time, in a few months.

Commenting on the decision to launch the procedure to determine if legal provisions envisaging the establishment of the High Criminal Court are in line with the Constitution, Šeparović told Hina the decision was made in order to prevent serious or irreparable consequences.

The Constitutional Court will therefore investigate whether the establishment of the High Criminal Court, as the highest court in the country, violates the constitutional status of the Supreme Court.

"The delay should not last longer than a few months," Šeparović said.

After on Tuesday it decided to temporarily postpone the implementation of legal regulations concerning the establishment and inauguration of the High Criminal Court, the Constitutional Court notified the State Judicial Council and the Supreme Court of its decision.

The decision will most probably be published on Friday, Šeparović said, explaining that the decision was not adopted unanimously and that the three dissenting opinions had to be written first.

Until the final decision by the Constitutional Court on the complaint of unconstitutionality, submitted by Social Democrat MPs Peđa Grbin and Orsat Miljenić, the 11 judges of the High Criminal Court will not be sworn in.

Šeparović underlined that that solution did not prejudge the final decision of the Constitutional Court.

Ivan Turudić, a newly-elected judge of the new court, who was previously entrusted by the justice minister with founding the High Criminal Court, told Hina that the Constitutional Court's decision was such due to its conclusion that the two pre-holiday weeks is too little time to make a competent decision.

Justice Minister Dražen Bošnjaković said before a government session on Wednesday that the Constitutional Court's decision to launch the procedure to determine if the legal regulations on the establishment of the High Criminal Court are in line with the Constitution is a procedural decision and noted that the establishment of the new court was good for standardising court practice.

More news about Croatian judiciary can be found in the Politics section.

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Regional Cooperation in War Crimes Prosecution Should Comply with European Standards

ZAGREB, December 18, 2019 - Chief State Prosecutor Dražen Jelenić said in Sarajevo on Wednesday that regional cooperation in the prosecution of war crimes should comply with European standards and that currently it was not realistic to expect a separate agreement on the mutual extradition of war crimes suspects.

The establishment of a mechanism or the signing of an agreement between countries in the region on the mutual extradition of war crimes suspects in not realistic for the time being, Jelenić said, expressing at the same time readiness to cooperate on the basis of existing laws.

Jelenić was participating in a meeting of representatives of regional prosecutorial authorities, which was also attended by the Chief Prosecutor of the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT), Serge Brammertz.

In a statement to Hina, Jelenić said that it was primarily important for Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina to align their actions with the legal standards in force in the EU, including Croatia.

"... that would include the application of the European arrest warrant, which regulates and enables the extradition of a country's citizens to other countries for any criminal offence," said Jelenić.

He assessed regional cooperation in war crimes cases as satisfactory but noted that it could definitely be better.

This requires overcoming obstacles that concern the countries' legal systems as they are no longer as compatible as they were before the break-up of the former state, he said.

"In a way, Croatia's membership of the EU and the high legal standards that we have to comply with, as well as rulings of the European Court of Human Rights, complicate the situation. We are trying to explain our legal situation to our colleagues in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia and expect them to adjust their actions in cases requiring regional cooperation to those high standards," Jelenić said.

He confirmed that Croatia wanted to step up cooperation, notably with Serbia, in obtaining evidence in war crimes cases for the purpose of their prosecution.

"We are aware that a large body of evidence as well as a large number of perpetrators are in Serbia, and the problem with that country is that those perpetrators are not prosecuted in line with command responsibility," he said.

MICT Chief Prosecutor Brammertz said at the Sarajevo meeting that closer cooperation between the prosecutorial authorities in the countries in the region was necessary to complete the prosecution of the numerous war crimes cases, warning that in the last three years little had been done in the region in terms of the transfer of cases.

More news about war crimes prosecution can be found in the Politics section.

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

First Indictment Against Todorić Upheld

ZAGREB, December 17, 2019 - The Zagreb County Court on Tuesday upheld the first indictment against the former owner of the Agrokor food and retail concern, Ivica Todorić, former Agrokor managers Ante Huljev and Piruška Canjuga, and Austrian national Nicole de Rossi.

The prosecution alleges that Todorić, as Agrokor Management Board chair, and Huljev, as the company's executive director of finance, in 2013 abused their powers by enabling the payment of 1.25 million euro of the company's money to a Swiss company for fictitious consulting services.

Through this operation the Swiss company obtained illegal gain while Agrokor was defrauded of 1.25 million euro, the county prosecutor's office said after issuing the indictment in late September.

De Rossi is charged with helping Todorić and Huljev by issuing a bill on behalf of the Swiss company for the fictitious consulting services.

The indictment alleges that the actual owners of the Swiss company were Huljev and Canjuga.

The indictees are charged with incitement to and aiding and abetting abuse of trust in business operations.

Todoric has been under investigation since November 2017 on the suspicion of making an illegal gain of more than a billion kuna. That investigation also covers his sons Ivan and Ante Todorić and 12 Agrokor managers and auditors.

Investigative custody was set only for Ivica Todorić, who after his extradition from London to Croatia was taken to Zagreb's Remetinec prison but on 20 November 2018 he was released on bail in the amount of 7.5 million kuna and banned from leaving Zagreb.

More news about Ivica Todorić can be found in the Politics section.

Monday, 9 December 2019

Cocaine Smugglers Should Be Tried in Croatia

ZAGREB, December 9, 2019 - Under an agreement with representatives of institutions of all the countries that participated in Operation Familia and Eurojust, criminal proceedings against people who smuggled 600 kilograms of cocaine from South America to Europe and the Middle East should be conducted mostly in Croatia, the Croatian anti-corruption agency USKOK said on Monday.

Croatia is in the best position to prosecute the organised criminal group whose members, including a Croatian national, were arrested in July while transporting 600 kilograms of cocaine, it was decided at a meeting at Eurojust, which was attended, along with USKOK officials, by Czech, Italian, French and Swiss prosecutors.

During this international operation, Montenegrin national Michael Dokovich, Czech national Ales Skolnik and Croatian national Silvio Beljević were arrested in Basel on July 13 and were extradited to Croatia in November. The three men are charged, together with five other persons, with conspiracy to smuggle drugs, abuse of authority, document forgery and illegal possession of weapons.

Dokovich is charged with forming a criminal group which smuggled large quantities of cocaine aboard jet planes from South America to Europe and the Middle East. Dokovich was born in Podgorica as Iljmija Frključić. He has used numerous pseudonyms since and was under investigation by US security services several times.

US media have reported about Dokovich several times, saying that he was one of the first people in the USA who committed computer fraud, and he was also brought into connection with a group responsible for arson, insurance and bank fraud, theft of postal parcels, drug smuggling and robberies of jeweller's stores.

After the transfer of the three accused from Switzerland, Croatia now has in its custody five accused in the case. The search is still underway for two more persons from Serbia and a national of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Serbia has launched the procedure to transfer prosecutorial activities in the case to Croatia. Criminal proceedings are also under way in the Czech Republic against the Czech national, the remaining member of the criminal group, who was arrested in that country.

Operation Familia was carried out by Croatian authorities in cooperation with the relevant institutions of the Czech Republic, Serbia, Switzerland and France. Slovenia, Belgium and the Netherlands as well as Italy contributed to the investigation.

The implementation of this complex operation has resulted in the confiscation of one million euro in cash as well as luxury items worth several hundred thousand euro, found in Dokovich's car and house in Zagreb's Šestine neighbourhood. Owing to the results of the operation, an additional 421 kilograms of cocaine were found and confiscated in Hong Kong.

More crime news can be found in the News section.

Friday, 6 December 2019

Breaches of Right to Effective Investigation Account for 5% of Croatian Cases at ECHR

ZAGREB, December 6, 2019 - Ksenija Turković, a Croatian judge at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), said on Thursday that by the end of 2018 the ECHR had passed 22 verdicts for breaches of the right to an effective investigation against Croatia, which accounts for around 5% of all ECHR verdicts related to Croatia.

Turković was speaking at a conference of the Croatian Association for Criminal Sciences and Practice.

Breaches of articles of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms concerning the effectiveness of investigations are among the more frequent cases from Croatia that were adjudicated by the ECHR, it was said at the event, which focused on ways to strengthen the effectiveness of criminal proceedings by applying ECHR standards.

The event brought together researchers, representatives of prosecutorial authorities, judges and criminal lawyers as well as representatives of other high judicial institutions in Croatia and Europe.

The association's president, Zlata Đurđević, said that by the end of 2018, 22 cases of violation of the right to an effective investigation had been determined in cases from Croatia. The figure includes a number of cases of war crimes against civilians and cases from other areas, she said.

ECHR judge Turković said that the 22 cases in which the effectiveness of the investigation was violated accounted for around 5% of all ECHR verdicts against Croatia, which, she said, was not a negligible percentage.

She said that in terms of their number, that type of violations stood out considering that there was not one dominant group of cases from Croatia and the cases were varied.

Turković said one of the reasons for the high number of such cases was the fact that Croatia lacked its own mechanism to deal with breaches of the right to an effective investigation, so all such cases immediately ended up before the ECHR.

She expressed hope a solution would be found soon, noting that the Constitutional Court had been considering issues related to investigation effectiveness since 2014.

More human rights news can be found in the Politics section.

Page 2 of 7