Friday, 21 April 2023

A Week in Croatian Politics - EU, OECD, USKOK, HDZ and Other Abbreviations

April the 21st, 2023 - This week in Croatian politics, we've seen HDZ still being chosen as the favourite on the political scene, Croatia's WWII past has been revisited once again, and two big names from the OECD and the EU have paid visits to Zagreb.

A new survey has revealed that HDZ is still the favourite among voters, for some reason

As Index reports, just how much the constant turbulence within the weird world of Croatian politics really affects the popularity of the main actors on the ''stage'' was checked in HRT's recently carried out HRating. This monthly survey included 1,100 respondents, with the largest possible error being +/- 3.54%, and the reliability standing at 95%. This data was collected from April the 14th to the 18th, 2023.

No event or situation has yet appeared within Croatian politics that would quicken the pulse of the Croatian voter and change their long standing political sympathies. Remarkable, I know. The survey proves that - the months go by, the surveys are taken, but everything remains the same. This "same" means that HDZ is still somehow the favourite of the Croatian voter. Followed by... you guessed it! SDP.

Along with HDZ and SDP, only three other parties managed to cross the electoral threshold

The strongest among them - Mozemo! (We Can!), is close to 10%. It is followed by Most (Bridge) with the support of 9% of the country's voters. Domovinski pokret (Homeland Movement) concludes this group of five safe parliamentary parties. This month it is at 6%. From the "powerless" crowd for whom the parliamentary mandate should be just a fiction, the party headed by the mayor of Split jumps out - and Centar (Centre) is currently at 3.4% and its rating is currently stable.

All the others, and there are still 13 of them in the survey, may as well not even really exist. They stand little to zero chances of making it into any sort of powerful political position in Croatia as a single constituency unless some big changes occur. These are: HSS and Radnicka fronta (Workers' front) which tie in terms of their voter support, followed by Fokus (Focus) and Hrvatski suverinisti (Croatian sovereignists).

At a recently held government session, Plenkovic spoke about Jasenovac and claims that the behaviour of some MPs isn't acceptable

At the most recently held session of the Croatian Government, the decision on granting prior consent and the decision on granting a state guarantee for long term credit to the company Hrvatske ceste/Croatian roads were on the agenda. That consent and credit would be given in order order to finance ongoing projects and the company's business plan this year. The opening speech at the session was delivered by Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic.

"The Ston ring road is very well made, it's an extremely valuable strategic project for Croatia," he began, before also referring to the latest assessment by the Fitch agency, which confirmed Croatia's BBB+ rating. "They recognise the direction we're going in, as well as the reform efforts and resistance to the crisis we've shown. We can also see that our trend is going better than planned, and that inflation is decreasing," Plenkovic said, adding that OECD Secretary General Mathias Cormann had paid a recent visit to the country.

"This is an organisation that has very, very high standards, both in combating corruption and in numerous sectors, so we'll further stimulate our reform process with activities related to the OECD. For us, it's the last step for Croatia's international positioning," Plenkovic added.

The Prime Minister condemned some opposition MPs and their apparently "unacceptable" behaviour

He referred to the recent chaos in parliament which unfolded during the debate on amendments to the law on offenses against public order and peace. To quickly remind you, it was especially stormy when the discussion started about the greeting "Za dom spremni'' (Ready for the homeland), which is generally deemed an "Ustasa" phrase with Nazi connotations and for which an individual could be fined up to 4000 euros for using. Of course, the history behind that phrase is deeper than just "It was used during the brief period of the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) and so it must be banned'' but we won't get into the ins and outs of that (or any connotations with the Homeland War) in this article.

"We consider the performances and statements of individual members of parliament yesterday to be inappropriate, and we believe that this is unacceptable, especially the aggressive approach that was directed towards the president of the parliament (Goran Jandrokovic)," said Plenkovic.

This Sunday, a joint commemoration will be held at the location where the Jasenovac concentration camp stood, where representatives of Jewish municipalities will also be present, who in previous years refused to come because they were dissatisfied with the government's attitude towards Croatia's position during WWII and the Ustasa regime in general.

"We're glad that this year, the Council of the Jewish Municipality of Zagreb and the Coordination of Jewish Municipalities in Croatia will also respond to the invitation of the Director of the Public Institution of the Jasenovac Memorial Area to participate in the commemoration,'' concluded Plenkovic.

Is the new Office for the Suppression of Corruption and Organised Crime's new boss going to be the woman put ex PM Ivo Sanader behind bars?

Zeljka Mostecak, the deputy chief state attorney, has been mentioned as a potential new director of the Office for the Suppression of Corruption and Organised Crime (USKOK) after the departure of Vanja Marusic, reports

To be clear, we're talking about a female prosecutor who has many years of experience under her belt and who was the main prosecutor in some of the most famous cases related to corruption in independent Croatia. Mostecak was, it should be mentioned, the main prosecutor in the very well known Fimi Media affair, a multi-year proceeding that led to the final conviction of former PM Ivo Sanader (HDZ) and seeing him banged up.

It should also be noted that HDZ itself was actually convicted in that case, but as a legal entity. For that case, Mostecak received the prestigious state attorney's award. Mostecak was also a prosecutor in a series of cases arising from the Fima Media affair, including the HAC affair. Before Mostecak worked at DORH, she was the main prosecutor in the HAC-Remorker affair. Former HDZ Minister of Transport and Mayor of Zadar Bozidar Kalmeta was also accused of wrongdoing in that affair.

Kalmeta was acquitted of sharing over 15 million kuna and 850,000 euros from road maintenance and construction companies with his associates. Three of Kalmeta's co-accused were found guilty.

The former minister was also acquitted of part of the indictment according to which he damaged the Ministry of Transport for 600,000 kuna by ordering the promotional film "The Transport Renaissance of Croatia" from the marketing agency Fimi Media. The company was tried for filling HDZ's ''black fund'' with money from various state companies and institutions.

The Commissioner for Internal Market of the European Union, Thierry Breton, visits Zagreb

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic received the Commissioner for the EU's Internal Market, Thierry Breton, in Zagreb this week. The pair discussed the state and ongoing development of the Croatian economy, the consequences of Russian aggression against Ukraine on the supply of energy sources across Europe, and the strengthening of the European defense industry as a whole.

Plenkovic explained to Breton that the Croatian economy is fully expected to grow more rapidly in 2023 than the initial expectations of the government, the European Commission and other international organisations initially predicted. They both also emphasised the need for continued military aid to Ukraine. The Prime Minister made sure to bring it up to the commissioner that Croatia offers the potential of energy support to its neighbouring countries by expanding the LNG terminal on Krk from 2.9 to 6.1 billion cubic metres of gas per year.

Plenkovic and Breton both expressed their ongoing sympathy and firm support for Ukraine as Russian attacks continue, both believing in the very pressing need for continued military aid being sent over to Ukraine. It was precisely in this context that they also discussed the production of ammunition for Ukraine, the overall security of the European Union and taking measures to increase the production capacity of the European defense industry, as touched on above.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Secretary General, Mathias Cormann, visits Zagreb as Croatia edges closer to membership

As Novi list writes, the OECD's Secretary General paid a visit to Zagreb recently, and he had nothing but praise for Plenkovic's government in its swift and fruitful responses to all sorts of issues we're currently facing in this economically unfavourable climate.

''For now, the Croatian Government is reacting very quickly and efficiently, and I have no reason to doubt that this will continue,'' said Mathias Cormann.

The HRT team spoke with OECD Secretary General Mathias Cormann, and he talked about the areas will he focus on when it comes to implementing reforms and whether or not Croatia's accession process can be completed in two years.

''We cover the entire spectrum of economic, social, environmental, and public order. So, from competition, public management, the fight against corruption to environmental protection standards, agricultural policy, and trade. We review the entire spectrum of public order in order to assess Croatian practices, legislation and policies and assess how far they are already aligned with the OECD standards or to what extent further reforms are needed to improve either policies or practices,'' said Mathias Cormann.

When it comes to what sort of key reforms Croatia needs to implement to improve, Cormann said that this is an ongoing process, and that this isn't really a political procedure but a technical review. What we do know is that there are 25 OECD policy committees with experts from 38 member states that will review all Croatian legislative policies and practices in the economy and society and assess their alignment with the proper standards.

 ''At the end of that process, they will recommend what improvements should be made. I can get back to you at that point so we can talk about it,'' Cormann stated, adding: ''I will say that Croatia is obviously very committed. It's progressing as fast as it can to meet all the conditions it needs to,''

 The Croatian Government ambitiously mentions a deadline of two years for OECD membership, but can these goals be achieved in two years? Cormann says there's no time frame.

''I say we're making progress as fast as we can, but it will take whatever amount of time it takes. This is a thorough and very serious procedure. Ultimately, it depends on how quickly the government provides the requested information and how quickly the government and parliament introduces the necessary reforms to implement all of the recommendations. For now, the Croatian Government is reacting very quickly and efficiently, and I have no reason to doubt that this will continue. But it is very difficult to determine the time frame,'' he concluded.

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

Friday, 17 March 2023

A Week in Croatian Politics - Drink Driving, Austrian Brothels and Reforms

March the 17th, 2023 - This week in Croatian politics, we've had an HDZ politician accused of drink driving, causing an accident, defrauding an insurance company and also seeing three police officers arrested alongside himself. On top of that, we've had more talk about healthcare reforms, resignations, and freedom for the Murter mayor who spent municipal funds in an Austrian brothel. It's been a busy week.


Goran Jandrokovic says the ''institutions are doing their job'' after an HDZ prefect was accused of driving under the influence, causing an accident, faking the circumstances of said accident and then defrauding the involved insurance company for over 13,000 euros

Another day, another very uncomfortable scandal to deal with for HDZ. On the basis of the criminal complaint filed by PNUSKOK, USKOK has issued a decision on conducting an investigation against six Croatian citizens (born in 1970, 1976, 1985, 1968, 1989, and 1970 respectively) due to well-founded suspicion of criminal offenses of influence peddling, the abuse of positions of authority and assisting in the abuse of positions of authority.

The police, as well as USKOK, published a statement about HDZ's Vukovar-Srijem County Prefect Damir Dekanic.

''In addition to faking the circumstances of a traffic accident in which he was involved in order to avoid attracting any negative publicity, he also caused damage to an insurance company and obtained an improper financial benefit for himself,'' they wrote, adding that he was over the limit (under the influence of alcohol) and that he was driving 87.9 km/h when the traffic accident occurred.

"The criminal investigation established the suspicion that the 53-year-old county prefect in question was driving the county's official car under the influence of alcohol (1.44g/kg) at an illegal and unadjusted speed of 87.9 km/h in the area of Zupanja and Cerna, shortly after midnight on April the 17th, 2022. As a result of the above, he lost control of the steering wheel in Cerna and the vehicle went off the road and hit the front end of a car which had county registration plates owned by a 47-year-old woman, parked in front of a house, and then into the fence of the said house," the police wrote.

The belief is that, in order to avoid misdemeanor liability and thus the negative publicity that this event would have for him as a county prefect, Dekanic asked the owner of the damaged vehicle not to call the police and that she'd be compensated for the damage caused. Dekanic also allegedly called his cousin to arrange with him to lie to the police. Then three police officers were also arrested related to the accident.

The accident took place near Cerna last year and the saga goes on, and there's little point in rehashing the entire thing in this article, but the story has ruffled feathers within HDZ and within Croatian politics in general, with Milanovic and Plenkovic of course butting heads over it. Parliament Speaker Goran Jandrokovic has also thrown in some of the most famous last words in Croatian politics - that the ''institutions are doing their job''.

This line has been made the brunt of many a joke, because it appears to be code for ''nothing will ever be done about it, but please stop asking about it''.  Jandrokovic's recent comments on the arrest of Vukovar-Srijem prefect Damir Dekanic were that he ''couldn't say anything new about it'' and that ''the institutions are doing their job,'' adding that ''the investigation will show what exactly happened. The barty bodies will make the decisions. We'll see what happens next.'' Rather vague, one might say.

"It's important that the state bodies can work freely without any pressure and they'll come to adecision in accordance with the law, and if there's been a violation of the law, he will be sanctioned," he added, reported N1. He says that he himself did not ask the prefect about the traffic accident in question. "I didn't ask him about it, but I heard from other officials that he said he wasn't driving."

Marin Miletic steps down as the vice president of Most/Bridge

Croatian Parliamentarian Marin Miletic has stepped down as the vice president of Most, claiming that he is resigning irrevocably from the position. He stated that he decided on this move as a sign of "personal responsibility for the complete failure in the elections for local committees in Rijeka". Here's his statement translated in its entirety:

Dear all, I entered politics with a clean face and with a sense of great responsibility towards my voters. My Istrian and Rijeka people, the inhabitants of Kvarner, elected me to the Croatian Parliament to fight for the freedom of every single person and for the dignity of every human being. I've done this since the first day of my representation and will continue to do so until my last day. My fellow citizens of Rijeka also trusted me in the local elections by almost 12%, and Most had more than 10% of the support of the people of Rijeka. In the city council, we've been working with both dedication and strength.

Because I personally believe in political responsibility, in the importance of taking personal responsibility - I'm hereby informing the public and my fellow citizens of Rijeka that I am resigning irrevocably from the position of vice president of Most due to a complete failure in the elections for the local committees in Rijeka. I'll continue to humbly work in the Croatian Parliament, in Kvarner, in my beautiful Rijeka and wherever the party wants me tobe, to build a more beautiful and just Croatia. However, I can't demand high standards of morality from other people if I don't behave like that myself. That ' why I'm irrevocably resigning from the position of vice president of Most.

Keep me in your prayers," Miletic posted on Facebook.

Murter Mayor Tonci Turcinov is enjoying freedom once again after having spent municipality cash in an Austrian brothel

Yes, you did read that correctly. Whoever said Croatian politics was boring?

Murter's mayor Tonci Turcinov was released from custody this past week and photographed in Murter, standing in front of the municipality building. Several days ago, his lawyer Fran Olujic confirmed for Index that he was then due for release, after spending almost a month in pre-trial detention due to possible influence on witnesses.

Turcinov was released from custody one day before the deadline because the investigating judge had already questioned all twenty witnesses. Pixsell photographers snapped Turcinov while he was throwing some rubbish away and was standing in front of the Murter-Kornati municipality building. The proceedings against Turcinov continue and he will await his final verdict in freedom.

After receiving an initial police report, USKOK launched an investigation and requested detention for Turcinov, who was arrested for alleged illegalities with which he damaged the Municipality of Murter-Kornati for at least 60,000 euros. The prosecutor's office previously reported that it suspected that Turcinov had used municipal money for private purposes from the beginning of 2018 all the way until the middle of 2022, that is, to pay for travel expenses and other services and expenses in Croatia and abroad. In April 2019, Turcinov paid with said municipality money in a brothel in Austria. He even allegedly shamelessly used the official card of the Municipality of Murter, Telegram revealed. He spent 1,560 budgeted euros in the Austrian La Cocotte club.

He claimed that he used the card in the club by mistake because it was similar to his private card and that he then personally covered the cost of the municipal delegation's accommodation in the Schlosswirt Ebenthal hotel in Klagenfurt in order to indemnify the municipality. The hotel disputed the authenticity of the invoice to Telegram, so the portal announced that Turcinov had falsified an invoice for the expenses at the hotel in order to cover up the expenses of the Austrian brothel.

After the affair broke out in the media, he announced that he was resigning from his position of councilor in the county assembly, but also that, with the support of his associates and fellow residents, he would continue working on the projects he had started in the Municipality of Murter-Kornati. In other words, he remained the boss despite the lurid accusations against him.

Finance Minister Marko Primorac says Croatia doesn't need to worry about its banking system

Minister of Finance Marko Primorac recently spoke about the new package of government measures and other topics as a guest on HRT's Dnevnik. Following the deeply concerning cases of Credit Suisse and the collapse of the American bank Silicon Valley, he said that we here in Croatia need not worry about the situation with the banking system.

"We've been continuously pointing out that the measures that end up being adopted must be targeted, short-term, aimed at those who need help the most, and this is how we've structured all of our packages of measures so far. The total amount of this package of measures, which is comprehensive and targeted at people who need help the most, as well as at business owners, stands at one billion and 700 million euros. In addition to ensuring the continuity of our energy supply and acceptable energy prices, it will also ensure a more peaceful life for our business owners and for people in general,'' Primorac assured.

''Income support, first of all for groups that need this help, pensioners, people who only receive the minimum guaranteed help, child benefit, long-term unemployment, vulnerable groups who need help... rest assured that we'll provide it,'' he pointed out.

"HEP has borne a significant burden of this crisis. Of course, we're going to do everything, not only to keep HEP on its feet, but also to ensure the continuity of the healthy and stable operations of HEP. This isn't in dispute, the funds are being provided for this in the budget but the mechanism by which we will do this it depends on several factors that we are now discussing,'' he said, adding that he is also discussing this with the EC.

''We will not allow HEP's operations to be jeopardised in any way, and its projects such as GoGreen or solar power plants will have the total support of the government,'' he emphasised.

He said that the condition of the state treasury is standard. "Revenues are of course growing, financial appetites - expenditures, state costs are growing, aid packages are also costing. The state's finances are stable. We've been monitoring the developments within the tax system and designing the tax policy, and we will continue to do so. Our tax system is consumption-oriented, which is why it's dominantly related to the collection of value-added tax revenue," he said.

"Income tax is first and foremost the income of local units. I'd like the questions to be directed towards them a little bit more. Opposition MPs should talk to their mayors, if they're ready to bear that burden, let them, for example, reduce the surtax to the minimum level. If they're able to do that, then we'll consider some further measures in the context of income tax relief," he said.

Minister Primorac also commented on whether we here in Croatia should be worried about the situation with banks - referring to the cases of Credit Suisse and the collapse of the American bank Silicon Valley from California.

"What happened in America was due to highly specific circumstances. The Croatian banking system is adequately capitalised - compliant with Basel standards, for example, this wasn't the case in America. In the context of the discussions we held at the Council of EkoFin and the Eurogroup, of course it was an issue that worried us. According to the reports of the European Central Bank and all relevant stakeholders, we can all remain calm for now," he concluded.

Health Minister Vili Beros claims that 2400 Croatian doctors take home a higher monthly wage than Plenkovic

As they should.

Health Minister Vili Beros was a recent guest of Croatian Radio's Interview of the Week. It was during that appearance that he pointed out that the goal of this government is to reform the healthcare system. He then explained the steps of the reforms that are currently being planned. He announced the presentation of new preventive health examinations for next Friday, after the first amended laws are submitted to the parliamentary procedure.

He said that he isn't at all interested in his level of popularity as a minister and that he's only interested in his efficiency and what he does for the betterment of the healthcare system. "I'm interested in my efficiency and functionality in relation to the healthcare system, primarily in regard to patients, and then for all other parts of the healthcare system," said the minister.

A lot of remarks are coming in about the inefficiency and problems within the healthcare system, which the minister himself says. He recalled that on the first day after he was appointed minister, he was a guest on the Croatian Radio programme and spoke about the healthcare system, which is flawed.

"However, the coronavirus pandemic came and we lost a year and a half defending ourselves against the coronavirus. During that period, and even after that, we also found strength, opportunities, and the will to establish a certain reform. The reform that is being planned, which is founded and which has its own content and meaning, is precisely there to eliminate all these allegations. There are also a number of complaints about it, but I can say that we've also received praise for the functioning of the healthcare system," he added.

When asked whether he would continue his mandate, Minister Vili Beros replied that it was a difficult question to answer, but that he would do his best to implement the elements of the reform.

"I'll do my best to implement these elements in the context of our reform that we set as a task. I will tell you this - strengthening public health is our priority," said Beros. The minister added that the next Friday will be the presentation of new preventive health examinations, and he also referred to health literacy.

"We're talking about the development of health literacy, we already have some concrete results, an agreement with the Ministry of Education on that path. We need to develop health literacy from a young age," said Beros, adding that national preventive examinations for the early detection of numerous tumors are all that we really do in the context of prevention.

Considering that this is a pre-election year, Beros was asked whether or not it was a bit late for any reforms, to which the minister replied that such thoughts are calculative.

"I don't have the time or ability, nor am I the kind of person to calculate. I really want to establish those changes in the healthcare system that will be positive for everyone, especially for patients. My personal mission is to bring the patient back into focus," he explained, adding that government determination on this issue is strong.

"Things can always be better, let's not forget that I'm a doctor myself, and of course I understand their fight for higher salaries. But you have to look at the broader context, we're in the post-pandemic era. Since 2016, their incomes have grown by 43 percent. I will clearly answer their requests and listen to all of their objections," he said, adding that he suspects that there are other motives in the whole story.

"I wouldn't go to a protest, that's not the way to solve this problem... In the end, there are over 2,400 doctors in Croatia who have a higher salary than the prime minister. And I won't even tell you how many of them earn more than me, which doesn't even matter. I'm only saying it in the context of talking about the material rights of doctors," he said.


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

Thursday, 16 February 2023

A Week in Croatian Politics - Healthcare Woes, Laws and Building Permits

February the 17th, 2023 - This week in Croatian politics, we've had everything from building permit issues for politicians and yet another change to the Law on Reconstruction (years after the earthquakes of 2020) to calls for Health Minister Vili Beros to step down in light of yet another alleged HDZ-fuelled healthcare scandal.

Lovro Kuscevic's former adviser is now the head of the Conflict of Interest Commission

Index reports that Aleksandra Jozic Ilekovic has become the new president of the Conflict of Interest Commission, and the previous chief, Natasa Novakovic is leaving that body. The above was decided via a secret vote of the Croatian Parliament.

Jozic Ilekovic received the votes of 78 deputies, her opponent Natasa Novakovic, the former president of the aforementioned commission, received 50 votes, while Nike Nodilo-Lakos and Ines Pavlacic failed to receive a single vote. Novakovic didn't compete for the position of a member of the Commission, which is why she's totally leaving that body.

Before joining the Commission, Jozic Ilekovic held a number of different positions, for eight years she was a member of the State Election Commission (SEC), adviser to the Minister of Justice, senior administrative inspector of the Ministry of Justice, and deputy head of the Government Office for Legislation. In addition to all of the above, Jozic Ilekovic spent two years as an adviser to no less than Lovro Kuscevic, Andrej Plenkovic's former minister and political secretary of HDZ, who is (rather unsurprisingly) a multiple-time USKOK (Office for the Suppression of Corruption and Organised Crime) suspect.

She allegedly showed leniency in cases involving members of the government

We mustn't forget that Lovro Kuscevic was indicted at the end of the year before last, having been accused of a series of embezzlements regarding some land on Brac from the time when he was in charge of the Municipality of Nerezisca, and he was also accused of preventing evidence coming to light.

In her four years already spent with the Commission for Conflict of Interest, Jozic Ilekovic showed what has been described as ''exceptional leniency'' in cases involving members of the current government.

This third convocation of the Commission will have weaker powers than the previous two, led by Dalija Oreskovic and Natasa Novakovic, and will also have a worse composition. Namely, Jozic Ilekovic is the only member of the current composition who is remaining within the Commission, while all the others have left that body.

Vinkovci's local administration is trying to avoid saying whether or not it granted Minister Mario Banozic a permit for the construction of a house there

Defence Minister Mario Banozic (HDZ) is currently in the process of building a house in Vinkovci. Index toured the parcel and found in the land registers an allegedly clear statement that there's no construction permit issued for it.

Andrea Topic reports that in order not to make a mistake and immediately conclude that Banozic is building his house there illegally, Index contacted the City of Vinkovci, more precisely the Administrative Department for Spatial Planning, Construction and Environmental Protection, which is the office that deals with issuing building permits. On Friday morning, Index sent an inquiry asking for information on whether construction is being done illegally on that lot.

But instead of providing a concrete answer like "yes, it's being built illegally, we didn't issue permits to the investor", or writing "no, everything is being done according to the law", the head of the office, Davor Mecanovic, decided - just five minutes before the end of his during working hours might we add - to copy and paste an excerpt from the Construction Act, send that, and then ignore any calls.

Here is the answer to the very specific question asked of the local authorities:

"Regarding your request about the issuing of a building permit and data on said building permit, we refer you to Articles 115 and 120 of the Construction Act'' before going into further details specified by those articles, which I won't go into now. They're readily available for those who want to read them, and it seems a strange, around-the-houses (quite literally in this case) response to a very straightforward question.

It should also be added that an inquiry was also sent out to the State Inspectorate. Maybe the City of Vinkovic will reveal the secret of Banozic's construction permit to them instead.

SDP wants Health Minister Vili Beros to step down from his position following recent scandals

SDP recently cited the tragic case of Lina Budak, a lawyer from Zagreb, who is claiming that she wasn't told that she had cancer for seven months. They are calling for the dismissal of Minister Vili Beros, who has been silent for two months now about the Budak case.

"We've been saying for a long time now that the healthcare system is falling apart, all because of the incompetence of Minister Vili Beros. The latest case in which an unfortunate woman was diagnosed with a malignant disease long after the acceptable time limit in which she should have found out further confirms this.

Ministers of health in HDZ Governments systematically ignore serious problems, they shift responsibility to other bodies and ignore all of the warnings, both from healthcare workers themselves and their patients. How many more situations like that of Mr. Matijanic and Mrs. Budak are needed for Minister Beros to realise that his policy of inaction is irreversibly leading to the collapse the once powerful Croatian healthcare system?" asked SDP.

"Cancer treatment outcomes are catastrophically bad, patients end up entering the system too late..."

"Less than two weeks ago, we warned of all the difficulties related to the treatment of oncological diseases across Croatia: treatment outcomes are catastrophically bad, patients are put into the system too late, making their prognosis even worse, and the treatment is much more expensive.

The Republic of Croatia has all the necessary documents to improve its level of oncology care, but Minister Beros isn't doing anything to improve it. Indeed, on the occasion of World Cancer Day, he said that he's painfully aware of the problems being faced within the oncology care system. Unfortunately, being "painfully aware" is insufficient comfort for all cancer patients, as well as for the healthcare workers trying to treat them.

The Croatian healthcare system is financially completely destabilised, and that's even without mentioning the lack of staff and continuous staff issues within a system in which an HDZ membership card is more important than expertise. Let's remind you that during the first year of Vili Beros' administration, public hospitals had a deficit of around 682 million kuna, and the total liabilities at the end of 2021 amounted to around 11.8 billion kuna. The mismanagement of the healthcare sector's finances just keeps on being repeated every year, and it seems that this is the only concrete health policy they implement," SDP writes.

"The time has come for Vili Beros to step down"

"The time for Minister Beros to step down came along time ago, and his media appearance recently only proves that he's completely incompetent for this position. The damage that HDZ has done to the healthcare system is absolutely enormous and will be felt by an increasing number of people every single day.

Healthcare cannot be managed by the enthusiasm and altruism of hard working medical professionals who continually try to replace the organisational mess by running around and putting out fires. It's perfecrtly clear who is responsible for the mess – Vili Beros and HDZ,'' concluded SDP's Health Council.

Croatian Parliament passes a new Law on Reconstruction, years after the Petrinja earthquake of December 2020

With a majority vote, the Croatian Parliament successfully passed the new Law on Reconstruction, which should simplify and speed up the reconstruction of the areas affected by the earthquakes (yes, those from back in 2020), with objections from part of the opposition to the reconstruction process carried out so far. 99 parliamentarians voted for the new Law, according to which the Reconstruction Fund and the Central State Office are attached to the Ministry of Spatial Planning, Construction and State Property, 15 were against, and 16 abstained from voting entirely.

HDZ's amendment was accepted, which simplifies the procedure for removing destroyed buildings that have lost their mechanical resistance and stability to such an extent that their restoration is not possible, and reduces the number of participants required during the procedure for removing said destroyed buildings.

Before the vote on the Law on Reconstruction, part of the opposition repeated its objections to the previous renewal and to the Law itself. "Until now, there's been no political will for the reconstruction to take place, it simply wasn't Andrej Plenkovic's political priority," said Sandra Bencic. She believes that the new Law finally provides a normal framework for the reconstruction to be carried out if there's political will to do so.

"Now there can be no more excuses, the only thing that can stop the reconstruction is the prime minister himself and you who hold the majority for him. If we see that the reconstruction isn't going forward, you must all resign," Bencic told the ruling party. "Four ministers, four laws, and you treat people as if they were mere potatoes," said Anka Mrak Taritas, who also added that the new Law could be called a law of self-renewal or self-deception, or of mere temporary care.

Predrag Stromar (HNS) said that the Law is extremely necessary and will speed up all processes. "The funds at our disposal of one billion euros need to be spent urgently," he pointed out.

Marija Selak Raspudic (Most/Bridge) told the authorities to stop renewing the law and actually start restoring people's homes in the affected areas. Nikola Grmoja called on the opposition not to lend their hands to such a law again. "It's bad enough that we're treating the people of Banovina this way, but this government and the majority are simply not able to restore Banovina," Grmoja said.

A new approach to reconstruction and a simpler procedure

With the new approach to reconstruction, people will be paid the entire amount needed for the renovation or construction of a replacement house before the works on it begin. The creation of an analysis of the current state of the necessary renovation, the obligation to create a removal project for family houses, the technical and financial control of the project, and the need to meet special conservation conditions for structural renovation of buildings within a cultural-historical unit have now all been abolished.

The model of replacement of ownership rights instead of renovation and construction of replacement houses has been introduced, and the circle of persons with the right to renovation has been expanded to include relatives, spouses, common-law partners and life partners. The Agency for Legal Traffic and Real Estate Brokerage has been given the authority to build multi-apartment buildings and acquire real estate for temporary accommodation

Those affected will be given financial assistance for the removal of all destroyed buildings, including auxiliary and commercial ones, as well as assistance for project development costs. A more efficient and appropriate public procurement process is being introduced, and the highest prices for services and works will be determined by bodies that will be decided by the government. The transparency and visibility of the renovation process will be strengthened by creating a complete interactive online GIS application.


For more on Croatian politics, make sure to follow our dedicated section and keep an eye out for 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.

Wednesday, 20 July 2022

USKOK Opens Probe into Smuggling of Protected Marine Species

ZAGREB, 20 July 2022 - The USKOK anti-corruption office has opened an investigation into 11 Croatian and five Italian nationals on suspicion of poaching and smuggling protected marine species -- sea cucumbers and sea urchins for the Italian market and date shells for the Croatian market.

By smuggling the protected species, the suspects defrauded the state budget of more than HRK 11 million and split at least HRK 700,000 among themselves, according to the police and USKOK.

Gathering sea cucumbers is banned in Croatia while gathering sea urchins requires permission from the competent government department. Sea urchins and date shells are strictly protected species in Croatia.

Although they were aware that these were protected species, some of the suspects engaged in gathering sea urchins and sea cucumbers near Split, Kaštela, Trogir and Šolta island, using professional diving equipment, while two gathered date shells.

They transported a certain quantity of sea urchins and sea cucumbers to Zadar and Biograd and the rest to warehouses in Kaštel Stari and Knin. In the warehouses, they packed them in plastic containers for further illegal transport to Italy. They also used the warehouses to process sea urchin roe and pack it in jars.

The sea cucumbers, sea urchins and roe were smuggled to Italy for sale on the illegal market.

The suspects sold at least 19,000 kg of sea cucumber on the black market in Croatia and Italy for at least HRK 30 per kg, 3,520 kg of sea urchins for HRK 25 per kg, 62 kg of sea urchin roe for HRK 800 per kg, and 6.35 kg of date shells for HRK 250 per kg.

Prosecutors recommended that the Split-Dalmatia County Court investigating judge order investigative custody for 11 suspects.

(€1 = HRK 7.5)

For more news about Croatia, click here.

Monday, 20 June 2022

Ex-Officials Aladrović, Tolušić, Žunac Being Questioned by USKOK

ZAGREB, 20 June 2022 - A former minister Tomislav Tolusic of the Croatian Democratic Movement (HDZ) was questioned on Monday by the USKOK anti-corruption office as a suspect in an alleged case of corruption while another former minister Josip Aladrović of the HDZ party is due to give his deposition on Monday afternoon.

Tolušić was accompanied by his defence attorney Ilija Stanić.

Before Tolušić was questioned, a former state secretary in the Ministry for Regional Development Velimir Žunac was also questioned whose defence attorney Fran Olujić said that Žunac had said he did not feel guilty however, he refrained from answering any of the prosecutor's questions.

Aladrović's defence attorney Nikola Mandić confirmed earlier to Hina that his client is expected to be questioned today. Aladrović is charged with favouritism on two occasions concerning employment in 2018 and 2019 while he was the director of the Croatian Pension Insurance Fund (HZMO).

Without revealing their identity, the prosecution said that this was an extension of a previous investigation of former Minister of Physical Planning, Construction and State Assets Darko Horvat (HDZ), who, along with his assistant Ana Mandac, is suspected of illegally inciting four co-suspects to award HRK 2.6 million in grants to enterprises he was personally interested in.

Horvat and Mandac along with Tolušić and Žunac, former deputy prime minister Boris Milošević and the head of the ministry's department for areas of special state concern, Karica Mišković, are all suspects in this case.

The extended investigation into Aladrović also implicates the Mayor of Županja Damir Juzbašić, a former member of the HDZ, turned Independent candidate on the Homeland Movement's slate.

For more, check out our politics section.

Friday, 15 April 2022

Cocaine, Weapon and Migrant Smugglers Remanded in Custody

ZAGREB, 15 April (2022) - A Zagreb County Court investigating judge on Thursday evening remanded in custody all ten members of a criminal group suspected of smuggling cocaine from South America, murdering Milan Milovac, a close associate of Serbian drug lord Darko Šarić, and smuggling military weapons and migrants.

According to unofficial sources, Petar Ćosić aka Šarac and Manuel Vulić are suspected of killing Milovac.

USKOK anti-corruption office deputy head Željka Panza Ostrogonac said six criminal groups had been under investigation in two separate cases.

All criminal groups were high-profile gangs and the arrested Croatian nationals held high positions in them, she said.

Panza Ostrogonac said that the arrest of Serbian drug lord Darko Šarić in Belgrade on Thursday had some connection to the charges regarding the murder of Milovac, a Croatian national, in Ecuador.

Without revealing the suspects' identity, the prosecutorial authorities said earlier that an investigation had been launched into two groups of criminals based on a report by PNUSKOK police anti-corruption investigators and information collected in cooperation with several countries as well as EUROJUST and EUROPOL.

USKOK said that the first group of criminals consisted of ten members aged 36-63 while the other group had four members aged 29-41.

According to media reports, the 10-member group was led by Petar Ćosić aka Šarac, who in 2011 was arrested in an operation called Dogma for smuggling 339 kilograms of cocaine and was sentenced to four years in prison.

The other, four-member group, consisting of Marko Grunov, Ivan Stilinović, Tomislav Kljaić and Amer Draganović, is suspected of smuggling cocaine from Ecuador and the Dominican Republic.

The 10-member group is suspected of smuggling at least 609 kilograms of cocaine, sold for more than HRK 17 million. Some members of the group are suspected of smuggling automatic weapons, grenades, plastic explosive and pistols from Bosnia and Herzegovina to France and of smuggling 17 migrants from Croatia to Slovenia.

For more news about Croatia, click here.

Tuesday, 29 March 2022

Former Čakovec Mayor Stjepan Kovač Indicted

ZAGREB, 29 March 2022 - The USKOK anti-corruption office has indicted former Čakovec mayor and Member of Parliament Stjepan Kovač (SDP), a Međimurje police officer, Mario Sever, and Damir Ledenčan, whom they allegedly hired to make up threatening messages to Kovač ahead of the last local elections.

The three indictees were arrested at the same time as Međimurje County Prefect Matija Posavec, who was suspected of bribe taking and influence peddling. That part of the investigation is still underway.

Without noting anyone's identity, USKOK reported on Tuesday that Kovač, Sever and Ledenčan had been indicted before Zagreb County Court for influence peddling, abuse of office and powers, and aiding and abetting in that crime.

Kovač is charged with asking Sever to reveal the identity of the creator of a website that released statements that he experienced as defamatory and offensive, but also damaging to his campaign during the local elections.

In the plan to make up threats against Kovač, which is prosecuted ex officio, Sever hired Ledenčan to send Kovač threatening text messages, including death threats.

Kovač then reported an unknown perpetrator to the police and the case was taken by Sever, who informed Kovač of the possible creator of the website. Kovač then demanded of the chief of police that the case be urgently resolved.

In addition, Kovač allegedly requested that a special report be submitted to the state attorney's office against the creator of the website prior to the second round of the local mayoral election and for the information about the threats to be released to the public in an effort to win the favour of potential voters.

Kovač then appeared in public, claiming that he was a victim of threats that could be linked to one of his rivals in the run for the mayor's office.

Wednesday, 23 February 2022

Rimac and 26 Suspects Indicted for Corruption, Abuse of Office

ZAGREB, 23 Feb 2022 - The Office for Suppression of Corruption and Organised Crime (USKOK) on Wednesday issued an indictment against former Knin mayor and state secretary Josipa Rimac of the HDZ party and another 26 suspects, including several former office-holders, on corruption and abuse of office charges.

The USKOK investigated this case after a scandal dubbed "wind parks" broke out, but the indictment, which was lodged with Zagreb County Court today, does not refer to the circumstances surrounding the wind parks case, but to alleged irregularities in the allocation of state aid to farmers and grants to businesses, unfair employment and state exams from 2017 to 2020.

Concerning the state aid allocation, former economy assistant minister Ana Mandac is one of the suspects, and her recent testimony resulted in Saturday's arrest of Minister Darko Horvat, who is implicated in the disbursement of grants to ineligible businesses in 2018 when he served as the economy minister.

With regards the favouring of applicants who were expected to pass the state exam to get employment in the state administration, Gabrijela Žalac, former minister for regional development and EU funds, and Ružica Njavro, former Agriculture Ministry chief of staff, are charged with those offences.

The former mayor of Gračac, Nataša Turbić of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), and several business people are suspected of giving bribes to Rimac.

Rimac's lawyer, Lidija Horvat, told Hina that they had not yet officially received a copy of the indictment.

After the wind parks scandal broke out, Rimac was arrested in May 2020, and spent 124 days in pre-trial detention.

For more, check out our dedicated politics section.

Wednesday, 23 February 2022

It's Important to Respect Presumption of Innocence, Minister Obuljen Koržinek

ZAGREB, 23 Feb 2022 - Culture and Media Minister Nina Obuljen Koržinek said on Wednesday she condemned any suspicion of a dishonourable act, wherever it came from, but that it was important to respect the presumption of innocence, notably regarding Deputy PM Boris Milošević and the allocation of incentives.

The USKOK anti-corruption office is accusing Milošević of abuse of office in the allocation of incentives to businesses alongside five other persons, including Darko Horvat, who was arrested on Saturday and relieved of duty as construction minister.

Speaking on Croatian Radio, Obuljen Koržinek said the matter was under investigation.

"It's important not to create hysteria, not to convict people before proceedings have been carried out because many people in high positions in Croatia have been accused and labelled, which lasted for years, only to be acquitted."

She said it was very important to respect judicial institutions and not to convict people before a verdict was delivered.

Opposition's only agenda is to topple the HDZ without arguments

Asked to comment on some opposition parties' demand for dissolving parliament and an early election, she said "the opposition's only agenda is the delusional and unfounded toppling of the (ruling) HDZ."

"How has it happened that all of a sudden the SDP, We Can! and Bridge agree on everything?" she said, adding that it is their only narrative.

"They should form a party together, act together and pretend they are on different political positions", she said, telling all three to consider their actions in the election they are demanding.

"They are praying to God that there is no election and that in two years they can try to work some more on their image and rating."

Obuljen Koržinek called the opposition's statements on the judiciary as mud-slinging and an unfounded stating of untruths. "A week ago they said the HDZ had its hooks in and controlled the judiciary and now, a week later, all of a sudden the whole judiciary is excellent, independent  and should be protected."

She said such inconsistency and spitting on everything was very bad for democracy in Croatia.

"Don't hit at institutions because tomorrow you will have to build them," she told the opposition, adding that the common goal of those in power and the opposition is to affirm politics as an activity in which one works for the common good.

For more, check out our dedicated politics section.

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