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.

Wednesday, 23 February 2022

Attorney Confirms Hiring by Deputy Prime Minister Milošević

ZAGREB, 23 Feb 2022 - Attorney Anto Nobilo said on Tuesday that Deputy Prime Minister Boris Milošević hired him after the USKOK anti-corruption office accused him of incitement to abuse of office in the allocation of incentives to businesses.

Speaking to Hina, Nobilo said he was now waiting to see the case file so that he could start preparing a defence.

He said Milošević had not been questioned at USKOK nor summoned, and that he would not state his defence before seeing the case file.

Nobilo said Milošević was accused of incitement to abuse of office.

Speaking for RTL television earlier in the evening, he said that, judging by the decision to conduct an investigation, incitement was suspected but there was room for a defence.

"Milošević believes that he is not guilty," Nobilo said. "He advocated for the constituents who elected him and did not ask someone else to commit a crime."

Nobilo said Milošević should not appeal against the investigation, which is also looking into Darko Horvat, who was arrested on Saturday on suspicion of abuse of office, after which he was relieved of duty as construction minister at his own request.

"I suggested against it because there is reasonable doubt. USKOK embarked on a criminal procedure absolutely correctly upon getting a witness deposition. It believed the deposition and that, as a basis of reasonable doubt, is enough to launch an investigation," Nobilo said.

USKOK is investigating six persons. Horvat, who is in one month's custody, and his former aide Ana Mandac are accused of abuse of office.

Besides Milošević, USKOK is accusing of incitement to abuse of office, according to unconfirmed information, Regional Development and EU Funds Ministry state secretary Velimir Žunac, the head of the Administration for assisted areas, Katica Mišković, and former minister Tomislav Tolušić.

As the main suspect, Horvat was arrested after Mandac told USKOK that incentives were allocated to businesses that did not meet the criteria when Horvat served as economy minister. Horvat claims he was only signing documents brought to him by Mandac.

For more, check out our dedicated politics section.

Wednesday, 23 February 2022

Unofficial Source Claims Stjepan Curaj Could Take Darko Horvat's Place

February the 23rd, 2022 - An unofficial source has suggested that Darko Horvat's replacement could be Stjepan Curaj, but this is yet to be confirmed in any sense with any certainty.

The now former Minister Darko Horvat is being held in custody following his arrest for alleged corruption, about which we've written extensively since the situation occurred over the past few days. USKOK swooped in and as much as PM Andrej Plenkovic tried to calm things, people are rightly up in arms about yet another minister being investigated and arrested for the apparently age-old (alleged) crime of corruption.

As Poslovni Dnevnik writes, the name of the new minister set to come and take Horvat's place is still not officially known, but as was unofficially confirmed by the Government for N1, it could be Stjepan Curaj, the head of the HNS (Hrvatska Narodna Stranka/Croatian People's Party).

Maybe someone else is still in the game with their eye on Darko Horvat's still warm chair, maybe those people could be still valid options, but according to unofficial sources from the Government, Stjepan Curaj is said to already be a member of the Banija/Banovina (post-earthquake) reconstruction staff, is entirely informed about the whole story, is very familiar with the details and the belief is that he would do his best in that business.

The party involved isn't one that you tend to hear of anywhere as much as the likes of HDZ or SDP, but despite that, it is a party that split in order to save the Government of Andrej Plenkovic back in the day, and they paid for that in the elections.

If the Prime Minister does end up deciding that Stjepan Curaj will be the new minister to take over from Horvat, he might be indebted to the Croatian People's Party which saved him in his last term when he expelled Most (Bridge) from the Government, and maybe he would actually seek to somehow reward the Croatian People's Party for their part in that sticky situation.

For more, check out our dedicated politics section.

Sunday, 20 February 2022

Pundits Comment on Developments Surrounding Minister's Arrest

ZAGREB, 20 Feb 2022 - Political analyst Žarko Puhovski said on Saturday that Minister Darko Horvat's arrest will not undermine the government if the matter remains within the limits of that minister, and Davor Gjenero believes that speculations of snap elections are dangerous amid unpredictable global developments.

Construction and State Assets Minister Darko Horvat was arrested on Saturday on the abuse of power charges, and upon his apprehension the minister dismissed the charges.

The Office for the Suppression of Corruption and Organised Crime (USKOK) on Saturday evening stated that based on a police report, it launched an investigation of two persons on suspicion of abuse of office, and that another four suspects in the case are accused of incitement to the offence.

USKOK did not reveal the identities of the six suspects, however, earlier in the day media outlets reported that the suspects are Construction Minister Darko Horvat, his former aide Ana Mandac, as well as Deputy Prime Minister Boris Milošević, the Regional Development Ministry's state secretary Velimir Žunac, the director of the administration for assisted areas, Katica Mišković, and former minister Tomislav Tolušić.

According to USKOK's statement, in his previous capacity as economy minister, Horvat is believed to have signed off on the disbursement of grants in the amount of HRK 2.6 million (€347,000) to some businesses that are ineligible for aid, between November 2018 to the end of 2018, at the urging of Tolušić, Milošević, Žunac and Mišković.

Upon his arrest, Horvat resigned. 

Commenting on the developments, the analyst Puhovski told Hina on Saturday evening that in the event that the case remained within the limits pertaining to Horvat, the cabinet led by Prime Minister Andrej Plenković would not be negatively affected by the scandal.

"The developments could even make things easier for PM Plenković, as in this way he got rid of the minister with the poorest performance", said the pundit.

"However, if the whole case expands to include Deputy Prime Minister Boris Milošević, all this will grow into a serious issue both for the government and for the ruling coalition. In such scenario, it is possible to have discussions on early elections, however I do not believe that we will have them soon," said this analyst.

Puhovski agrees with Plenković that the gravity of the arrest of a minister required the appearance of the State Attorney General in the public to give further explanations.

Upon Horvat's arrest, Plenković held an impromptu news conference in which he said, among other things, that he expected the State Attorney's Office (DORH) to explain the urgency of the actions taken.

However, DORH said later that it and the attorney general would not comment on the Prime Minister call on DORH, and that "the competent state attorney's office and the USKOK anti-corruption office are taking action in line with the law."

Puhovski said that this was the second time in the present-day Croatia that an incumbent minister was arrested, and he believes that it is unfair from DORH to give only a press release claiming that prosecutors are doing their job in line with laws and that they will not give any explanations to anybody.

"They should have informed the general public what this is about, as the arrest concerns a minister," said Puhovski.

One pundit for early election, another believes it would be dangerous in current circumstances

On the other hand pundit Anđelko Milardović criticises PM Plenković for making statements which, he says, interfere in the work of DORH.

This pundit slams Plenković for "authoritarian tendencies that also smack of the dictatorial way of governance."

Milardović also said that Horvat should have been dismissed instantly, and that the Prime Minister should also have resigned.

While Milardović believes that the ruling majority should dissolve itself, another political analyst Gjenero told Hina that calling for snap elections in the current circumstances of unpredictable global developments, is dangerous.

Gjenero finds it odd that the arrest of Horvat and this case implicating his former aide Mandac was not a follow-up to "the wind park" case in which Mandac was also a suspect, but that this is being regarded as an entirely different matter.

This analyst also points out that the latest allegations concern the coalition between the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and the biggest party representing an ethnic minority, the Independent Democratic Serb Party (SDSS). 

"This is always a politically sensitive situation, I am very reserved about what that can be actually," he said, adding that the affair could give ammunition to those who claim that the HDZ-SDSS coalition is an outcome of a trade-off.

"If there are any elements hinting at corruption, those involved must immediately step down, however I find this whole case an odd precedent", he added.

More on this story from yesterday:

Minister Horvat Denies Guilt, Anti-Corruption Office Demands Remand in Custody

State Attorney's Office says Won't Comment on PM's Statement After Minister's Arrest

Grbin: Election Only Salvation for Croatia

Čačić: Horvat Has to Go, Reformists' Support Depends on Police Operation's Results

Croatian Prime Minister Blames USKOK for Ruining Croatia's Spectacular Week

PM Calls on Prosecutors to Explain Case Implicating Minister Horvat 

Police Probe is Targeting Horvat and Milošević, Aladrović not Implicated

Sunday, 20 February 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more, check out our politics section.

Saturday, 19 February 2022

Minister Horvat Denies Guilt, Anti-Corruption Office Demands Remand in Custody

ZAGREB, 19 Feb 2022 - Construction Minister Darko Horvat said he was not guilty of abuse of office during Saturday's questioning at the USKOK anti-corruption office, according to his attorney, while USKOK demanded he be remanded in custody.

Horvat's attorney Vladimir Terešak told the press his client answered all the questions. "He believes that he did not commit the crime he is being accused of and that no one made any illegal gains."

Later today a Zagreb County Court judge will decide whether to remand Horvat in custody.

Terešak said he did not know on what grounds USKOK was demanding remand.

He said Horvat was being accused of abuse of office and powers, specifically, that certain companies which applied to a tender were given right of priority regardless of the required documents.

Horvat is denying that and claims that the ministry's services handled that and not him, he added.

Terešak said Horvat was accused of abuse of office alongside a number of persons and that all the evidence was from another case in which his former aide Ana Mandac, a suspect in this case, was also accused.

"The minister doesn't do that, but the ministry's expert services. He knows neither how many points one has nor is he acquainted with it. He signed what the expert service, that is (Mandac), gave him to sign, believing it was right."

Mandac was relieved of duty after becoming a suspect in the wind park case alongside former state secretary Josipa Rimac. According to the media, the accused in that case have started plea-bargaining.

According to unofficial information, the police are investigating Deputy Prime Minister Boris Milošević besides Horvat.

Hina has learned from sources close to the investigation that the police are also investigating Regional Development and EU Funds Ministry state secretary Velimir Žunac, the director of the administration for assisted areas, Katica Mišković, and former minister Tomislav Tolušić.

For more, check out our politics section.

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