Former Croatian prime minister dr Ivo Sanader and his former political party (Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ) were found guilty on Tuesday 11 March in a Zagreb court of rigging public tenders and abusing and siphoning off state funds in the biggest corruption trial to date in Croatia. The trial had lasted over two years and, in the sense of demonstrating that Croatia was serious about fighting corruption, it certainly pumped positive strides in Croatia’s accession into EU membership in July 2013.
The Zagreb county court gave Sanader, already sentenced to 10 years’ jail in another corruption trial in 2012, a new nine-year sentence. The HDZ, now in opposition, was ordered to pay back about 29 million kuna ($5.26 million).
Reading her verdict, Judge Ivana Calic said Sanader and four other people had conspired to secure illegal funding for the HDZ from public firms from 2003 to 2009, when Sanader quit the government without explanation.
He was later expelled from the party and fled the country but was arrested in Austria and sent home for trial.
The judge said he had used his authority to mastermind a scheme to divert money from public firms to make illegal financial gains both for the party and for himself.
They were elected to enforce the law, not to break it,” judge Ivana Calic said in her judgment and by pronouncing that HDZ as political party was guilty of corruption she pointed a finger at each and every single person of a 200,000 HDZ membership establishment!
Legal professionals in Croatia say that the case against HDZ has no base in law, if it had that would mean only one thing “literally, that would effectuate an attack against the state, the lawmakers have already made a distinction the moment they decided on and allowed a legal entity to be brought to an accused bench. Never in Europe since 1945 to today has there been such an attack against a political party, there are 5 criminal cases against Silvio Berlusconi (in Italy) but it has never crossed anyone’s mind to bring his political party to an accused bench – that would be an attack on democracy,” said for Croatian news Zeljko Olujic, a distinguished lawyer and a former State attorney of Croatia.
Tomislav Karamarko, president of HDZ, commented on this judgment saying: “Never, not ever will we accept a collective guilt or responsibility. The individuals who had committed crimes must carry the responsibility for that. No one can call all the members of the party guilty, HDZ members are innocent people…”. Karamarko was adamant that what this court process against individuals that attached HDZ as an accused party to the proceedings is nothing more than demonisation of HDZ by the Social Democratic Party (SDP), which holds power in government and which ha never distanced itself from the communist party.
Sanader and HDZ officials both say they will appeal the verdict.
Backtracking a bit, the corruption charges leveled against Sanader and a handful of other HDZ officials were a key factor in HDZ’s loss of government in December 2011 general elections. However, under the new leader, Tomislav Karamarko, HDZ has worked hard to distance the party from the individuals being tried for corruption, clear the party’s name and to avoid a potentially disastrous consequence in which every single member of the HDZ would be tarnished with the paint of corruption despite his/her innocence.
New EU Parliament elections are due in May this year and these verdicts of corruption are likely to go against HDZ’s candidates unless what Karamarko believes will happen, actually happens: HDZ membership will actually grow stronger, become more united than ever and grow in number because that would seem to be a realistic expectation from someone wrongly accused and wrongly convicted. Indeed, it is ludicrous to even imagine that 200,000 innocent people, proud members of HDZ movement that created the democratic and independent Croatia, will idly sit by and not fight back. It is ludicrous that the HDZ that created this modern Croatia will sit back and allow itself to be totally obliterated by the party SDP (formerly known as the League of Croatian Communists), which walked out of Croatia’s parliament in protest when voting for independent Croatia (secession from former communist Yugoslavia) was held in June 1991. This, of course, is not to say that all guilty individuals from HDZ who are proven to have committed acts of corruption should not be punished.
At first sight the convictions against Sanader and his HDZ colleagues might seem to be a godsend for the current centre-left coalition headed by the Social Democratic Party (SDP), and if the joinder of HDZ as party to these proceedings was politically arranged and plotted, then SDP will be gasping for mercy!
For there is no doubt in my mind that somewhere in this case, when under the SDP government HDZ was joined as a party in the court case against Sanader and four other persons, stands the evil plot to further the communist’s cause to degrade and criminalise the democracy Franjo Tudjman started with HDZ in 1989.
SDP has been struggling to turn around the Croatian economy that has been in recession since 2009 and whose evident incompetence has brought the country on its knees with almost 400,000 unemployed (in the country of 4.3 million total population) under a veil of suspect and corrupt allegations in privatisation, almost 80,000 working but without receiving a wage – the incompetence list grows longer every day.
SDP has not been spared from corruption scandals over the past two years since they have been in government, which scandals truly call into question its own political and otherwise ethics. To name only two examples: mass sackings of people and replacing them with the politically ideal ones who are loyal to SDP and Marina Lovric Merzel, the SDP prefect of the Sisak-Moslavina county in central Croatia, is currently under investigation by the anti-corruption police on the back of allegations that she has misused public funds to pay for private parties for her family and friends and to purchase expensive gifts for herself and political supporters…
The trial, which pronounced HDZ guilty of corruption – pending an Appeal – may indeed ricochet and serve to badly hurt SDP’s electoral chances in the upcoming European elections, as the disillusioned and disappointed Croatian electorate may act upon a conviction that the SDP is just as corrupt as the HDZ. The chances for untainted political parties not aligned, not in coalition with either HDZ or SDP, could, therefore, easily find a fruitful ground sooner than imagined. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)