Croatia’s Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic has Tuesday 6 May sacked the Finance Minister Slavko Linic, saying that “clean hands” were the most important thing in his cabinet. Linic made front-page news on Monday 5 May after daily Jutarnji list revealed that he cost the Croatian taxpayer 27 million kuna (3.5 millon EUR) after he personally wrote off tax debts for the land, which was more than five times over-valued. In March of this year revelations surfaced that the land in question was valued at 6 million kuna (830,000 EUR), not 33.6 million kuna (4.4 million EUR) as the bankruptcy settlement had valued it.
The anti-corruption office USKOK has become involved in the case, asking the Finance Ministry to urgently submit to it all documents regarding the purchase of land.
“Minister Linic bears a political responsibility for the damage the contract has incurred on the state budget,” Milanovic explained.
“It is possible there was no intention. Mistakes happen but then it should be checked who was responsible for a mistake … I was waiting for two months but minister (Linic) took no action and I am not satisfied with his explanation,” Milanovic said.
The scandal around Linic has been gathering momentum since the beginning of this year.
His deputy Branko Segon was given marching orders amidst conflict of interest and allegations that his private company received a loan from the State of over 31.4 million Croatian kuna (cca 4 million Euro) – Linic had defended Segon all the while and held that if Segon was proven to have acted in conflict of interest he would let him go but Prime Minister Milanovic decided to get rid of Segon prior to that. Last week Segon was found to have acted in conflict of interest in some matters, however the matter of the loan from the State Development bank was reported as having been done in accordance with the law.
The scandal reached the office of Finance Minister Linic’s taxation chief, Nada Cavlovic-Smiljanec, against whom criminal allegations were made in relation to failure to impose execution order to pay taxes for OLT Osijek company and hence damaging the state budget by at least 11.8 million kuna ( 1.7 million Euro). Minister Linic had all the while defended his tax chief, but she resigned her position on Thursday 30 April listing among other reasons that she had lately been obstructed in performing her job.
Now, Linic is shifting blame unto his ex-taxation chief!
Since we’re talking about the Social Democrat (SDP) led government we cannot omit the fact that the past couple of months in Croatia had also been marked by a scandal around one of the most powerful women in Croatia’s ruling Social Democratic Party (SDP) Marina Lovric Merzel, the head of Sisak-Moslavina County, who was described by the media as close friend of Linic and was arrested on suspicions of alleged financial irregularities in the County – still remains in remand for investigations. One of her office employees recently accused her when talking to national television and saying she was paying private expenses with the money from the County accounts/ issues of suspect land valuations for purchasing building are also related to this case. Prior to her arrest some five weeks ago Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic had stated several times that he would not allow any disintegration of trust in the taxation administration, spoke of “limits” to what can be tolerated.
One must ask the question: why does Prime Minister Milanovic talk of “lost trust” and “clean hands” instead of “suspected corruption” when it comes to the State paying five time more for land than its value? Certainly, he would like to circumvent the fact that his governing SDP party might have just as many corrupt personalities as the former HDZ – but things are not looking in his favour.
He has been heard last week saying that improper dealings in government administration must be cleared so that his government can begin to do its job properly! One may well conclude from this that Milanovic’s government has been asleep at the wheel for the past two years, have brought the country to its knees and into the gutter of economic impasse, and are now gearing up for a new election campaign where SDP will, instead of tackling suspected corruption in its midst, use their handling of these scandals as some sort of indications of its determination to make things better for Croatian people.
The mood for early general elections in Croatia is gaining popularity on a daily basis; Milanovic rejects any such possibility.
Boris Lalovac, ministry of finance high-ranking employee, has replaced Linic as Finance Minister. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)