Croatia: Justice Against Corruption Still In Claws Of Baptism Of Fire

Ivo Sanader, former prime minister of Croatia Photo: Marko Lukunic

Ivo Sanader, former prime minister of Croatia
Photo: Marko Lukunic

Justice in ridding Croatia of paralysing corrupt practices inherited from the communist power-bases of former Yugoslavia, or at least reducing them so that corruption ceases to stifle democratic progress including the economy, has indeed been a long-suffering entity in Croatia. Croatia that is free from corruption is the new bright position people want Croatia to be in. Frank Serpico, New Yorks’s retired police department office who became famous for blowing the whistle on corruption within the police department in late 1960’s and early 1970’s said: “The fight for justice against corruption is never easy. It never has been and never will be. It exacts a toll on our self, our families, our friends, and especially our children. In the end, I believe, as in my case, the price we pay is well worth holding on to our dignity.”

For years Croatia had been unable or unwilling, or both, to deal decisively with thieves and troublemakers that define the deep-rooted corruption. When in 2014 Zagreb’s District Court delivered a guilty verdict in the first and biggest to date corruption case involving the former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader and Hypo and INA-MOL (Croatian gas and petrol energy company with Hungarian MOL clout) there was a breath of relief in Croatia and abroad. Finally – the breath of fresh air and hope for justice showed optimistic promise that Croatia was well on its way in getting rid of paralysing and almost omnipresent corruption it inherited from communist Yugoslavia days. Sanader was sentenced to eight and a half years and I thought: justice against corruption has been baptised and it will grow from now on.

Zsolt Hernádi, CEO MOL Photo: Budapest Business Journal

Zsolt Hernádi, CEO MOL
Photo: Budapest Business Journal

Sanader was arrested in Austria as he fled Croatia in an attempt to avoid facing criminal charges, and was extradited to Croatia in July 2011. Series of trials for a string of serious charges of corruption, bribery and war profiteering offences commenced late 2011. In December 2011 criminal charges were laid against Sanader, which stipulated that for a 10 Million euro bribe he negotiated with president of Hungary’s petrol/energy company MOL, Zsolt Hernádi, that MOL receive majority ownership in Croatia’s INA company. These charges were attached to previous one for war profiteering in which Sanader is alleged to have taken a provision of 3.6 Million kuna (475,000 euro) from Hypo Bank while holding the office of deputy foreign minister of Croatia. As far as bribery from MOL, Hungarian Zsolt Hernádi has continuously denied any wrongdoing although he has refused to attend the Croatian court.
After the 2014 verdicts against Sanader, Croatian Supreme court confirmed those Zagreb District Court guilty verdicts.

But, in July 2015 Croatia’s Constitutional court overturned those guilty verdicts, citing procedural errors (not facts of evidence for the criminal acts) and ordered a retrial. The Constitutional court said that in its decision it did not go into whether Ivo Sanader was guilty of war profiteering and criminal acts of receiving bribes for which he was found guilty because it, the Constitutional court, did not have jurisdiction. The Constitutional court had overturned the guilty verdict because it found that all guarantees for a fair trial and all mechanisms of judicial protection provided through the legislation were not secured for him. (Click this link for PDF in Croatian/ Summary of Constitutional Court decision 24 July 2015)

The Constitutional court findings say that there had been a breach of rules of a milder law in relation to the constitutional guarantee for a milder sentence. Article 31, clause 1 of the Constitution of Croatia provides that ” No one may be punished for an act which, prior to its commission, was not defined as a punishable offence by domestic or international law, nor may such individual be sentenced to a penalty which was not then defined by law. If a less severe penalty is determined by law after the commission of said act, such penalty shall be imposed.”

The decision also refers to a breach of Constitutional right to explanations of the part of judgement dealing with the rule of the milder law.

And so, on Monday 7 September 2015, Croatia began a retrial of former prime minister Ivo Sanader on corruption charges, including a case of a bribe allegedly taken from Hungarian oil firm MOL to allow it acquire a dominant stake in Croatia’s biggest utility (INA).

Judge Ivan Turudic Photo: Slavko Midzor

Judge Ivan Turudic
Photo: Slavko Midzor

As the retrial got under way, Sanader’s lawyers requested the judge (Ivan Turudic) be changed as he had overseen the previous trial and they submit that he may be biased against Sanader in the second-trial. According to media reports Sanader’s lawyers will seek not only that Turudic be disqualified from hearing the case or presiding over the hearing but that he also be removed from his position as president of the Zagreb District Court. Judge Ivan Turudic, on the other hand, says that he can see no reason why he could not preside over the retrial. Any disqualification of a judge from presiding over the trial or hearing the case will need to be decided by a higher court (in this case Supreme Court of Croatia).

Well, well, it seems Sanader and his lawyers don’t worry about the independent facts revealed during the first trial against him, which facts point to guilt of actual corruption, bribery and war profiteering. Procedural matters are the hot coals in the baptism of fire of justice in this case. While Sanader and everyone should have the benefit of due process – which includes access to all rights under the law and procedural fairness – one cannot but think of Frank Serpico at this time: the fight for justice is never easy! Baptism of fire for many good things is an inevitable albeit regretful path to the good; we all want justice and want it now! Especially given that Croatia has been suffocated by corruption for a whole lifetime. Time to speed up the fight against corruption in Croatia and I hope that agenda will be included in someone’s election campaign platform! It’s election year with general elections likely to occur in a couple of month’s times. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A.;M.A.Ps. (Syd)


  1. There’s only one positive thing that could possibly come out of this, and that is that by the time they get to the really big fish, the constitutional court will have finally cut a clear definition of what’s allowed and what’s not. Because there are definitely bigger fish to fry. Sanader was a shyster, but small time compared to Linic and other former commies, who are currently “untouchable”.

    • Yes, Brankec, I think so too, it’s just so frustrating to know that procedural errors did occur according to the Constitutional court, and given that Sanader’s case was to be the first important one procedural errors should have been avoided. The “untouchables” of today is what’s contributes to the ugliness of life and it doesn’t need to be like that although one is always anywhere going to come across corrupt individuals one does not want to put up with the flood of them

  2. Croatia is plagued by corruption, Not much has changed since the days of communism in that department even if there were some cases concluded. Much work and determination needed as the corrupt thugs are in each others pockets and protection rackets run high, so I reckon one needs one mean police unit that will bring a new broom but to succeed in sweeping corruption away that mean team needs fresh faces that have no “IOU’s” or owe favors to the corrupt

  3. Marko Lozica says:

    European Commission has praised Croatia for establishing the Bureau for Combating Corruption and Organized Crime attached to the State Attorney General’s Office (USKOK) for paving a track record of proactive investigations and successful prosecutions including in notable cases concerning high level elected and appointed officials but I think what we are seeing that USKOK is doing a selective job and doesn’t dare touching the “untouchables” and I fret that the procedural errors the Constitutional court talks of were matters of purposeful errors…politics are afoot no doubt

  4. As I see it the best way to stop corruption is to instill moral values and ethical ideals in the general population, especially children. If the disgrace and shame of betraying one’s culture and country comes at a higher price than the perceived financial gain, corruption will be stifled. But first there needs to be a climate of contempt for those who betray their fellow citizens and their country.
    People all-too-often abuse the notion of forgiveness. Sociopaths know how to say the words people like to hear, but if one is vigilant against them and their ways, one will realize just how sorry these “apologies” are. Banish, shame, shun, traitors.

    • Totally agree, Donald – shame and “fear of God” seems to have evaporated in most places and needs replacing with something that has similar effect on morality or rebuilding

      • A true genuine love of one’s own country would be nice, but few people, especially those in power in the US, don’t seem to have much, if any.
        Bernie Sanders seems to be a truly good, decent, honorable man. There’s some chance of us turning things around with someone like him at the helm. As the quality of life decreases at an alarming rate and the people here are treated as if they live in a Police State — which they do — if they don’t vote for Sanders, they might as well turn the US into the world’s largest S&M club.

      • Oooh, Donald – would not want to be a member of “that” club – hope your reasoning turns into multitudes of votes in US.

      • “hope your reasoning turns into multitudes of votes in US”
        I wouldn’t count on that. They voted for George Bush twice.
        On the other part — You were smart enough to join the right club. Australia is listed in the top ten happiest countries in the world in which to live.

      • Not all bliss in Australia, of course – but what we have comes with great determination I think – often unpopular choices – o yes lucky and grateful. Yeah, know what you mean about voting for Bush twice. Croats voted for Stjepan Mesic twice and he is still digging Croatia’s grave from retirement.

  5. Great post on corruption Ina will be published on newsroom at 15.25GMT at this link


  1. […] Sanader, who was in office as Prime Minister of Croatia from 2004 to 2009, was sentenced separately to 10 years in prison for bribery in 2012 (INA-MOL case), but Croatia’s Constitutional Court had overturned that verdict and ordered a retrial on similar grounds of procedural unfairness. […]

  2. […] Sanader, who was in office as Prime Minister of Croatia from 2004 to 2009, was sentenced separately to 10 years in prison for bribery in 2012 (INA-MOL case), but Croatia’s Constitutional Court had overturned that verdict and ordered a retrial on similar grounds of procedural unfairness. […]

  3. […] Sanader, who was in office as Prime Minister of Croatia from 2004 to 2009, was sentenced separately to 10 years in prison for bribery in 2012 (INA-MOL case), but Croatia’s Constitutional Court had overturned that verdict and ordered a retrial on similar grounds of procedural unfairness. […]

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