Croatia – Slovenia Memorandum of Understanding: EU Accession – Blackmail, Smoke and Mirrors Conundrum

Zoran Milanovic, Prime Minister of Croatia   Photo:

Zoran Milanovic, Prime Minister of Croatia Photo:

The ratification by 27 EU member states of Croatia’s EU Accession Treaty involves assessment by those member states as to whether they are satisfied with Croatia’s progress in ensuring compliance with the completion of the remaining implementation of the commitments taken during the accession negotiations, and as required by EU’s imposition of monitoring of Croatia as condition to Croatia’s successful entry into EU membership on 1 July 2013.

Compliance with Judiciary and Fundamental Rights, Market Competition and Justice, Freedom and Security and any bilateral issues between countries is to my knowledge not included in the monitoring, in criteria upon which ratification of the Treaty is to be based.

However, somehow Slovenia has managed to impose its own condition if it’s to ratify Croatia’s EU Accession Treaty. This condition has to do with Slovenia’s push to weasel its way out of its responsibility towards Croatian citizens whose bank savings disappeared when Slovenian Ljubljanska Banka folded or packed-up (1991) in the process of disintegration of former Yugoslavia. (A new bank, Nova Ljubljanska Banka, was formed after the Ljubljanska Banka went bankrupt but it only took over the old bank’s capital, not its debts to foreign savers! One wonders where in the world, even in 1991, could it have been possible and proper without acting unconscionably to ignore creditors in bankruptcy proceedings!)

As it’s a matter of a significant amount of money (some 270 million EURO) Slovenia has been on a vicious path in stalling with the payment of money it owes to Croatian citizens. Slovenia has held a firm opinion that the matter of this debt it owes to the Croatian costumers of its Ljubljanska Banka should be dealt with as a matter of “succession from Yugoslavia”.
In other words, who gets what equity from the assets of former Yugoslavia?
The finalisation stage of State Succession for Socialist Federative Republic Of Yugoslavia (former Yugoslavia) doesn’t appear on the horizon, let alone being near. So, when it comes to paying out the money owed to Croatian’s whose savings went missing along with Ljubljanska Banka from Croatia, Slovenia’s thinking seems to bee something like this: we have equity in the assets of former Yugoslavia, so we’ll wait till the succession case is completed and then subtract the money we might owe from the value of equity coming to us from former Yugoslavia and if Croatia doesn’t agree with this we won’t ratify its EU Accession Treaty!

Lo and behold, this line of thinking is well known to the EU movers and shakers in Brussels, and yet none have come forward to make it clear to Slovenia that ratifying Croatia’s EU Accession Treaty has nothing to do with Slovenia’s problems and everything to do with Croatia’s performance on compliance with matters set by the EU.

On 7 March, Slovenia and Croatia had initialed a memorandum of understanding that should resolve this Ljubljanska Banka dispute. Croatian Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic and Slovenian State Secretary Tone Kajzer initialed the memorandum of understanding. The Prime Ministers of Slovenia and Croatia will sign the final agreement on Monday 11 March, as formal adoption of the agreement.
The Bank for International Settlement (BIS) took on an arbitration role on this dispute. Under the new agreement the Croatian government will suspend all court proceedings regarding savings …and the Slovenian government vowed that it will ratify Croatia’s Accession Treaty.
The two countries will continue active negotiations under the auspices of the Basel-based Bank for International Settlements.

Stefan Fuele, the EU Enlargement Commissioner, welcomed these news and said: “This is also a very good example how joint efforts in the area of good neighbourly relations bring benefits for both sides and provide basis to solve open issues.

Even blackmail seems to be good enough to achieve EU enlargement!

In trying desperately to convince the Croatian people of how good a deal with Slovenia, Croatia has achieved, Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic appeared on Croatian TV evening news on 7 March.

His TV news program interview could perhaps have been palatable, despite his arrogant and antagonistic demeanour, had he not made a ridiculous mistake a lawyer should never make – and he is a lawyer by education:

Question: “A solution has been agreed upon with Slovenia, but the Opposition (Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ) warns of lack of clarity regarding the court proceeding that need to be frozen, they say that, at the end of the day, this could mean the abandonment of the court proceedings?

Zoran Milanovic reply: “ I haven’t seen that warning but I hope that they have read the twenty or so sentences in the memorandum, which does not contain the word ‘freezing’ anywhere, there is the English word ‘stay’ … that’s a big difference … so, freezing does not exist in law and I would like to hear about this from people who know what ‘stay’ means, what suspension means in proceedings of which that is a procedural instrument and everything else is clear, the memorandum is crystal clear, it’s good for them and it’s good for us…

In his evident rejection to entertain properly, duly, what the Croatian opposition was saying about the memorandum with Slovenia, Milanovic arrogantly emphasised in this interview that ‘freezing does not exist in law’! In his arrogant way, he condescendingly labelled the opposition of not knowing what they’re talking about when they interpret the word ‘stay’ in legal and practical terms!

Even though I am not a lawyer, I know that the word ‘Freezing’ had become a part of legal definition of ‘stay’ way back in 1985, when Canada’s Supreme Court adopted that word as part of defining ‘stay’ in Regina V. Jewitt case:

A stay … as defined in Black’s Law Dictionary (5th ed. 1979), it is a kind of injunction with which a court freezes its proceedings at a particular point, stopping the prosecution of the action altogether, or holding up some phase of it. A stay may imply that the proceedings are suspended to await some action required to be taken by one of the parties as, for example, when a non resident has been ordered to give security for costs. In certain circumstances, however, a stay may mean the total discontinuance or permanent suspension of the proceedings”.

So, the Opposition in Croatia (HDZ) was correct in its suggestion that the ‘freezing’ could end up as abandonment of the court proceedings in the long run. Which would be a disaster for the Croatian people whose personal savings are at stake.

But then again, perhaps Prime Minister Milanovic knows all this, as a lawyer and as the Prime Minister, and has adopted the usage of smoke and mirrors in order to avoid answering to the Opposition’s concerns and warnings. Using rhetoric of pretending to know better than the Opposition what the English word ‘stay’ means in legal terms, suggesting that the term is complicated – too complicated for you or I to understand, to mislead the public rather than to inform it! What a mess! Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A..Ps. (Syd)

Croatia: prolific anticorruption writer – sentenced for extortion!

Sasa Radovic Photo: Novi List

Recently, I wrote about Natasha Srdoc’s H-21 Party candidate (at last year’s elections in Croatia) Sasa Radovic and the criminal proceedings before a court in Zagreb against him for extortion/blackmail.

On 18 June Judge Zorislav Kaleb sentenced Radovic to two years imprisonment for extortion. In his explanation Judge Kaleb stated that the court found that Radovic had committed the crime of blackmail, as evidenced by witness testimonies and audio recordings. The extortion or blackmail took the form of Radovic demanding large amount of money from general Ivan Cermak, so that Radovic would not publish allegations of corruption against Cermak, etc (see my previous post on the matter). The minimum sentence for such a crime is three years but given Radovic’s age (72), his status as war veteran and no previous convictions, the sentence was reduced to two years.

It is expected that Radovic will appeal this judgment and sentence. That is the process to which he has a right under Croatia’s laws.

An interesting (and to some – irritating) sideshow continues when it comes to this case.

The sideshow is that Natasha Srdoc’s Adriatic Institute for Public Policy on it’s Facebook page continues to call Radovic a political prisoner of Croatia, accusing Croatia of having politically influenced judiciary and an unreformed police structure. Furthermore it strongly suggests that Radovic did not have a fair trial. In the same breath  it goes further and calls Croatia a “mafia state”.

I guess Natasha Srdoc and her followers could do themselves (and everybody else) a lot of good and join in Radovic’s appeal of the above sentence and judgment, on grounds of bias or unfair trial. They would, of course, as in any court of any democratic country, need to spell out those grounds. They’ve already said it was not a fair trial – without stating the details of their claim – so why not get in on the action in court, or provide those details to Radovic’s defence.

Making blanket offensive, insulting and vilifying statements like “mafia state” certainly won’t prove that Radovic’s trial was unfair, or fair for that matter. Trial by vilifying or slandering the whole state of Croatia in the media (e.g. facebook) doesn’t do anyone any good.  To my way of looking at it, it is profoundly unprofessional, mean and cruel to label a whole country as a “mafia state”.

I do not have details of Radovic’s defence during the trial and what evidence, arguments and testimonies his defence may have put before the court but I think I can safely assume that he did have a defence and that it failed to convince the court in its favour. This is the Croatia I know; not different to any other court in the civilised and democratised world.

There seems to be the feeling that some people, including members of H-21 Century Party, are convinced that Radovic is being “persecuted” because he exposed widespread corruption and war-profiteering by Croatia’s political, military and business “elite”.

To my knowledge the truth of the contents (corruption and war profiteering allegations) of Radovic’s books has not been tested in court yet and, hence, I am not in the position to comment either way. But, even if they represent the truth, that does not remove the possibility that the author of the books (Radovic) had himself acted abominably dishonestly – engaged in extortion and blackmail as the court judgment says. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

Croatia: Natasha Srdoc’s H-21 Party nest anti-corruption crusaders reveal ugly side to consider

Sasa Radovic Photo: Novi List

Corruption in Croatia is an intolerable reality that had spread its roots deeply within the society from the days of communist Yugoslavia. The former government’s minister of internal affairs Tomislav Karamarko (newly elected President of Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ) had waged a decisive and firm war against corruption.

Charles Crawford, a former UK diplomat who spent decades serving in or dealing with communist and post-communist Europe was quick to jump on the anti-Croatian lynch mob bandwagon that, in the midst of widespread corruption allegations in Croatia, failed to sit back and afford Croatian authorities the trust they should be afforded. Crawford wasted no time in calling Croatia a tyrannical state when he should have waited to see what develops. I wonder if he would call UK a tyrannical state if a candidate at parliamentary elections was arrested on suspicions of having committed some crime? In November 2011, he wrote:

“Sasha (Sasa Radovic) is now a political prisoner of a tyrannical state …

In an independent initiative, Denis Latin, anchor of Croatia’s state-run television and one of the most respected journalists in Croatia and Southeast Europe has joined well-known public figures in a signed letter calling for the release of Sasha. 

Over the last four months, over 20 political party candidates of H21, supporters and volunteers have been harassed, intimidated, lost business contracts and had visits by Croatia’s ‘financial police’.

 The Adriatic Institute for Public Policy and Hrvatska 21 call for the immediate release of Aleksandar Saša Radović and encourage Western leaders from strong rule of law nations to join this effort in calling for Croatia to uphold the rule of law and establish an independent judiciary”. 

Crawford wrote soon after Sasa Radovic was arrested in Croatia having, according to news and media reports, been caught in flagrante delicto receiving blackmail money. Radovic had reportedly been blackmailing General Ivan Cermak (acquitted of war crimes charges in the Hague, April 2011) for months. According to media reports the blackmail consisted of Radovic extorting money (one million Euros) from Cermak: Cermak pays the money to Radovic and Radovic will stop publically accusing Cermak of war profiteering!

Sasa Radovic, an activist and writer (one of his books on corruption and war-profiteering was “Tko je jamio, je jamio” / “Who grabbed, grabbed”) has been described as having in his book accused Cermak of amassing enormous wealth from selling petrol for Serbian tanks during the 1990’s war in Bosnia. Radovic had reportedly also been a member of a group of Croatian civil activists (including journalist Domagoj Margetic, and writer Darko Petricic) pushing for a Different Croatia, seeking that many politicians, government officials, president … leave their positions before “they do more damage”.

Reportedly, Radovic was also involved in the organising of a series of rallies (2008/2009…) under the banner “You tighten your belts, you thieving gang” that aimed to bring down the government and called out against criminals and war criminals.

Whether as author, whether as public speaker …Sasa Radovic, it seems, had been seen as a relentless anti-corruption activist, not shying away from naming persons who were, according to him, corrupt, regardless of the credibility of evidence he may or may not have had.

In 2011 he became a candidate for December 2011 general parliamentary elections for Croatia 21 Century Party. President of this Party is Natasha Srdoc, head of The Adriatic Institute for Public Policy in Croatia. Srdoc has received many accolades in “Western” media as the person who is a staunch anti-corruption fighter and whose resolve in this could significantly help bring Croatia out of the dark corridors of widespread corruption. She has been dubbed Croatia’s “Iron Lady” by some.

When Radovic was arrested in November 2011, Srdoc, though, had no time for respecting the justice process in Croatia – she charged forth defending Radovic and called his arrest a political arrest in the days before general elections. She wasted no time informing the international scene of her “plight”. Charles Crawford (former UK Diplomat) was one of many to jump on Srdoc’s bandwagon carrying a lynch mob against Croatian justice and authorities. Srdoc, it seems, had no time to sit back and wait; to allow Croatian police and criminal processing avenues to do their job.

Srdoc is the first to criticize Croatian justice system as being unjust, biased and non-independent and yet here she was doing exactly the thing she says she’s fighting against.

Also, instead of seeking that Radovic step down as candidate for her Party in 2011 general elections once he was arrested on suspicions of blackmail and extortion she dug her heels in and tagged him a political prisoner of Croatia. It’s a given that one must be presumed innocent until proven guilty, but to call an arrest for blackmail and extortion at election times a political arrest is wrong because it means that due process in processing allegations of criminal offences is ignored, purposefully I believe. Srdoc did wrong here and that, to my opinion, strips heaps off her credibility as an anti-corruption fighter, as a fighter for independence in judiciary …

Even during times of parliamentary general elections processing criminal charges and allegations must take priority over politics. But not in Srdoc’s world it seems?

Vecernji List news portal reports that at the court hearing (May 23, 2012) for blackmail against Radovic seceretly taped Radovic’s telephone conversations reveal evidence of blackmail (Radovic was arrested in November 2011 as he was receiving blackmail money after this phone conversation). It is claimed that in these phone conversations Radovic sought to extort (via middle-man Tomislav Micic, former employee of Security Intelligence Service) half million Euro from Cermak  – in return Radovic would stop the printing of his new book in which he reportedly names Cermak, again, for war profiteering. Also, Radovic reportedly sought that Cermak withdraws the defamation proceedings against him. Radovic has not presented his defence in this matter but it is expected that he may attempt to turn the tables against Cermak.

Natasha Srdoc’s H-21 Party website  boasts: “Adriatic Institute’s leaders have made a profound impact in changing the climate of public opinion in addressing Croatia’s criminal capitalism, unreformed judiciary, widespread corruption, absence of media freedom and an economy at risk through domestic and international high-level events”.

It would seem to me that Natasha Srdoc and some of her political associates (including Sasa Radovic) have captured the attention of international, and domestic media simply because they speak loudly in blanket statements (often speaking in general terms without evidencing specifics) against Croatian corruption and judiciary, creating a picture of Croatia that is as black as black can be.

Srdoc, instead of taking the route of positive change in influencing “climate of public opinion” by praising the positive changes and progress made in processing corruption cases in Croatia, decided to bang on and on about corruption as if nothing has changed.

There are many in the world who, for whatever reason, don’t like to see positive things about Croatia and latch on hungrily at anyone or anything that might feed their disliking of Croatia.

But things are not so black in Croatia as Srdoc and her associates would like us to believe; there are many positive changes and progress made. One must behold those while keeping a keen eye on those things that still need to be changed.

Perhaps another positive change will arise if Sasa Radovic, Natasha Srdoc’s H-21 Party  “leadership colleague”, is found guilty of blackmail and extortion. This would not be your “ordinary” run-of-the-mill blackmail and extortion case, this case announces an alarming  possibility that leaders (anti-corruption crusaders) such as Radovic may have devised a wicked, wicked plan: Shout loudly about corruption so that persons implicated or named (perhaps even without water-tight evidence) in your shouting get to pay you lots of money to stop!

Well, well, well – if it turns out that Radovic did extort and blackmail, could this be a novel avenue (a road less travelled) of extortion devised or perfected within the corridors of the very Croatian institute and political party that prides itself on anti-corruption, anti-organised crime?

If Radovic is found innocent then the allegations that he was a political prisoner may be proven as correct, and grave concerns about Croatia’s democracy and rule of law will indeed become justified, if that turns out to be the case, in this case.  Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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