Croatia: Major Corruption Scandal Silenced, Judiciary Paralysed

The just passed three-day slot, 21, 22 and 23 July 2023, was a historic moment for the Croatian Parliament in that for the first time in more than 30 years of its existence the President of the country (Zoran Milanovic) has called for, convened an extraordinary session of Parliament, making this a precedent of modern Croatian parliamentarianism.

Insults, “hits below the belt”, recriminations, and even grubby personal offences hurled across the chamber of the Croatian Parliament. While hopes for clear resolutions were widespread among the people it was clear from the start that this was not going to solve anything for the better for the people or the country, especially given that President Zoran Milanovic and Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic have done nothing jointly for the nation except cause distress and alarm due to their inability and/or unwillingness to work with each other as a matter of constitutional protocol and people’s expectations. For the first two days of the extraordinary session insults against the government flew at the empty seats usually occupied by the ruling HDZ party and their coalition parliamentary representatives. Then on Sunday 23 July 2023, in the morning part of the sitting these seats were occupied, almost every one of them and insults hurled both ways – it was when voting on the opposition motion, behind which President Zoran Milanovic stood, was to occur. The vote was for the furthering of clarification of culprits in the massive corruption affair of state-owned HEP selling gas reserves ridiculously cheaply: “that the Government undertake to determine within 15 days who is responsible in the ‘gas for a cent’ affair”, and, “that the government ensures the orderly functioning of the judiciary”. Of course, the vote did not go in favour of the motions or conclusions of the proponents – majority of HDZ and coalition partners came to vote and then go back to sunbaking on some beach or swimming pool.  

With majority 77 votes, President Milanovic’s motion/conclusion (presented to parliament via government opposition parties) was rejected by which the Government would undertake to immediately, and within 15 days at the latest, take all necessary measures to ensure the orderly functioning of the judiciary in Croatia. The motion of the President of the Republic, which would oblige the Government to determine within 15 days which institutions and persons are responsible for the financial damage caused to HEP, the state-owned power utility, in the implementation of the Regulation on eliminating disturbances in the domestic energy market, was also rejected.  

The conclusions of the ruling majority were, of course (!), accepted, stating adamantly that the convening of an extraordinary session by the President of the Republic of Croatia was unnecessary because the Government is taking all necessary measures to ensure the orderly functioning of the judicial authority, as well as all necessary measures to determine the circumstances in the implementation of the Decree on eliminating disturbances on the domestic energy market. Parliament also rejected the conclusions proposed by the entire opposition, that the Government should be tasked with making a decision by which civil servants and employees will be paid for all days spent on strike, and that within three working days, the members of the HEP board, the members of the HERA board (Croatian Energy Regulatory Agency), the HROTE board (Croatian Energy Market Operator), and the State Secretary for Energy in the Ministry of Economy, Ivo Milatic, would be dismissed. The opposition proposal to pay the strikers wages for the days on strike received 67 votes, and 74 voted against. Unlike the voting on other points, three representatives of the SDSS (Independent Democratic Serb Party) did not participate in the voting for this proposal at all.  

As I wrote in my last article, a huge corruption story implicating the involvement, either by omission or active role, of government officials or ministers in the abominably damaging low-price sale of surplus gas reserves by government-owned HEP mainly to private company PPD, seemingly enjoying government favouritism and, hence, destroying any changes of a truly free trade in Croatia, is shaking Croatia. To add to this crisis is the standstill or paralysis of the judiciary amidst unresolved claims for higher wages is also shaking Croatia, the rattling of a massive political crisis seeking the demise of those from the government responsible for this situation. The judiciary is already swamped with hundreds of thousands of unprocessed cases, causing the notoriously frustrating and unreasonable delay of ten to fifteen years in the processing of claims and this standstill due to industrial action of protests will surely list Croatian judiciary as the worst bastion of inefficiency and corruption in a democratic country’s judiciary operations. For months now the protest of the judiciary has lingered on with untold damage to the people and economy. Only matters of life and death are being heard by the courts and everything else is at a standstill for months, even thousands of applications for new business registrations!  

During the marathon debate that ensued in the parliament at the weekend, the opposition stated that the Government satisfied judges’ and doctors’ claims for higher wages, while ignoring judicial officers’ and administrative staff ‘ claims without whom the judiciary cannot function. It was pointed out that they work for miserable wages on which they cannot survive, and that Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic “trains strictness on the weakest, tramples women on strike, that he doesn’t care”. The opposition claims that the judiciary is paralysed, the rule of law does not work, that Croatia now has a constitutional crisis, and that the situation is extraordinary.  

As expected, HDZ party members, on the other hand, emphasised that the situation is neither extraordinary nor true that the judiciary is not functioning. Their frequent criticism was that President Milanovic did not appear at the session, even though he is the proposer, calling him a coward and that he aligned himself with the opposition. They defended the government that in recent years it has continuously increased wages and that it is not true that the government is doing nothing or that it has no will to pursue resolution of the judiciary strike situation. They are convinced that the Government will resolve the situation as it has until now and ultimately increase the salaries of civil servants by adopting the new Law on Salaries in Public Administration and regulations.  

Government defending its actions was to be expected but the significant unity achieved at this extraordinary session of parliament was not in the votes against President Milanovic’s motions delivered by the ruling HDZ party and its coalition but rather in the almost perfect government opposition unity on display.  Rarely has almost the entire Croatian government opposition been united in the past thirty years on issues that are important to citizens and the country as a whole: anti-corruption and the functioning of the judiciary. While the fact remains that Croatia is, ahead of the 2024 mega elections year, well into the pre-elections campaigning, the accentuation of intolerable markers of corruption at high levels in the country as well as the disfunction of the judiciary that must be addressed remain pressing topics for Croatia that is still and visibly struggling to transition fully from communist Yugoslavia.  

In Croatia, which was created independent by 94% people vote at May 1991 referendum and the consequent bloody Homeland War that defended such a strong people vote from Serb and Yugoslav Army aggression, nothing significant has changed in relation to the government-owned companies’ management model that what was had in the one-party communist system of former Yugoslavia. The corruption scandals that keep plaguing the public space in Croatia all these years since the secession from communist Yugoslavia have uncovered repeated chaos and robbery in public goods, repeated attempts to bury corruption scandals before they are unravelled and culprits punished – all in all, chaos, and robbery in public administration appear at all levels. If such an odious track record is to continue then the summer break, until parliament sitting restarts in September, will do nothing to address and answer the question people, not just government opposition, are asking: who is responsible for the shocking loss to the public purse due to the perversely cheap sale of government surplus gas to private companies and what are the consequences for the culprits? Whose hands, if anyone’s, have exchanged cash under the table?  Ina Vukic  

Yet Another High-Level Corruption Probe In Croatia 


I would love to be able to write about an installation of anti-corruption measures across all levels of government administration in Croatia – local, regional, and state government – but sadly I cannot because such measures do not appear to exist or, if they do, they are ignored, and life continues as was during the utterly corrupt communist former Yugoslavia. When stamped out at grassroot levels – local government – then much of the problem of corruption is eradicated. In May 1990, 94% of Croatian voters chose Yes at referendum seeking secession from Yugoslavia. Then the Homeland War for independence ensued to defend that people’s decision from Yugoslav Army and Serb aggression brutal aggression. 

33 years have passed since that fateful referendum! Corruption that defined communist Yugoslavia was surely one of the factors solidifying the Yes vote at that referendum in 1990. And yet, here we are – ordinary people are mainly suffocating in that corruption – from pressure to pay bribes to officials, professionals, work force and employment, service provision, business dealings, various licences processes… to corrupt deals at evidently high levels that secure privileges and monopoly for certain companies or corporations and severely undercut the obligatory free-trade environment.  

To illustrate corrupt wheeling and dealings Predrag Dragicevic, judge of the County Court in Slavonski Brod, and Darko Puljasic, former Croatian Democratic Union party/HDZ mayor of Požega and member of parliament, were arrested on Tuesday 11 July 2023 morning on suspicion of corrupt crimes. As it turns out, the arrested men are charged with accepting and giving bribes and favouring employment. Searches of homes and other premises used by suspects have been underway in Slavonia since the early hours of that morning. 

To add to the detrimental effects of corruption alarmingly high levels of emigration and corruption don’t just co-exist inside Croatia as politicians would like us to believe  — they correlate with one another, Tado Juric, a political scientist and historian at the Croatian Catholic University, revealed in his 2021 study “Research on Corruption in Croatia – Measuring Corruption.” His research showed that 75% of companies operating in Croatia claim to know companies that bribe the local or state administration in order to do ‘successful’ business. So, the more corruption, the more emigration. 

On 12 July 2023 Croatia’s anti-corruption prosecution office/USKOK, launched a probe into the resale of natural gas by state-owned power utility Hrvatska Elektroprivreda (HEP), local media reported citing unofficial information. USKOK investigators entered HEP’s offices and seized documents, following media reports last week that it practiced reselling of natural gas surpluses at very low prices. 

Since the HEP/Gas scandal broke out in the public arena in Croatia ten days ago the Prime Minister, Andrej Plenkovic, keeps saying that someone in the government knew about the resale of gas, but that he didn’t know! Well, during his Prime Ministership mandate Plenkovic has lost and replaced some 20 government ministers due to either proven corruption charges or suspected corruption and he remains “squeaky clean”! He does not stand down, his government is not suspended, his government is not sacked even though the parliamentary opposition has called for his resignation several times amidst his government ministers’ involvement in corruption as would be the case in a functioning democracy! How is this possible if not because of the lack of democracy and saturation with authoritarian rule as the people had to suffer under communist Yugoslavia. 

This is almost unbelievable. The Prime Minister carries no responsibility it appears; he does not resign nor is he forced to resign from office! The staged investigation into the HEP scandal will simply give Plenkovic more time to come up with excuses to save his own skin.  Not only do the published texts of emails and letters regarding the surplus storage of gas (later sold at obscenely cheap prices) now stand confirmed, which were signed the Head of HEP Frane Barbaric, but at the same time he also informed minister Davor Filipovic and, hence, the prime minister.  Plenkovic simply cannot advertently or inadvertently plead that he knew nothing. By default, if he did not know, read, the submissions of the president of the HEP management, on his cabinet’s desk, then his colleagues, those people who read it and were obliged to inform the prime minister, must have known. If he didn’t know, he had to know. Otherwise, he and his government ministers involved must suffer the consequences of gross negligence at work, in office. 

According to media reports quoting Zvonimir Troskot, opposition member of parliament, HEP was losing 500,000 euro per day by purchasing natural gas from INA at a regulated price of 47.60 euro per megawatt hour, only to resell it later through the Croatian Energy Market Operator HROTE at lower prices (for 1 cent per megawatt it seems!). 

Someone has lined their pockets with cash in this disgraceful example of corruption, for sure. Will the investigation reveal that as promptly as possible or will it bury the case to linger for a decade or more, like similar cases before, is yet to be seen. The effective EU corruption watchdog in Croatia is not involved because there does not appear to be any connection with EU funds but local trade with gas and so not much faith is held in USKOK or any other statutory body in Croatia. They all appear and operate as heavily laced with corrupt individuals who learned their trade during communist Yugoslavia, or whose parents did.     

On 13 July 2023 the Parliamentary Committee for Economy held a special meeting regarding the HEP scandal and the sale of surplus gas by HEP, a government owned energy agency. The only Agenda item at this meeting was “has the government acted efficiently in the energy field, i.e. buying and selling gas. Minister for Economy and Sustainable Development, Davor Filipovic, was sought out to speak at the meeting ad he regurgitated the government’s lamentation about last year’s energy crisis in the wake of Russian invasion of Ukraine and EU’s orders for member states to fill their gas reserve storage capacities and that HEP was to fulfil that duty. Minister Filipovic claimed that the government handled the energy crisis well. He admitted that he received several letters from HEP regarding storage of gas including loan approvals to that end.  He received a letter from HEP about the gas surplus plan in the warehouse and that the surplus gas will be used for local electricity production or sold on the domestic market if the Minister doesn’t order them otherwise. Clearly defensively Minister Filipovic said that letters did not advise him that the surplus gas would be sold “in this way” (read: cheap as chips!). 

Minister Davor Filipovic

“Let’s face it,” said at the meeting HEP Chief Frane Barbaric, “this is not an uncommon occurrence in energy markets around the world. Losses do not occur only in Croatia or only on the gas market …HEP received the gas it had to take over, the demand was low. This was resolved in a prescribed and transparent process over which HEP has and had no influence, but it is a frequent event in the world. If we understood that, no one would make a problem out of this event, let alone an affair.” 

Oh dear! If gas sales are so transparent why was Minister Filipovic so surprised and stated that he did not know the gas would be sold (by HEP) “in that way”! Which by the way generated a loss to the state budget of over 10 million euro! Something stinks in all this, and the Croatian taxpayer is entitled to know to whom the gas was sold so cheaply and whether that buyer sold it on and made profit and split the profit with any person associated with the government. The Parliamentary Committee for Economy was told at the special meeting of 13 July that 63% of the cheap gas was sold to Prvo Plinarsko Društvo/PPD which is a private company that has been enjoying exclusive trade privileges, which in themselves attract a great deal of questions and suspicions of corrupt dealings.     

So, one must ask: since HEP is government owned and accountable to the government were there no government Policies and Procedures in place regarding sale of surplus gas to which HEP had the duty of care to abide by? Why did Minister Filipovic not mention that HEP acted in breach of standing policies and procedures but merely said he did not know the gas would be sold in “that way”!?One would expect that where there are policies and procedures tightly in place for such matters of national importance as energy is. Or is the case simply that HEP had a delegation to create gas sale prices as it liked without checking first the government or minister?  In any case, the government must carry the responsibility of damage done to taxpayers by suspect sale of goods and services purchased from the state budget or supported loans. 

Evidently, there is a rather wide web of guilty people in this surplus gas deal and that no one appears innocent, not even the Prime Minister. Ensuing weeks should reveal more of this corruption scandal and heads will roll from the corridor of power for sure.

Judges and employees of the judiciary in Croatia protest for better wages

Furthermore, the current lingering protest by all court judges as well as court employees for increases to their salaries has paralysed the judiciary and placed a halt to all court proceedings; and there are at least one million of those to yet be completed and processed. The government is stamping its feet, refusing to budge enough for the return to normal in the judiciary. Certainly not a good move in the pre-elections year. 

The European Commission recommended that Croatia increase the wages of judges, adopt laws on lobbying and increase the efficiency of investigations and prosecution of corruption offences, it said. On 6 July 2023 the European Commission had recommended that Croatia revise the criminal procedure code and the law on the office for the suppression of corruption and organised crime, as set out in the anti-corruption strategy, so as to increase the efficiency of investigations and prosecution of corruption offences, it said in its latest rule of law report on. Whether the court judges’ protest has anything to do with cover ups and delay of prosecuting the HEP scandal and other major cases of corruption, we may find out. 

“In addition to recalling the commitments made under the national Recovery and Resilience Plan relating to certain aspects of the justice system and the anti-corruption framework, it is recommended to Croatia to continue structural efforts to address the remuneration of judges, state attorneys and judicial staff, taking into account European standards on resources and remuneration for the justice system,” the European Commission also said.  

Undoubtedly aware of corrupt practices in Croatia associated with public tenders, the European Commission also recommended that the government in Zagreb strengthen the framework for a fair and transparent allocation of state advertising by establishing clear criteria, good practices, and oversight measures to guarantee the effective functioning of the public tender procedure. Ina Vukic  

Croatia: Political Heads’ Pursuits As In “All Quiet on the Western Front”

President Zoran Milanovic (L), Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic (R) (Portrait photos: Pixsell)

The much-lauded German adaptation of the classic war novel “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque, clinched the Academy Award for best international feature film in March of this year with its timely anti-militarist message as far as current war in Ukraine is concerned but also as far as the destiny of war veterans of the Croatian Homeland War of the 1990’s is concerned. Remarque’s novel, published in 1929, paints a portrait of a generation that leaves school for the front and ends up perishing in World War I from 1914 to 1918. Come 2023 in Croatia. With the relentless intolerance and increasingly aggravated brawls between Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and the country’s President Zoran Milanovic the above Oscar-winning movie is eerily topical – their evident pursuit of nerve-pulling populism digs a grave, deeper and deeper, for the heroes that fought for Croatia’s independence and secession from communist Yugoslavia! Here and there, each will throw around some symbolic gesture or phrase in respect and crucial for freedom of the 1990’s Homeland War but, in reality and essence, their intentions and efforts rest in erasing it and resurrecting former communist Yugoslavia, even though they may, falsely, label it antifascist.  Constant conflicts intrusively played out in the public arena, fortunately verbal, but no less exhausting and ominous, mark almost the entire period of overlapping mandates of the two leaders of Croatian politics, President of the Republic Zoran Milanovic and Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic. The recently delivered President Milanovic’s speech to the nation and the reaction of Prime Minister Plenkovic suggest that this conflict will certainly last until the summer of 2024, and probably until the beginning of 2025; the entire mega elections year approaching. Whether it will continue after that period largely depends on whether the two, the Head of State and the Government, by their own will, and especially by the will of the voters, retain the positions they hold based on the election results.

Given that, in their positions, neither appears politically threatened by anyone – neither is anyone currently profiled as a potential presidential candidate, nor does the diluted and, therefore, weak opposition offer a more serious prime ministerial candidate and program nor does any palpable fraction within the ruling HDZ party. In short, it suits both men to counter each other – it keeps them both on the frontlines of conversation in all homes and around all coffee shop tables! While I have written before about the alarming political crisis in Croatia that has its roots in both the Office of the President and the Cabinet of the Prime Minister, the sickening lack of collaboration and extreme intolerance, as far as the public eye can see and the Croatian nation pulse can feel, between the country’s President Zoran Milanovic and its Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic continues. This cancerous situation, metaphorically speaking, is evidently purely political and perhaps agreed upon behind the curtain or under the table to the dire detriment for the country and its citizens who spilled rivers of blood during the 1990’s for its independence. Each blames the other, each expects an apology from the other, and neither gives “a farthing” for their duty as the elected leaders of state to communicate effectively on important matters of the state.  

Among other things, in his speech to the nation on June 6, 2023, President Milanovic said the following: “since the Croatian Constitution – to which I swore an oath – obliges me to take care of regular and coordinated activities, as well as the stability of the state government, I decided to warn the Croatian public to the serious threat to the constitutional-legal and democratic order that the Government of Andrej Plenkovic is preparing.   Yesterday I was informed that the Government, in defiance of the Constitution, intends to place the Military Security Intelligence Agency under the direct management of the Ministry of Defence.   Instead of following the constitutional procedure for appointing the director of the Military Security Intelligence Agency and contrary to the established democratic practice, the Government prepared an unconstitutional solution according to which the temporary head of the Agency would be appointed and dismissed by the Minister of Defence.   I want to be clear: it is Andrej Plenkovic’s political attack on the constitutional order and democracy, which returns Croatia to the era when the intelligence services were under the direct control of the ruling party.”

On June 7, 2023, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic referred publicly to the above-mentioned statements of the President of the Republic, saying that due to the form of the address, he first asked himself whether a war or a new epidemic had broken out, whether there had been a major earthquake, a huge flood, a fire, a terrible accident in Croatia, and that the Government had not heard about it. It appears that Plenkovic may in fact be the one to blame for the appalling and non-existent communication between the Prime Minister and President (Plenkovic had that streak or evident arrogance when Kolinda Gabar Kitarovic was President, for she complained in public about it and her helplessness in establishing a working relationship with Prime Minster Plenkovic ) that forced President Milanovic, faced with Plenkovic’s repeated rejection to meet with Milanovic, in making a speech, a cry, to the nation about it (?).   “Then I wondered if maybe it wasn’t a holiday? When it’s not Christmas, it’s not even New Year’s, and it’s not National Day either. Nothing of what is usual for the form of address by reading from a meter in a few minutes,Plenkovic said, commenting the (to him) extremely unusual form of address by President Milanovic. “He (Milanovic) assumed that this way of addressing avoided the risk of eliminating the presence of some journalists from certain newsrooms or the risk of answering possible questions….”! How arrogant of Prime Minister Plenkovic. Not only does he seem to adorn himself as a mind-reader but attempts to denigrate the very important facility of a President’s Address to the Nation. Reminding that cooperation cannot continue as if none of this had happened, Prime Minister Plenkovic said that communication between institutions can be done in numerous ways. It can be done directly, he added, but there are prerequisites for that – cultural, normal, and cooperative communication at the level of what is appropriate for behaviour in the public political space. Since there is no such thing, then there are no direct contacts, he said. Communication can be in written form, as well as through associates, and that communication, he asserted, exists.   Prime Minister Plenkovic asserted publicly  that there is no constitutional crisis, but there is a “false thesis of the President of the Republic who pretends to be the head of the opposition“.   President Milanovic had on 6 June invited the Prime Minister Plenkovic to an urgent meeting at which they could seek to agree on a candidate for the new director of VSOA/Military Security Intelligence Agency and the next day Plenkovic stated that such a meeting will not take place until Milanovic apologises! Given that he, yet again, expressly rejected what the president asked of him, Prime Minister Plenkvic obviously blames the conflict exclusively on the President, his messages and behaviour, and apparently, he does not even need cooperation with him because this type of conflict with this type of opponent it fits him personally, not Croatia, perfectly in the political and other collateral senses.  

Today, their verbal conflict is, in fact, a real political war, a Cold War, which has recently gained a very violent extension, eagerly fanned by the media and other actors that stand at a decent distance, except in protocol situations, in which the poles of this conflict pretend that they do not exist with each other, in the same space or country. Even the blind can see that a major shift upwards in the numbers of eligible voters actually voting in 2024 elections is the only tool that will rid Croatia of this political vermin at the head of Government and Office of the President. The Cold War between them has translated into a real war (by stealth ?) that is attacking Croatia’s demography and chasing rivers of young people out, bankrupting the economy, concealing horrific and widespread corruption, belittling the independence-bearer, the Homeland War…The anger and disappointment on the streets is almost paralysing and I hope that such a “paralysis” will fixate the masses into strong and successful action for change for the better, if not lustration! Ina Vukic              

Disclaimer, Terms and Conditions:

All content on “Croatia, the War, and the Future” blog is for informational purposes only. “Croatia, the War, and the Future” blog is not responsible for and expressly disclaims all liability for the interpretations and subsequent reactions of visitors or commenters either to this site or its associate Twitter account, @IVukic or its Facebook account. Comments on this website are the sole responsibility of their writers and the writer will take full responsibility, liability, and blame for any libel or litigation that results from something written in or as a direct result of something written in a comment. The nature of information provided on this website may be transitional and, therefore, accuracy, completeness, veracity, honesty, exactitude, factuality and politeness of comments are not guaranteed. This blog may contain hypertext links to other websites or webpages. “Croatia, the War, and the Future” does not control or guarantee the accuracy, relevance, timeliness or completeness of information on any other website or webpage. We do not endorse or accept any responsibility for any views expressed or products or services offered on outside sites, or the organisations sponsoring those sites, or the safety of linking to those sites. Comment Policy: Everyone is welcome and encouraged to voice their opinion regardless of identity, politics, ideology, religion or agreement with the subject in posts or other commentators. Personal or other criticism is acceptable as long as it is justified by facts, arguments or discussions of key issues. Comments that include profanity, offensive language and insults will be moderated.
%d bloggers like this: