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)

Will Croatia’s former president Stjepan Mesic walk in Lord Jeffrey Archer’s footsteps for perjury?

Stjepan Mesic (left) Darko Petricic (right) Photo: getimage

In 2009, former president of Croatia (while still in office) filed a private lawsuit for defamation (by slander) against Darko Petricic, political analyst and publicist, in Zagreb.

Mesic claimed that Petricic had defamed him by saying on Croatian HTV program Dossier and later on Radio 101 that Mesic’s first presidential campaign (2000) was financed by the Albanian lobby (mafia) and that because of that Mesic had become one of three wealthiest people in Croatia.

Petricic’s book, “Croatia: in the net of mafia, crime and corruption” (Hrvatska u mrezi mafije, kriminala i korupcije) is also said to contain similar allegations.

On Thursday 29 March judge Zorislav Kaleb said in his judgment that Petricic had not defamed Mesic, that it was “a matter of serious critique of a politician without the intent to defame and offend and that it was proven during the proceedings that Mesic had kept company with some persons who were subject to criminal proceedings, but that it wasn’t proven whether Mesic extended any favours to them“.

Judge Kaleb also concluded that Mesic’s presidential campaign was not fully transparent and that it’s impossible to confirm who exactly donated funds to Mesic’s campaign.

With regard to Petricic’s public comment that Mesic is one of the three richest people in Croatia, judge Kaleb said that “this is a value judgement which does not fall within criminal jurisdiction”. Kaleb continued: “Today, nobody is relatively rich, or poor, adding that the President (Mesic) after leaving the office of State responsibility had purchased two appartments and two garages in his wife’s name, and it’s not clear who had lent him the money”.

Mesic did not attend court on the day judge Kaleb brought his decision, however, newsportal reports that his attorney had asked that Petricic be fined by 150 day’s wage, which is about 27,000 Kuna (about US$4,800.-), as he had not proven the truth of his comments nor that the Albanian lobby had financed Mesic’s presidential campaign.

Legally, defamation occurs when a public communication tends to injure the reputation of another person. England is the birthplace of Common law and it looks upon defamation as a communication that tends to harm the reputation of another as to lower him in the estimation of the community or to deter third persons from associating or dealing with him. Similar tracks are followed in most if not all countries of democratic persuasion.

Communications deemed (by courts) to be defamatory are usually those where malice and falsehood are proven.  Malice, in this context would point to knowing or reckless disregard for the truth.

It would seem that Petricic was not required to prove the truth of his commentary for a court judgment to be delivered. It would seem that Mesic did not insist that Petricic proves the truth of his commentary, i.e. that Albanian mafia really did fund Mesic’s presidential election campaign.

So, on basis of what usually occurs in defamation courts in the developed democratic countries, where malice and truth are pursued to a bitter end until proven or disproven, one cannot but conclude that Mesic, for whatever reason, was not really serious about his defamation lawsuit against Petricic, and Petricic got away without having to prove that Mesic’s campaign was truly financed by a mafia.

Or, did Judge Kaleb “save the day” for both of them by placing the whole affair into the category of political critique, or critique of a politician. This decision, then, is the crux that, if upheld on appeal or confirmed as final, aligns Croatian court opinions with those of the Western world in such matters.

In 2009, Tennessee (US), Sumner County Circuit Judge C.L. “Buck” Rogers dismissed a defamation case saying: “Debate on public issues shall be uninhibited [and] wide open and generally [does] include vehement, caustic and unpleasant attacks on the character and bias of public officials…Accusing a public official or public figure of using their political influence to obtain a benefit for others or themselves or favoring their supporters is not defamation”.

Indeed, in recent years, the US Supreme Court has allowed that only factual misrepresentation is to be considered libel or slander, not the expression of opinion. This trend is widespread throughout the courts of Western nations.

The outcome of Mesic’s defamation lawsuit against Petricic – “criticism of a politician and, therefore, not defamatory” – is of course good for Petricic and all free speech – as far as the tort of defamation goes.

However, the truth behind Petricic’s allegations against Mesic may never be known and that leaves the Croatian nation at an enormous disadvantage and in despair. Generally, failures in getting down to the nitty-gritty of most allegations of corruption and organized crime have been an agony infecting the whole nation, leaving it in tatters. Perhaps Petricic should have taken advantage of the defamation case against him and produced unquestionable proof that the Albanian mafia funded Mesic’s campaign, influencing Mesic, as he alleged.

Having said the above, the truth in Petricic’s allegations against Mesic may not be lost forever, after all. I.e. they may not remain just a “take-it-or-leave-it” political comment or critique, leaving people guessing as to whether Mesic is innocent or guilty of the allegations of corrupt conduct etc. Petricic has announced that he will sue Mesic for treason, war profiteering and international money laundering.

According to Helena Tkalcevic, Petricic said that he expected such a court decision and that he is preparing to countersue Mesic for having told many untruths in his court testimony, among others about the money he had reportedly received from the Croatian diaspora.

Who knows, Mesic just might get to walk in Lord Jeffrey Archer’s (UK bestselling author, MP) prison footsteps for perjury.

While this would be good if perjury is proven, I believe the people of Croatia would rather see the proof for alleged war profiteering and money laundering than for telling lies in court. All in all, it’s a shame that judge Kaleb did not, it seems, refer the matters against Mesic before him, that throw suspicion upon the propriety of sources of Mesic’s alleged wealth etc., to the State prosecutor’s office for further investigations, and that nothing may come out of criminal allegations against Mesic unless Petricic mounts a countersuit. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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