No Takers For Croatia’s Head of Corruption and Organised Crimes Prosecution Job

A historic first for Croatia!

Nobody wants the head job of prosecuting corruption and organised crime!

Advertisement to fill the vacant position, one of the top positions in Croatia, important hierarchy-wise, of head of USKOK/Office for Suppression of Corruption and Organised Crime, did not bear fruit. With applications closed last week there were no takers! Nobody applied!

To my view, this is largely symptomatic of an overwhelming lack of confidence among the public or the pool from which applicants could be drawn, in the ability to work in the job without political and other pressure or interference, perhaps to even “look the other way” when fraud or corruption show their ugly head, and fear of prosecuting corruption for fear of nasty reprisals. This did occur at this time when corruption is high and government officials have been found guilty of and were involved in many corruption scandals or have been alleged to be involved in serious corruption or fraud whether under investigation or not.

Perhaps the loudest opinions regarding this alarming turn of events where there are no applicants to fill the vacancy of a very prominent job in the country, even the locum or temporary person working in that position did not apply for the permanent position, are the echos in Croatia’s roads, streets, and lanes are the ones that go like this: “Everyone is corrupted and so nobody wants to apply for that job,”… “who would want that job, the whole country is corrupted,” … “that job is like a greased plank, and everyone is greasing it…you will slip off sooner or later,”… “that body operates like an extended arm of the government and, therefore, there is not even an “i” in the independence in its work,” … while the former director of USKOK, Zeljko Zganjer, thinks that today this job, or function, is neither attractive or has anyone to rely upon “if you intend to do this job independently, deal with facts and evidence while ignoring whether today something is politically opportune for criminal prosecution or not opportune for prosecution.”

Speaker of the Croatian Parliament Gordan Jandrokovic said, rather stupidly in my view, that the situation that no one applied for the position of head of USKOK is an indicator that the Government does not control or supervise DORH/State Attorney Office and USKOK, because if it did control them, it would probably find a person to install into that position. This of course does not prove anything regarding government’s pressure upon USKOK, of course, for it could also mean that the government tried to find someone suitable for the position behind the scenes but did not find anyone willing to do the job that could even find it necessary to prosecute the Prime Minister for corruption in the future. And that would surely mean own sinking into social and career oblivion. Certainly, the fact that prosecuting former government minister Gabriela Zalac for fraud and corruption regarding EU funds, where there have been suspicions of the Prime Minister having had his fingers in that pie, was abandoned, and could well be hiding or stifling a whole range on unpleasant goings on for the government and parliament.  The opposition accused that words by Jandrokovic point to political instability in the country and not that government has no influence on the work of the anti-corruption body.

As things stand now, current acting director of USKOK, Zeljka Mostecak, appointed to this position by the chief state attorney Zlata Hrvoj Sipek at the end of April this year (after the previous director Vanja Marusic resigned from the position amidst a scandal of not reporting her chauffer being in car accident when not on duty and covering his cost) will continue at the USKOK helm for the time being. One cannot discard the possibility that in this pre-parliamentary election year the ruling HDZ/Croatian Democratic Union party most likely does not want any new corruption or organised crime investigated that could implicate its members and, hence, the technicality of no applicants for head of USKOK suits it perfectly!?   

No country is immune to corruption. That is a fact. The fact is also in that abuse of public office for private gain erodes people’s trust in government and institutions, makes public policies less effective and fair, and siphons taxpayers’ money away from schools, roads, and hospitals. Political will can turn the tide against corruption and Croatia evidently lacks much of that, or rather its government and governments before it since year 2000, some of whom, like SDP/Social Democratic Party, are currently in opposition. The other parts of opposition in Croatian Parliament have commented last Thursday that nobody is crazy enough to put their head on a chopping block by applying for the head of USKOK position. Alluding in no uncertain terms that, given high-level corruption scandals and convictions and many in the pipeline, fear for own safety and livelihood could well have poisoned most of the enthusiasm for that well-paid, important position.   

A few days ago upon his visit to Croatia (an OECD membership hopeful), the former Australian Minister of Finance and currently OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) Secretary General Mathias Cormann warned about the weak control of corruption in Croatia in the public sector compared to other EU members. In other words, it points to non-existent or ineffective measures put in place to firmly control corruption and eradicate most of it.

It was in late June 2023 when the Paris, France, based Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international financial crime watchdog, placed Croatia on the so-called “grey list” of countries that would be subject to “increased monitoring”. This essentially means the country on that list has committed to implement an Action Plan to resolve swiftly the identified strategic deficiencies within agreed timeframes. According to the FATF website there is a FATF-Interpol partnership to ignite global change to take the profit out of crime! About time! Many would agree. Money laundering and financing terrorism are among the top priorities to tackle.

Croatia will reportedly work to implement its FATF action plan by: (1) Completing the national risk assessment, including assessing risk of, and vulnerabilities to, being used by money launderers and terrorist financiers associated with the misuse of legal persons and legal arrangements and the use of cash in the real estate sector; (2) Increasing human resources and improving analytical capabilities; (3) Continuing to improve LEAs (Law Enforcement Agency) detection, investigation and prosecution of different types of ML (Money Laundering), including ML involving a foreign predicate offences and the misuse of legal persons; (4) Demonstrating a sustained increase in the application of provisional measures in securing direct/indirect proceeds, as well as foreign proceeds subject to confiscation; (5) Demonstrating the ability to systematically detect and where relevant investigate TF (Terrorism Financing) in line with its risk profile; (6) Establishing a national framework for the implementation of UN TFS/Targeted Financial Sanction measures and providing guidance and conducting outreach and training to the reporting entities; and (7) Identifying the subset of NPOs (Non-Profit Organisations) most vulnerable to TF abuse and providing targeted outreach to NPOs and to the donor community on potential vulnerabilities of NPOs to TF abuse.

If these warnings were not enough to set Croatia on the straight and narrow against corruption and organised crime then one can always add the fact that in July 2023 the European Commission recommended that Croatia increase the efficiency of investigations and prosecution of corruption offences.

The European Commission 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, to increase the efficiency of investigations and prosecution of corruption offences.

Evidently the task for Croatia in curbing and controlling corruption and organised crime still looms larger than life itself. The legitimate concerns of financial probity that have ended up with Croatia on the FATF grey list will surely adversely impact Croatia reputation wise. But also, being on the grey list for monitoring should be the stimulus needed to increase scrutiny of the illicit money and assets allegedly and evidently flowing to and through Croatia. Croatia remains mired in corruption, especially at high levels of government and corporate leadership, but it has done nothing to truly comb through corruption at local government levels or health and academic service where bribes are commonplace and, indeed, necessary to have anything done on time, like building licence for instance or surgery …and so, no wonder nobody is currently applying for the important permanent job of head of prosecution of corruption and organised crime in Croatia. Perhaps at the next round of advertisements or …? Ina Vukic

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