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, tportal.hr 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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