Pot Calls Kettle Black – Agrokor Corruption And Political Wile In Croatia

Agrokor’s owner Ivica Todoric,
leaves Westminster Magistrates Court in London,
Britain November 7, 2017.
Photo: REUTERS/Simon Dawson

High corruption risks and practices, political patronage and nepotism, and inefficient bureaucracy rolled over from former communist days are among the challenges that Croatia has not truly dealt with yet. To deal with that lustration would be an absolute essential.  Corruption and bribery are especially prevalent in the judiciary, public procurement, and the building and construction sector. While the primary legal framework regulating corruption and bribery is contained in the Criminal Code and the Corporate Criminal Liability Act, which make individuals and companies criminally liable for corrupt practices including active and passive bribery, money laundering and abuse of functions. Facilitation payments are prohibited, and gifts may be considered illegal depending on their value or intent. The mechanisms and practice of policing and monitoring compliance with the relevant legislation is practically non-existent. Hence, the road to what is there today with the Agrokor concern – too late to save the company or the livelihood of tens of thousand employees.

Media is running flaming hot in Croatia and abroad regarding the Tuesday 7 November corruption and fraud charges arrest at London Met Police of Ivica Todoric, majority owner of Agrokor business concern whose plummeting towards bankruptcy has also been threatening to bankrupt the country as a whole. One wonders, though, how much of this concentrated hype against Todoric has been designed to hide away from the media spotlight and responsibility of those not related to Todoric family or Agrokor staff. How many in the current and past governments, how many currently sitting in the Croatian Parliament have had their fingers in the Agrokor pie since its foundation during the time of former communist Yugoslavia.

How much of this concentrated media and government effort against the Todoric clan (however justified under law and justice) is in effect a ploy to save the government from falling! Friday 10 November is bound to be a day of upheaval and patience generally running very thin as the yet another vote (in about 18 months’ time span)  of no confidence in the government jumps onto the agenda for the day’s proceedings. Reportedly the opposition Social Democrats are seeking a vote of no confidence against the HDZ- led government.

As both Social Democrats/SDP and Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ have held government power in Croatia since independence from communist Yugoslavia and, many of their leading individual powerful members had held positions of power in the former communist regime, which institutionalised corruption and theft in that country, one truly cannot trust that Social Democrats’ motives are noble in this. How many thieves and corrupt individuals are they trying to hide, one wonders.

Croatia’s richest businessman Ivica Todoric, the founder and owner biggest private food and retail company, the drowning Agrokor that’s been shaking Croatia’s economy for months, threatening to bankrupt the country, was arrested after reportedly handing himself in to the Met Police Tuesday 7 November 2017 in London amid allegations of corruption, fraud. It is alleged that he has embezzled millions from his large retail company, leading it into a massive bankruptcy that is now an issue of national concern in Croatia and the countries around it. Todoric appeared in Westminster Magistrates’ Court and District Judge Richard Blake granted him freedom on 100,000 British pounds ($132,000) bail.

A European Arrest Warrant was issued after the firm collapsed, having amassed debts of over 5 billion euro. Criminal prosecutions have begun in Croatia against 14 senior figures at Agrokor, including Todoric, on suspicions of corruption and forgery. Todoric denies any wrongdoing, is accused of falsifying accounts to hide unsustainable debts estimated at £4.8bn (€5.4bn).

Asked by District Judge Richard Blake whether he consented or objected to the extradition request from Zagreb, Todoric said he would oppose being sent back to his home country, Reuters reports.

Prosecutor Benjamin Seifert, appearing on behalf of the Croatian authorities, told the court Todoric faced three charges back home — false accounting, fraud by false representation and abuse of position — amounting to a total alleged fraud worth about 110 million Euros.

The court heard that there was a worldwide freeze on Todoric’s assets.

This is extremely serious offending,” Seifert said.

The context in which I grant you bail is the knowledge that both within this country and throughout the world, your assets are frozen and your ability to obtain money is limited,” Judge Blake said from the bench. “The security is a very small sum in the context of what sums I have heard being spoken of.”

The judge also set conditions requiring that Todoric wear an electronic tag between midnight and 3 a.m., sign in at a London police station three times a week and give up his travel documents.

Agrokor, which began as a flower-growing operation in the former Yugoslavia in the 1970s, underwent a rapid expansion over the past decades that saw it run up debts of about 6 billion euros ($7 billion). The company employs about 60,000 people throughout the Croatia and neighbouring countries and is so large it now accounts for about 15 percent of Croatia’s gross domestic product. Its debt is too large for the government to rescue it without endangering the state’s financial stability including superannuation or pension funds that have invested in the company.

Although Todoric still formally owns 95 percent of Agrokor, the Croatian government, having rushed in a special law known as “Lex Agrokor” a few months ago has taken over management of the company. It is now trying to keep it alive through restructuring and negotiations with major creditors, which include Russia’s Sberbank and VTB bank, to which it owes 1.4 billion euros and who want their money back.

After he appeared on Europol’s fugitive arrest list, Todoric wrote on his blog that he was not hiding and that his conscience was clear.

As a man whose human rights are deeply violated I have the right to oppose political persecution,” Todoric wrote. “Today, I too am fighting against a corrupt system in Croatia,” he wrote on 6 November 2017, the day before he handed himself in to London Met Police.

Todoric has always claimed that the government illegally took over his company and indicated that he will fight his extradition on the grounds that he is the victim of political pursuit.

Political pursuit, Mr Todoric, has been there always, only before you used it to benefit yourself, to wrongfully create and amass wealth and now you use it to crucify those that helped you in that. Out with the lot of you and your communist heritage – in with lustration! Ina Vukic

 

 

 

Croatia: Lustration To Stop Sinking Deeper Into Mediocrity

 

General Zeljko Glasnovic
Member of Croatian Parliament for the Diaspora

I have lost count of the number of times General Zeljko Glasnovic, Member of Croatian Parliament for the Diaspora, has emphasised and warned in his public and parliamentary appearances that the Croatian diaspora is purposefully excluded from Croatian social, economic and political life and development…and that this must be rectified in order for Croatia to move forward. “Unfortunately, we live in a country taken over by Yugonationalists, and they treat it as a feudal property and with that, they prevent the return of our people (from the diaspora to Croatia),” he said in an interview last year.

A clear and disturbing example, albeit camouflaged in the president’s welcoming speeches about great love for the diaspora, of how those “Yugonationalists”, communist die-hards, operate in excluding the Croatian diaspora from Croatia’s life unfolded during the past week before our very eyes during the president of Croatia, Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic’s official state visit to Australia, Sydney. It struck me, and multitudes of other Croats in Sydney, for an nth time how those close to the president of Croatia organising her visit to Australia and New Zealand have “refined” their communist ways of ignoring and hiding the impressive wealth of Croatian masses from sight by not giving everyone the opportunity to show up and greet their homeland country’s president.

Sydney, for instance, has over 60,000 people of Croatian descent and loyalty and, yet, the Croatian president’s closest advisers and organisers booked only one public venue where the public could come greet and welcome the president and that venue could only fit 2.5 to 3.0 thousand people. Public announcements of the president’s public appearances were not widely made in order to secure attention of all, those (more than 70% of the Croatian Sydney community) that do not frequent clubs or churches or read Croatian newspapers or listen to Croatian radio on a regular basis were excluded. When the first Croatian president dr. Franjo Tudjman visited Sydney in 1995, the situation was entirely different; the public venue where he came to greet the Sydney Croatians carried 20,000 places and was filled with Croats, completely.

Whether president Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic had foreknowledge of this organisational disgrace and insult by exclusion to Croatians in the diaspora is a question the answer to which lies beyond my knowledge. One thing that is painfully obvious, though, is that such organisation, excluding the vast majority from being able to come and greet the president, was done purposefully and, in line with how communist-minded as well as Yugoslav Secret Police (UDBA) had operated before and operate in Croatia now. The ugly brazenness of such organisers whose aim is to divide and alienate from the homeland the bulk of the Croatian diaspora calls for new efforts on the part of the Croatian diaspora to stand united for Croatia and contribute to lustration, the fight against the communist beast that stands in the way of progress to full democracy and a functional Croatian national state. When one remembers that the Croatian Diaspora gave enormous financial and political lobby as well as military generals, officers and soldiers contribution to the creation of independent Croatian state in the 1990’s then renewed unity is an absolute essential in order to achieve lustration in Croatia and complete the goal for Croatia set in 1990: to create an independent, democratic and prosperous state, far far away from communist Yugoslavia totalitarian regime.

President of Croatia
Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic
in Sydney, 13 August 2017

The word “lustration” has its roots in Latin—the verb lustrare means to “purify” or “illumine.” To the citizens of former communist countries in Europe, lustration refers to the process in which the abuses of former communist regimes are revealed, implicating perpetrators as well as victims. Lustration in countries that have so far embraced it in the former European communist countries, which regretfully does not yet include Croatia, has encompassed ensuring former highly positioned people or those in communist secret services are not afforded key positions in the government or key positions in country, opening and making various types of files public—regardless if it is reading the books of the secret police or exposing compromised politicians, the process is sensitive and, at times, painful for people who for decades lived oppressed lives under oppressive communist regimes.

President Grabar Kitarovic’s visit to Australia and New Zealand is cementing the divisional and destructive processes installed and employed by former communists with view to ensuring an alienation of the Diaspora from its Croatian homeland. Grabar Kitarovic as president has called upon the Croatian Diaspora many many times to return to Croatia and help it prop-up its failing economy and plummeting demographic reality. And then she arrives in that diaspora on a visit and does not ask why is only 5% of this diaspora here to greet me!? Where is everybody!? Her speech to a mere couple of thousand, instead of say at least fifteen, sugarcoated with love and openness towards Croats in the diaspora. The organisation of her visit was a closed-door affair; openness is simply not the word that can describe it in any shape or form.

The questions, recently also posted on the Voice of the Croatian Diaspora Facebook page, which masses from the excluded-from-greeting-the-president Croatian diaspora would have put to the president had they had a chance and opportunity to do would have been as follows:
1. What’s happening with the establishment of Minister for immigration/diaspora affairs?
2. What’s happening with regard to installing postal and/or electronic voting system and why is it not utilised for the Croatian diaspora given that the platform already exists, e.g. E-citizens?
3. What’s happening regarding the new Electoral Act, how is it possible that the Croatian diaspora is excluded from the political life of Croatia and reduced to mere three diaspora representative seats in Parliament?
4. Demand for the abolishment of socialist-communist bureaucracy.
5. Most questionable government “Advisory body for Croats living outside Croatia”. Who are these people, what have they achieved so far, what do they do?
6. Why are people who were part of UDBA and KOS (communist Yugoslavia Secret Police and Counter-Intelligence services) posted into the Croatian diplomatic and consular missions and posts?
7. Who and in what manner chooses the President’s advisers – for example the first adviser to the President is Jozo Brkic, brother to highly positioned in HDZ Milijan Brkic, and chief organiser of the President’s visit to Australia – what are the criteria for choosing advisers?
8. When will decommunisation of Croatia commence?

The mediocrity of life is what communists nurtured during the times of former Yugoslavia; most people had just enough means to stay above the poverty line, waiting unrequited for the promise of a better future under the guiding hands of the promise-making communist party to kick-in. The exceptionalism, the promise and fight for prosperity in Croatia that accompanied every single, bloody but victorious 1990’s Homeland War battle for freedom from communist Yugoslavia afforded Croatia the time to convince itself and its original liberation movement HDZ/Croatian Democratic Union (that backed Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic as presidential candidate) couldn’t possibly ever become a “lame duck” when it comes to installing a full democracy and clearing the key posts in society and authority of communists that held important positions in Yugoslavia. HDZ in its fight for independence also fought against mediocrity and for prosperity in life. Today, in reality, HDZ has become the same as SDP (Social Democratic Party) – the latter didn’t want independent Croatia in the first place, and the former does “bugger all” to clean-up the oppressive, incompetent and arrogant public administration, service provision and bureaucracy. In the meantime, Presidents gallivant around the globe with grandstanding rhetoric for needed reforms but matching actions simply never eventuate to the degree that sweeps in the reforms, particularly in the area of returning into the body of the Croatian national state the status of the Croatian diaspora, to which they passionately, rhetorically, pin Croatia’s deliverance from ruin.

Heraclitus — “the obscure philosopher,” the pre-Socratic thinker, is best known as the man who said that you cannot put your foot into the same river twice. “The river/ where you set/ your foot just now/ is gone — /those waters/ giving way to this,/ now this.” (“Fragments: The Collected Wisdom of Heraclitus,” Viking). Letting opportunities go by without implementing lustration that would rid the budding democracy from the inherited communist mindset, laws and practices has led to the feeling one gets about Croatia that many people appear uninspired or lack the energy to rid their community of mediocrities and idiot intoxications communist mindset injects, whether in form of nepotism in employment or whether in getting away with theft and corruption… Given the enemy defined by communist-era mindset and habits, inherited by modern Croatia, a time for the commencement of effective lustration only comes once! It’s just like Heraclitus said “you cannot put your foot into the same river twice”.

When people attack critical voices against communist heritage that must be purged from Croatian democracy, they are accommodating mediocrity. I, for one, do not wish to live in mediocrity – I want Croatia to succeed in achieving its original goal for independence and democratic prosperity and that means it must: thoroughly rid itself from communism and its UDBA, its bloodsuckers. It must lustrate! Ina Vukic

Croatia: Dandelion-like First Round Local Elections Results

 

Bruna Esih list
Local Elections 2017
May spell out new directions
in Croatia’s political landscape
Photo: Screenshot bruna.hr

To some people the dandelion is simply a bother, to others it is something that means a great deal. Overall, blow on the dried dandelion flower and particles fly all over the place, with no definite pattern to rely upon unless their landing is scooped into a meaningful shape.

Were one to focus on the content of local election campaigns in Croatia during May 2017 one could not but see that national issues weighed more heavily than local ones, particularly in the city of Zagreb, the relatively largest voting population in one place in Croatia, which by the same fact could be used as some sort of barometer flaunting political issues affecting Croatia. A trend to be expected given the HDZ-led (Croatian Democratic Union) minority government crisis that still strongly flutters in the air and, indeed, the polls for the capital Zagreb 21 May dealt a major blow to HDZ’s candidate for the City of Zagreb, despite the fact that HDZ had some significant first round wins sprawled across regional or rural areas.

The first round local elections results give no clarity as to which way the second round polls on June 4 will fall. Confusion and deeper political mayhem may well result, giving the message that serious changes and new blood-lines in the political climate and practice are essential to Croatia’s future.

In about mid-May 2017, dealing with his minority government’s crisis that had as part of the crisis lost its coalition partner – MOST List of Independents, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic announced that the seats of the coalition partner in government will be filled after the local elections so that a workable government could be formed and snap-elections avoided. The first round of local elections took place on 21 May and second round to be held 4 June. The government and political crisis have led to an evident widening HDZ’s division lines (those for and those against Plenkovic as leader, particularly) and the shedding of some key members either through expulsions from the party or through self-propelled walk-aways, as well as first round victories in 42 towns/local councils and entering into second round in 44 others suggesting a serious or at least unpredictable at this stage voter based loyalty.

The results from 21 May polls do not at this stage give much clarity as to what to expect at the second round. Virtually all established political parties are at the losing end of the confidence spectrum, but in Zagreb the new player in the field – Bruna Esih list, which had several widely politically trusted right-orientation names (Dr. Zlatko Hasanbegovic, General Zeljko Glasnovic) with a strong history of determined actions towards clearing Croatia of the still-prevalent communist mindset, as well as war veterans of note such as Marko Rados, Croatian culture devotees such as Dr. Ana Lederer, and others. This new right stream headed by Bruna Esih is about the only force in the local elections mix that commands attention as it steers attention towards hope that political leadership in Croatia may indeed develop the badly needed positive changes, which in essence spell out a more assertive building of democracy and Croatian independence self-determination. Bruna Esih’s list saw comparatively excellent results in the first round, which were twice higher than those of the HDZ candidate Drago Prgomet. She won 10.98% of the votes, and Prgomet – 5.60%. In all practicality this means that Esih’s list will occupy several seats in the City of Zagreb Assembly, forming an important element upon which the final winner of the Mayor’s chair (incumbent Milan Bandic/ “365 party” or Anka Mrak Taritas/Croatian People’s Party HNS) may indeed need to depend upon to get things done. But even if such collaboration does not occur, encouraged by the solid results at local elections, Bruna Esih team has announced the formation of a new political party to be represented nationally in next general elections.

This may well herald wider than Zagreb favourable voter sentiments to come, similar to those that come with fresh new, needed, force on the map of Croatia’s political organism that is in desperate need of clear leadership. Similar perhaps to those when third political forces such as MOST or Live Wall were perceived as the forces that would break up the two-party monopoly, which left great majorities of disgruntled citizens, to put it mildly. However, MOST and Live Wall have failed dismally to push for changes the nation needs and needed.

To further demonstrate the evident influence national political issues and ongoing national government crisis have had on local elections one can also look at the appalling results MOST’s candidates have had. MOST – list of independents – is seen as orchestrating two government crises within a matter of six months and because of it second snap elections within the same period are a likely outcome. MOST ‘s success (if it can be called that) at 2017 local election is meaningless and degrading, a far cry from the success they achieved at previous local elections, from whence MOST group climbed the ladder of power within the national parliament elections that had followed. The other quick-rising club from last national elections is the Live Wall (Živi Zid) group and they too have come up against a very telling rejection at 2017 local elections. SDP or Social Democratic Party (the other major party besides HDZ) stays on relative ice when it comes to local elections even if it chose not to have candidates in a number of council areas – it did not experience embarrassing losses but apart from its stronghold city of Rijeka where its candidate seems certain to win the second round, it can bathe in no pool of laurels and this adds to the pressure against its president Davor Bernardic to move aside for fresh SDP leadership blood.

While most political parties and independent candidates invested a great deal of energy on focusing their council election campaigns on national issues, local elections, after all, should be a vote for local councillors who will be looking after local services and issues that matter in neighbourhoods and in people’s daily lives. That is, the essential city services, the support provided for most vulnerable people, and the local economy. But this does not seem to be the case for Croatia, which suggests that everyday lives are saturated with political or ideological issues and need to be aired one way or another before life can settle into some orderly processes one expects in a democracy.

Having said all this, Plenkovic’s resolve to stay in government power as long as possible, regardless of HDZ member splits from it occurring almost constantly, could see coalition with Milan Bandic’s party, which already has members in the parliament, if Bandic wins second round polls for Mayor of Zagreb. This would mean that HDZ would link up with the party whose leader – Bandic – has been linked to corruption on a number of occasions although evidence of that has not yet percolated to the visible surface. The eventual fall of the government and new elections would mean a new cycle of uncertainty over Croatia, another postponement of vital reforms – but then again, HDZ or SDP in their governing track records have not convinced the people they have what it takes to install and achieve needed reforms. Perhaps, a major overhaul in skills-oriented leadership of HDZ is needed if HDZ is to retain government for the remainder of its current mandate. Nevertheless, all arrows for reforms seem to point to a third political option, which does not yet formally exist – regretfully. Ina Vukic

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