Tour-de-force Raid In Croatian Capital Zagreb Over Corruption

From left: Slobodan L:jubicic, Milan Bandic and Petar Pripuz

From left: Slobodan L:jubicic, Milan Bandic and Petar Pripuz

On late afternoon/evening Sunday 19 October 2014 police in Croatia’s capital Zagreb have arrested 19 people from the city’s Mayor’s office and associated business holdings. Croatian and the world media are full of this story, as it certainly appears more like a political tour-de-force raid against the city’s authorities rather than a normal train of events following duly conclusive investigations. No doubt, corruption in Croatia (as with all former Yugoslavia states) is a crippling scourge, but one doubts the arrests require such adroit manoeuvre as we’ve seen from this move instigated by Croatia’s Anti-corruption authority USKOK. Why the authorities chose a Sunday evening to arrest these individuals is not clear but it certainly added high drama to the whole process that stinks of political plotting.
The “Tour de force” (a performance managed with great skill) could well be a clever plot – by the pro-communist or ex-communists holding power in the country, including the president Ivo Josipovic whose second mandate in imminent elections is looking more and more unlikely – to push into the background the trial in Germany against two Croatian nationals (Josip Perkovic and Zdravko Mustac) for communist Yugoslavia crimes. The trial in Germany is as far as I and many are concerned a trial of historical importance; it’s likely to reveal quite a string of murderous operations by Tito’s regime – communist Yugoslavia, and as such snatch away quite a few votes from Josipovic and perhaps even more for the ruling Social Democrats at next year’s parliamentary elections.
So, Milan Bandic, the longest serving Mayor in history, generally, this is his fifth mandate since 2000, has been arrested and alongside him the co-CEO of CIOS waste disposal and recycling corporation, Petar Pripuz, as well as the president of public infrastructure firm Zagreb Holdings, Slobodan Ljubičić Kikan. Also 16 other staff and/or associates of the City administration, which operates within a conglomerate of some 20 companies, have been arrested. Names of all have not yet been released.
The public does not know exactly what and if the authorities hold evidence that stacks up to criminal charges but it is expected that Monday, 20th October – today- all will be revealed in a Zagreb court. Or, perhaps not all!
The following announcement can be found on the USKOK (anti-corruption authority) website:
Following months of complicated criminal investigations associated with illegal practices in the City of Zagreb and Zagreb Holdings, conducted by the Police Directorate and the National Police USKOK, coordinated by the State Attorney’s office and USKOK, several persons have been arrested (19.10.2014)
Certain evidential activities will be carried out in reference to the apprehended persons and will, within statutory time, be brought to the remand superintendent. Applications for criminal charges, based on founded suspicions, for a larger number of criminal acts of corruption, abuse of position and power and trading with influence.
The news of these arrests has dropped upon the Croatian public like a bomb, even though there have been suggestions for a number of years that corruption and abuse of power has plagued the city authorities. People are in shock and confused by the fact that the arrest occurred on Sunday late afternoon/evening when it was clear that for at least a year and half the ring has been tightening around the city authorities; allegations against Bandic have occupied media space for number of years but nothing stuck… all accounts and receipts and invoicing have been under scrutiny and forensic auditing, even the smallest of receipts such as those for petrol. Bandic has been a sore in Social Democrats’ (read: formerly known as the League of Communists) eyes ever since he left that party in 2009 and embarked upon his, unsuccessful, candidacy for President of Croatia. Open animosity between Bandic and the Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic has often surfaced into the public as tragic and pathetic. There have been expectations that Social Democrats would destroy Bandic but nothing happened for years and now this arrest – on a Sunday evening!
Milan Bandic’s lawyer, Kresimir Krsnik, has stated for Croatian radio:
When all the investigations are done, we will see what will happen. This is a spin used to divert attention from the trials against Perkovic and Mustac [in Germany]. All the media will now be writing about these arrests. I would like to share with the Croatian public and know why they have been arrested.”
It would seem that the authorities investigating corruption have come to a conclusion that corruption with the Zagreb City administration and operations is not a matter of a few isolated acts but a matter of systemic corruption enabled by the City heads/the Mayor through a creation of a network of corrupt practices.
According to unofficial sources, Bandic, his close associate Ljubicic and a Zagreb entrepreneur Pripuz allegedly caused a financial harm to the city budget by committing a series of corruption-related crimes.
Judging by what the minister for Entrepreneurship and Crafts, Goran Maras, said it would also seem that there is still quite a bit of investigating to be done.
Given that we’re dealing with a very large number of people arrested it’s obvious that there is a great deal of matters to investigate and I hope that not a single stone will remain unturned. And that everything that is still unclear and suspect will be investigated.
So, it’s clear: it is still an ongoing investigation and 19 people are behind bars, in remand pending investigation unless some are conditionally released.
Regardless of whether the persons arrested will be found guilty of corruption or not, it is profoundly sad to see that Croatian authorities seem to thrive on sensationalism even with the serious crimes such as corruption is. Processing suspects for corruption and abuse of power should be something that is practiced every day in a country such as Croatia and not seemingly sporadically by bringing the “big fish” to public slaughter (e,g, former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, Nadan Vidosevic/former head of Croatian Chamber of Economy etc) just to show the government is doing something about corruption when if fact the biggest problem for the country’s well being is the widespread corruption occurring at local levels of government and government offices. Furthermore, one must wonder whether Croatia is becoming a country that likes to arrest first and then look for evidence that would sustain criminal charges? If so, any foreign investor would shudder and turn away. The story behind Zagreb Mayor and the 18 others arrested with him promises to be interesting but I truly hope it leads to a tighter control and policing of practices at all levels of government and state controlled companies for there lies corruption’s lifeline. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A.,M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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