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: 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

New Opposition Leader Davor Bernardic Mimics Communist Collectivism And Socialist Egalitarianism

Davor Bernardic President of SDP, Leader of Opposition Croatia Photo: fah

Davor Bernardic
President of SDP, Leader of Opposition Croatia
Photo: fah

 

Croatia’s largest parliamentary opposition party, the centre left that’s still carrying the torch for the oppressive communist Yugoslavia, Social Democratic Party/SDP – has its new leader in Davor Bernardic. He is relatively young. Born in January 1980 he was only a baby when Yugoslavia’s communist chief Josip Broz Tito died in May 1980. Evidently nurtured within Croatia’s odious communist heritage and ex public servants of communist Yugoslavia, that with other like-minded former communists resisted democratic changes planned for an independent Croatia after the war in Croatia had finished, at the age of 18 he joined SDP and soon climbed to the top of SDP Youth. From 2010 Bernardic’s SDP career spiralled to head its Zagreb branch and to become active Councillor at City of Zagreb local government assembly and has been a member of parliament since 2011. On Saturday 26 November Bernardic was elected president of SDP at second round of part leadership elections, beating his rival Ranko Ostojic – a minister in former Zoran Milanovic government.

Newly elected Social Democratic Party (SDP) president Davor Bernardic said at the 14th SDP electoral convention held in Zagreb on Saturday 3 November 2016 that Croatia needed change and that SDP must be the one to start it.
Over the past 20 years, social inequality has been growing both globally and locally. People seek the setting of more humane goals. The SDP’s goal is to revive the humane agenda. We must awaken the spirit of collectivism as the antifascists did in 1945 and Croatian defenders in the early 90s,” he said.
The goal of a good society is to reduce social inequality. A good society is one in which we build collective responsibility by encouraging a healthy individualism because, without the feeling of belonging to the community and to the people, there is no link which people need to make a fully creative contribution.”

 

First thing that is clear to all except Bernardic and his political comrades is that Croatia’s defenders in the early 1990’s did not awaken 1945 antifascist collectivism but they created the opportunities for togetherness towards an independent from communist Yugoslavia Croatia goal and Bernardic’s SDP was against this goal, even walking out of the Croatia parliament when secession was on the agenda.

I wish Bernardic would steer away from insulting Croatian veterans by comparing them to 1945 antifascists/communists.

 

While collectivism as in nurturing sense of community and belonging is a humane agenda it certainly was never a humane one under Bernardic’s antifascists. The antifascists he talk about we communist thugs who purged those that did not politically agree with them, sat themselves and their family members in important positions of power thus raking in personal wealth, stealing from “collective wealth”, while preaching how collectivism and equality were the social standards to aspire to. The problem with Bernardic’s thinking is that he chooses it seems to acknowledge that there had never been a time in the history of Croatia that produced more social equality than under the communist regime of former Yugoslavia that had equality as its daily mantra to the masses.

The change Croatia needs is not the one Bernardic fuzzily speaks of but the one that would finally eradicate Croatia’s antifascism (communism) from Croatia’s social and government milieu – any other needed changes for the creation of opportunities for all to prosper will follow with any political party at the helm.

With Bernardic’s announcement that SDP wanted Croatia “to be decentralised and to develop there where people live, in municipalities and cities, because strong municipalities and cities can attract investments, create jobs, remove red tape obstacles, and enable people to live better,” one can sense that Bernardic has difficulties in even understanding the equality he espouses let alone possessing the skills to achieve it on a national level. His idea of decentralisation clearly is a sure platform for the creation of inequality and eventual rule of bitterness, resentment and envy between various local municipalities where one thrives economically and the other doesn’t and, hence, living standards are far from equal between the two. Similar issues arose in former communist Yugoslavia as the “well-to-do” states could not subsidise enough those that were not so developed in order to create a social equality across the nation.

Generally, one would conclude that the pursuit of equality’s results in what people have been known to consider as unfair distribution of reward. Because individual capabilities are always different, equality cannot be achieved without taking rewards from the deserving and reallocating them to the undeserving. The sae principle would be applicable to municipal councils as also to different states; in the name of social justice and equality doing well eventually becomes penalised and not doing well (in whatever form) become rewarded. Berdanrdic and his SDP will need to think hard as to how and whether the equality they imagine can be achieved. It ceases to be fanciful rhetoric once it makes its way into party policies.

Zagreb, 03.12.2016 - 14th SDP Election Convention Zagreb, Croatia Photo: fah

Zagreb, 03.12.2016 –
14th SDP Election Convention Zagreb, Croatia
Photo: fah

Bernardic’s argument for egalitarianism would probably encompass the need to combat the unfairness of what egalitarians commonly refer to as ‘privilege’. Egalitarians deem ‘privilege’ bad because privilege is a concept that is not meritocratic and it allows some to enjoy unearned benefits. Yet, since, as examples throughout the world would show us, egalitarian policies still create privileged classes of individuals, who unfairly enjoy unearned benefits, it achieves the opposite of its stated goal, merely transferring ‘privilege’ from one group to another. To achieve true equality that the new SDP slogan promotes (“First Among Equals”) Bernardic would need to step on Croatia’s political elites and on the tycoons who have thieved the country for personal wealth amassment in one form or another as part of or associated with the political elites – his speeches do not show any such intentions on his part.

Of course, many have and will agree that equality is not immoral if pursued voluntarily, even if those pursuing it experience a decline in their quality of life as a result. However, many will also agree that equality is immoral if it is imposed, by the state (with its implicit threat of violence) or through social pressure, upon those who have no wish to pursue it. And it is doubly immoral if the nonconformity of those in the latter group are, as a result, and as we have seen in communism for instance, denied their humanity.

Beranrdic further said last Saturday that the SDP will create public policies for better living and uncompromisingly defend the freedom and the rights of individuals to be different without fear of discrimination, to publicly practice their faith, not to feel inhibited because of their ethnicity or sexual orientation. In recent decades, diversity has been a catchword among egalitarians, politicians … and Bernardic has jumped on their bandwagon. Yet surely, the achievement of equality would appear the negation of difference. Almost every day we hear the phrase ‘different but equal’ has been the egalitarians’ attempt to have their cake and eat it, but it is a logical contradiction and therefore to be strongly rejected as guide for any social change. The implication that the equality Bernardic refers to is some new equality does not hold, because Croatia already has adequate laws that protect citizens from discrimination, facilitate religious freedom, encompass ethnic rights through minority rights etc.

It is a frightening thing to come across in 2016 a leader of the Opposition/Bernardic resurrecting as ideal the 1945 and post-WWII antifascist collectivism, which by the way had in practice failed miserably. Impoverished, post-WWII Croatia (Yugoslavia) led by communists (self-proclaimed antifascists, who due to their crimes should be banned from associating themselves with antifascist movements) lived a socialist utopia in which the Party told the ordinary people that common good and individual happiness were in perfect harmony; the people there of 1970’s and 1980’s no longer extolled the “dictated virtues” of collectivism. In terms of age of the society the idea, the practice –went down the toilet quite quickly.

Bernardic with his SDP wants to drag collectivism back out of the sewers. Make your own conclusion as to why that may be so but my conclusion is that sooner former and current communists are chased into the sewers of Croatia’s society amidst democratic progress the better. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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