Croatia: Supreme Court As Constitutional One Before It Orders New Trial In Major Corruption Case Against Former Prime Minister

Tomislav Karamarko President of Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ Photo: Marina Cvek

Tomislav Karamarko President of Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ Photo: Marina Cvek

Croatia’s Supreme Court has Thursday 1 October overturned the 2014 Zagreb district court nine-year prison sentence and ordered a retrial for former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, who was jailed for corruption, embezzling millions of euros in public funds via a company named Fimi Media. All other defendants joined in this case of corruption charges by the former State Attorney Mladen Bajic, including the Croatian Democratic Union Party/HDZ, were also included in this verdict and freed from guilty verdict delivered against them in 2014. These charges were originally mounted at the time when Croatia was working towards meeting all criteria for EU membership. Fight against corruption was a big part of proving “worthy” of EU membership as state. The Supreme Court in Croatia has ordered a new trial for charges and claims against Sanader and other defendants, however, it stands to speculation as to whether, under the new Crimes act HDZ will need to be dropped from the list of defendants.
The Supreme Court had made the decision to overturn the district court verdict in its totality and return the case to that court for a new trial and new judgement. While a detailed decision by the Supreme Court regarding this case has not yet been published the Supreme court delivered its decision citing unspecified violations in the lower court trial of significant breaches in the lower court of criminal procedure, among other things serious breaches of right to just and fair trial – guaranteed under the Constitution and the Convention on the protection of human rights and fundamental freedom.

Given that this criminal case was widely publicised and a great deal of Croatia’s reputation in being able to deal with corruption hung on the success of trials brought against individuals for corruption, one does find it perplexing in discovering that apparently there were serious breaches of criminal procedures in this case. One would have thought that nothing untoward when it comes to set procedures could go wrong during the court process! But it seems something went very wrong and, therefore, nothing less than the decision it made could be expected from the Supreme Court.

Indeed, everyone does have a right to a fair trial.

The Croatian Supreme Court decision has, naturally, put a smile to HDZ’s face and while the new trial is yet to occur, the new judgment yet to be delivered some time down the road, one thing does remain possible: HDZ as Political party should never have been joined as a defendant in the case in which Ivo Sanader was brought to court on criminal charges of corruption and fraud whilst HDZ’s President and Croatia’s Prime Minister and it should be dropped! Accusing some 200,000 members of the Party of collective guilt for crimes committed by its leader is just as bad as not having a fair trial.

Indeed, in the new Criminal Act there is no longer the provision under which HDZ (a political party) can be accused of or charged with criminal deeds relating to the Fimi Media case associated with Sanader and this Supreme Court judgment. HDZ was ordered to pay 3.8 million euro fine in 2014 when guilty verdict against Sanader and it was delivered and with this Supreme Court ruling that fine seems to be null and void even though the position the Supreme Court took on HDZ’s appeal is not yet fully known and it will be months before the detailed reasons for the decision are known.

If that is the case and this new criminal deed is not in continuity with the old legislation then it’s almost certain that the case against HDZ will be stopped and that no guilty verdict will be delivered against it,” said for HRT TV news on 2 October dr Mato Palic, Faculty of Law, Osijek.

During HDZ’s promotion of its election program in Vukovar on Friday 2 October, the President of that largest opposition party in Croatia, Tomislav Karamarko, stated, “because of some individuals HDZ was a target of satanic scenario designed to destroy the party… Our party has gone through its catharsis, there is not a single office-bearer in it with a valid verdict against him/her nor will there ever be one. All who breach the law should leave this party straight away on their own initiative…”

Time is hopefully coming when the Croatian public may have the opportunity of finding out whether “satanic verses”, from the mouth of the former, communist coloured, State Attorney Mladen Bajic,  were indeed afoot when original charges that saw a Political Party vilified were laid.

Ivo Sanader Former Prime Minister of Croatia

Tomislav Karamarko President of Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ Photo: Marina Cvek

Sanader, who was in office as Prime Minister of Croatia from 2004 to 2009, was sentenced separately to 10 years in prison for bribery in 2012 (INA-MOL case), but Croatia’s Constitutional Court had overturned that verdict and ordered a retrial on similar grounds of procedural unfairness.

After nearly three years in jail, Sanader can now leave on bail of 12.4 million kuna (1.6 million euro) after the court ruled that procedural errors had affected his right to a fair trial. It’s expected that his friends and family will be able to raise the bail by 7 October.

I am quite concerned that the process of justice, the court process of such magnitude as the ones against Croatia’s former Prime Minister Sanader could have gone so terribly wrong. One cannot avoid asking the question whether such procedural transgressions could have been perpetrated on purpose? For political reasons; for political gains? I find it hard to believe that in all cases against Sanader, in all separate trials, same or similar procedural breaches could have been committed! It almost feels like a conspiracy to make the public think corruption is being seriously dealt with when in fact it was all an act? To err, to breach procedural fairness in one case against an accused is easy to believe but to err in all arouses justifiable doubts in the sincerity of efforts put in place for combating corruption.
The right to procedural fairness (a term that is often used interchangeably with “natural justice”) is not a concept that is foreign to the Croatian judicial process and professionals that make it even if many do stem from the biased and politically coloured justice system of communist Yugoslavia. Sanader’s legal team says that charges against him were based upon affidavits or statements made to the State agency against corruption by some people who wouldn’t reply to questions put to them by Sanader’s defence team, and that, apart from that, there was no evidence of his wrongdoing.

While I have always maintained that collective guilt such as the one pinned against the Political Party HDZ in this case had no place in natural or any other justice. It’s pure political witch-hunting and it should have never been allowed in the courtroom in the first place. While HDZ says that “the Supreme Court ruling has removed the stigma from the Party and its 200,000 members and that it said from the beginning that the political party was not and could not be held accountable for the acts of corruption charged against it,” I would, though, like to see HDZ, and every political party, fight harder against such injustice as holding a Political Party (or an organisation) guilty for the (secret, personal) acts of some or few members. If they fought harder for such real justice all along, since independence and since the installation of democracy, then judges in Croatia would not have the nerve to allow procedural unfairness pass through their fingers like some insignificant breeze or pronounce sentences such as “the communist system murdered the people, not the accused former communist Josip Boljkovac”.

Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

First published on Oct.03:2015

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A Cautionary Epistle To Pope Francis In Relation To Serbia’s Fabrications Against Croatia’s Blessed Alojzije Stepinac

Sarcophagus of Blessed Alojzije Stepinac in Zagreb, Croatia

Sarcophagus of Blessed Alojzije Stepinac in Zagreb, Croatia

Papal power is not absolute. The Pope does not have the power to change teaching (or) doctrine. The Pope does not have the power to reverse the Beatification of Croatia’s Blessed Alojzije (Aloysius) Stepinac but, uncomfortably as it may sit with many, the Pope can slow down the process of Canonisation of Blessed Alojzije (Aloysius) Stepinac as Saint in the Catholic Church.
There has been much uneasiness spreading within the 85% Roman Catholic Croatian population about the visit on Friday 11 September 2015 of Serbia’s president Tomislav Nikolic to the Vatican, to meet with Pope Francis and enter into issues relating to the canonisation of Alojzije (Aloysius) Stepinac – or rather Serbia’s views on it – as one of the talks agenda. Furthermore, President Nikolic and Pope Francis have reportedly discuss the establishment of a joint commission of the Serbian Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches that will study “historical facts related to WWII and Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac’s role in the Independent State of Croatia (NDH).”

Blessed Alojzije (Aloysius) STepinac

Blessed Alojzije (Aloysius) STepinac

It is well-known that both the Serbian Orthodox Church and Serbian state oppose the canonisation of Blessed Stepinac, accusing him unjustly of supporting the Fascist regime in Croatia, which they say was responsible for the deaths of Serbs in Croatia in World War II. The commission would study historical evidence to determine his role, which is and has been widely disputed. Serbia and its political allies say that he supported the Fascist regime aligned with the Nazis while many Croats (guided by factual findings through research of archives, such as that of Dr. Esther Gitman) oppose the communist Yugoslavia picture concocted about Stepinac, still actively promoted by Serbs and some former communists in Croatia. The facts are that Blessed Alojzije Stepinac saved and rescued many lives of Jews, Serbs and Roma.

Does Pope Francis truly understand Europe if Serbia’s president Tomislav Nikolic is one of his advisers on the canonisation of Croatia’s Blessed Alojzije Stepinac – asked journalist D. Likic on Croatia’s news portal Maxportal. In continuance of such a sentiment of doubt, one truly wonders whether Pope Francis understands the past role President of Serbia actually played in the tragic and genocidal war of Serb aggression against Croatia in 1990’s? One truly wonders whether the Pope realises the terrifying significance for Croatian people Tomislav Nikolic’s incitement to hatred and crimes against Croats has and had? One truly wonders whether Pope Francis realises that Serbia’s President is one of the powerful personalities who keep denying and hiding the terrible role WWII Serbia played in the perpetration of the Holocaust – by May 1942, 94% of Serbia’s Jews were exterminated so that Serbia could announce it was one of the first European countries to be free of Jews. Serbia’s powerful keep telling the world that it was the occupying Nazis who exterminated all those Jews in Serbia – wrong! Serbia’s government and people who supported it collaborated with the Nazis, marked the Jews for extermination and brought them to extermination camps.
If the Pope realises all that, then perhaps the commission formed between the Catholic and Serbian Orthodox Church has and will discuss all the historical facts of WWII, including those relating to the role of the Serbian Orthodox Church and this role meant peril and death to Jews, Croats and others. Including the fact that, judging from its past behaviour and statements, the Serbian Orthodox Church has no intention or morality to accept the true facts about the Blessed Alojzije (Aloysius) Stepinac and his deeds of rescue and saving of persecuted people. So, why would one want someone who has proven himself to be so biased and hateful against Croats in advance on a commission or committee deciding on facts in WWII Croatia?
Truly baffling! Truly disquieting!
According to Serbia’s news agency Tanjug, following the meeting with Pope Francis, Nikolic told Tanjug that he had a very open discussion with the Pope about Cardinal Stepinac during which he had told the Pope that Cardinal Stepinac had played a very bad role in World War II.

He (Stepinac) should at least not have remained silent when someone is killing … citizens just because they are not of (Roman) Catholic faith,” Nikolic said.

The problem with this statement from Nikolic and all Serbia’s political and church leaders is that they choose, with evident intentional malice, to ignore the facts discovered (e.g. by research conducted by Dr. Esther Gitman) after government archives were opened in late 1990’s/early 2000’s when communist Yugoslavia finally fell. These facts irrefutable point to the absolute truth that Cardinal Stepinac, organising rescue missions and actions that would save lives also protested in writing against any killings done under the WWII regime, he became aware of, but his protests fell on deaf ears just as they are falling on deaf ears of Serbia today! Serbia’s Nikolic would like us to think, it seems, that an Archbishop (Stepinac) in WWII was more powerful that the country’s governmental leadership! Why else would he ignore Stepinac’s protests of which he is well aware?

Pope Francis speaks with Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic, during a private audience at the Vatican, Friday, Sept. 11, 2015. (Claudio Onorati/Pool photo via AP)

Pope Francis speaks with Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic, during a private audience at the Vatican, Friday, Sept. 11, 2015. (Claudio Onorati/Pool photo via AP)

Serbia’s president Nikolic boasted that the Pope had told him at one point that he was in no rush to declare the cardinal a saint. If that is true, it is sad and pathetic.

I think that I have come across a man who knows a great deal and who understands everything and who has accepted almost every statement and suggestion I put to him. This was a meeting between people who understood each other straight away,” Nikolic boasted further to the Serbian media.
God forbid! God forbid if Papal belief should be so easily filled!
Perhaps in the context of this commission established between the Catholic and the Serbian Orthodox Churches, and in the context that Serbia’s leaders and its Orthodox Church have been and still maliciously insist that Blessed Alojzije Stepinac is guilty of WWII crimes he had no part in committing or power to prevent, Pope Frances will find a way to point a revealing light on actual WWII facts for Serbia and wipe once and for all the foul drivel flowing out of Serbian political and religious leaders’ mouths for decades.
Pope Francis’ path so far has shown him as a kind of revolutionary man; a man who only last week broadened the power of priests to forgive women who commit what Catholic teachings call the “mortal sin” of abortion during his newly declared “year of mercy” starting in December. On last Sunday, 6 September, he called for “every” Catholic parish in Europe to offer shelter to one refugee family from the thousands of asylum-seekers risking all to escape war-torn Syria and other pockets of conflict and poverty. He repeatedly has denounced unrestrained capitalism. His attacks on “compulsive consumerism” and industrial damage to the world’s ecology came to a head during a fiery July speech in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. He said poor nations shouldn’t be mere sources of raw materials and cheap labor, and called the unfettered pursuit of money “the dung of the devil”:

Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system,” he said, “it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity, it sets people against one another and, as we clearly see, it even puts at risk our common home.”

Pope John Paul II Praying at the body of Blessed Alojzije Stepinac in Zagreb Croatia

Pope John Paul II Praying at the body of Blessed Alojzije Stepinac in Zagreb Croatia

Many of the 265 popes before Francis championed serious causes. Most recently, John Paul II crusaded against communism and beatified Croatia’s Cardinal Alojzije (Aloysius) Stepinac, and Benedict XVI decried moral drift that devalued human lives. Now comes Pope Francis’ determination to help people by the hundreds of millions escape destitution. Excellent. Perhaps during his visit to the United States this coming week he’ll discuss how market economies already have let other hundreds of millions prosper, and bless capitalism for its saving grace. Give credit where credit is due for in this day and age, without capital or money, there can be no welfare and no humanitarian aid. Perhaps, at some point he will publicly reflect on the meeting with Serbia’s Tomislav Nikolic and loudly pronounce that Nikolic’s malicious fodder cannot and will not stain the blessed and saintly soul and deeds of Cardinal Stepinac. That would match the courage and the leadership the Pope has shown in many instances so far. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb);B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

First published on Sept.13: 2015

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