Croatia: Justice Against Corruption Still In Claws Of Baptism Of Fire

Ivo Sanader, former prime minister of Croatia Photo: Marko Lukunic

Ivo Sanader, former prime minister of Croatia Photo: Marko Lukunic

Justice in ridding Croatia of paralysing corrupt practices inherited from the communist power-bases of former Yugoslavia, or at least reducing them so that corruption ceases to stifle democratic progress including the economy, has indeed been a long-suffering entity in Croatia. Croatia that is free from corruption is the new bright position people want Croatia to be in. Frank Serpico, New Yorks’s retired police department office who became famous for blowing the whistle on corruption within the police department in late 1960’s and early 1970’s said: “The fight for justice against corruption is never easy. It never has been and never will be. It exacts a toll on our self, our families, our friends, and especially our children. In the end, I believe, as in my case, the price we pay is well worth holding on to our dignity.”

For years Croatia had been unable or unwilling, or both, to deal decisively with thieves and troublemakers that define the deep-rooted corruption. When in 2014 Zagreb’s District Court delivered a guilty verdict in the first and biggest to date corruption case involving the former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader and Hypo and INA-MOL (Croatian gas and petrol energy company with Hungarian MOL clout) there was a breath of relief in Croatia and abroad. Finally – the breath of fresh air and hope for justice showed optimistic promise that Croatia was well on its way in getting rid of paralysing and omnipresent corruption it inherited from communist Yugoslavia days. Sanader was sentenced to eight and a half years and I thought: justice against corruption has been baptised and it will grow from now on.

Zsolt Hernádi, CEO MOL Photo: Budapest Business Journal

Zsolt Hernádi, CEO MOL Photo: Budapest Business Journal

Sanader was arrested in Austria as he fled Croatia in an attempt to avoid facing criminal charges, and was extradited to Croatia in July 2011. Series of trials for a string of serious charges of corruption, bribery and war profiteering offences commenced late 2011. In December 2011 criminal charges were laid against Sanader, which stipulated that for a 10 Million euro bribe he negotiated with president of Hungary’s petrol/energy company MOL, Zsolt Hernádi, that MOL receive majority ownership in Croatia’s INA company. These charges were attached to previous one for war profiteering in which Sanader is alleged to have taken a provision of 3.6 Million kuna (475,000 euro) from Hypo Bank while holding the office of deputy foreign minister of Croatia. As far as bribery from MOL, Hungarian Zsolt Hernádi has continuously denied any wrongdoing although he has refused to attend the Croatian court.
After the 2014 verdicts against Sanader, Croatian Supreme court confirmed those Zagreb District Court guilty verdicts.

But, in July 2015 Croatia’s Constitutional court overturned those guilty verdicts, citing procedural errors (not facts of evidence for the criminal acts) and ordered a retrial. The Constitutional court said that in its decision it did not go into whether Ivo Sanader was guilty of war profiteering and criminal acts of receiving bribes for which he was found guilty because it, the Constitutional court, did not have jurisdiction. The Constitutional court had overturned the guilty verdict because it found that all guarantees for a fair trial and all mechanisms of judicial protection provided through the legislation were not secured for him. http://www.tportal.hr/vijesti/hrvatska/390689/Ukinuta-presuda-Ivi-Sanaderu-za-Hypo-i-INA-MOL.html (Click this link for PDF in Croatian/ Summary of Constitutional Court decision 24 July 2015)

The Constitutional court findings say that there had been a breach of rules of a milder law in relation to the constitutional guarantee for a milder sentence. Article 31, clause 1 of the Constitution of Croatia provides that ” No one may be punished for an act which, prior to its commission, was not defined as a punishable offence by domestic or international law, nor may such individual be sentenced to a penalty which was not then defined by law. If a less severe penalty is determined by law after the commission of said act, such penalty shall be imposed.”

The decision also refers to a breach of Constitutional right to explanations of the part of judgement dealing with the rule of the milder law.

And so, on Monday 7 September 2015, Croatia began a retrial of former prime minister Ivo Sanader on corruption charges, including a case of a bribe allegedly taken from Hungarian oil firm MOL to allow it acquire a dominant stake in Croatia’s biggest utility (INA).

Judge Ivan Turudic Photo: Slavko Midzor

Judge Ivan Turudic Photo: Slavko Midzor

As the retrial got under way, Sanader’s lawyers requested the judge (Ivan Turudic) be changed as he had overseen the previous trial and they submit that he may be biased against Sanader in the second-trial. According to media reports Sanader’s lawyers will seek not only that Turudic be disqualified from hearing the case or presiding over the hearing but that he also be removed from his position as president of the Zagreb District Court. Judge Ivan Turudic, on the other hand, says that he can see no reason why he could not preside over the retrial. Any disqualification of a judge from presiding over the trial or hearing the case will need to be decided by a higher court (in this case Supreme Court of Croatia).

Well, well, it seems Sanader and his lawyers don’t worry about the independent facts revealed during the first trial against him, which facts point to guilt of actual corruption, bribery and war profiteering. Procedural matters are the hot coals in the baptism of fire of justice in this case. While Sanader and everyone should have the benefit of due process – which includes access to all rights under the law and procedural fairness – one cannot but think of Frank Serpico at this time: the fight for justice is never easy! Baptism of fire for many good things is an inevitable albeit regretful path to the good; we all want justice and want it now! Especially given that Croatia has been suffocated by corruption for a whole lifetime. Time to speed up the fight against corruption in Croatia and I hope that agenda will be included in someone’s election campaign platform! It’s election year with general elections likely to occur in a couple of month’s times. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A.;M.A.Ps. (Syd)

First published on Sept.09 2015

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Reverence For Croatian Victims Of Serb Aggression: Vote Trashes Use Of Serbian Cyrillic In Vukovar

Bilingual signs with Serbian Cyrillic Removed from Vukovar's public buildings Photo: G. Panic

This is a big move towards making solid steps for peace and healing of victims of Serb aggression and atrocities against Croats and non-Serbs in Vukovar in the early 1990’s. Those who oppose the “step” will call it by any other name except one that has even a tiny bit of positiveness in it; they will call it recist, denial of human rights, denial of minority rights and such.

The Vukovar City Council on Monday 17 August 2015 adopted amendments to the city Statute as per August 2014 Constitutional Court ruling that handed instructions to determine, within one year, in which of the city’s neighbourhoods bilingual signs can be displayed.
In the amendments the City Council of Vukovar voted constitute changes of the Statute of the city so that it no longer provides for the existence of bilingual signs, and Cyrillic alphabet, on the city’s and government institutions, squares and streets. The changes were adopted on the initiative of the Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ, the leading party in Vukovar local government. Serbian political representatives and the Councillors of the Social Democratic Party, the strongest party in the national government, unsuccessfully opposed the decision.
For a couple of years now much has happened in Vukovar with protests against bilingual (Croatian and Serbian) signs on public buildings and streets etc. Bilingual signs containing Serb Cyrillic were systematically pulled down, smashed and generally rejected by the Croats living in Vukovar. The Committee for the defence of Croatian Vukovar and their supporters, who represent the victims of Serb mass murders, rapes, destruction say that Cyrillic symbolically represents the utter terror and the horror inflicted upon innocent Croats in Vukovar as they went about seceding from communist Yugoslavia, seeking through democratic peaceful processes their freedom and democracy.

As was expected Serbia and some of Croatia’s antifascist riff-raff have protested against these amendments in Vukovar City Statute and have called them racist as well as denying human rights to minorities. Their protest also touches upon the decision in these amendments of the Statute of Vukovar to introduce charges of 3 Euro for any council document issued in Cyrillic at special request by an applicant.

Vukovar’s people who are behind the moves against the Serbian Cyrillic on public buildings, streets etc. and the councillors of the ruling coalition defended the amendments to the Statute which were proposed by city mayor Ivan Penava (HDZ) and all of these supporters continue seeking and calling for a new census. The last census, they say, was fraudulent and had many more Serbs who lived in Serbia, not Vukovar, recorded as living in Vukovar. Busloads of people from Serbia had come to Vukovar at time of census, falsely declared their residence there and then after went back to Serbia. All this in efforts to make-up the necessary minimum of 34% of population in a place needed to introduce bilingual signage on public buildings etc.! If that percentage is based on fraud – and all evidence argued and provided to the public so far seems to point that way – then those councillors in Vukovar that reject accepting that fraudulent census result as its benchmark for the introduction of bilingual signage are absolutely in the right!

There has been no information yet on how the government will react to the amendments made to Vukovar’s Statute, to the complaints made by the Serb Ethnic Minority Council and criticism coming out of Serbia calling the Vukovar council’s move racist, and in breach of human rights of minorities.

As regards Cyrillic signs in Vukovar the government has the possibility to directly enforce laws, bypassing the city statute, but the question is how much that would be in line with the ruling of the Constitutional Court instructing the government to propose to the parliament, within a period of one year, amendments to the Law on the Use of Languages and Scripts of Ethnic Minorities, including mechanisms for cases when local self-government bodies obstruct the right to bilingualism.

Along with the Serb Ethnic Minority Council of Vukovar, also dissatisfied with the amendments to the Vukovar City Statute is the Serb National Council (SNV), whose leaders on Monday described them as unconstitutional and unlawful and said that they would notify the relevant institutions in Croatia, as well as the EU, the Council of Europe and the UN.

They can write to EU and UN “till the cows come home” but they have no case! Vukovar council decision was in respect of human rights: those of the victims!

EU ParliamentBesides, Tove Ernst, European Commission Press Officer, reportedly said to Serbia’s news agency Tanjug and responding to a plea to the European Commission to comment on the abolition of the Cyrillic alphabet in Croatian city of Vukovar: “the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU bans discrimination based on minority status. However, the Commission has no overall authority with regard to minorities, especially in relation to the issue of recognition of the status of minorities, their self-determination and autonomy, and the use of regional or minority languages.” According to her, the Member States retain a general power to make decisions about minorities and the provisions of the Charter of fundamental rights concern the EU Member States only when they implement EU laws.
The Vukovar Council said it supported full application of the Constitutional Law on the Rights of Ethnic Minorities and the Law on the Use of Minority Languages and Scripts and warned that minority rights must not depend on daily politics. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

First published August 19th 2015

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