The Croatian parliament stripped three MPs of immunity from prosecution on Friday, approving the initiation of criminal proceedings, deprivation of liberty and pre-trial detention for two MPs and a continued trial for the third.
Two MPs, Drazen Barisic, from the ruling centre-right Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, and Vinko Grgic, from the opposition centre-left Social Democratic Party, SDP, who are also mayors, are suspects in a corruption affair that was in the focus of Thursday’s anti-corruption operation undertaken by the Croatian police and the Office for the Prevention of Corruption and Organized Crime, USKOK.
The third MP, Darko Puljasic, from the HDZ, also a mayor, is connected with another affair. The request to strip his immunity is for the purpose of continuing criminal proceedings dating from 2018, when Puljasic – accused of forgery of a business document and of fraud amounting to a million kunas – was not a member of parliament.
On Thursday, USKOK said it had launched an investigation into 11 persons suspected of influence peddling, bribery, illicit preferential treatment and aiding and abetting these crimes; for the official start of the investigation into the two MPs, removal of their immunity was required.
Among those arrested on Thursday was the head of the management board of the JANAF oil pipeline company, Dragan Kovacevic, who is suspected of receiving 1.9 million kunas, about 253,244 euros, in bribes from Kreso Petek, CEO of Eletrocentar Petek company, which landed deal from JANAF worth 40 million kunas, or 5.3 million euros.
Petek is the first suspect in the investigation, while Kovacevic is the second. MPs Barisic and Grgic are suspected of having favoured Petek’s company in the public tender procedure.
USKOK said it had “reasonable suspicion” that, from September 2019 to September 2020, Velika Gorica Mayor Barisic “undertook all actions necessary to award [Petek’s] company in the open procedure of a public tender an estimated procurement value of 97.3 million kunas [almost 13 million euros]”, at the request of Petek.
It is also suspected that Petek agreed that if Nova Gradiska Mayor Grgic helped secure him the tender, he would give him 100,000 kunas, or 13,300 euros.
Both are MPs have denied corruption. HDZ leader and Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, referring to the police action, on Thursday said he fully backed the anti-corruption drives of relevant institutions.
“We give our support to the State Attorney’s Office and the Office for the Prevention of Corruption and Organized Crime in all activities that are independent and free of any kind of influence or pressure in their work. Each of those found guilty of a certain act under due process will be held accountable,” Plenkovic said.
Some observers say corruption in Croatia has worsened since it joined the European Union in 2013, when Brussels ceased to closely scrutinize how well it was doing to root out high-level graft.
The watchdog organisation Transparency International, in its annual index of perceived corruption, this January ranked Croatia at its lowest ever level in five years, awarding it 47 points out of 100.