Croatia’s defence minister Mario Banozic has been dismissed by Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic after he was involved in a car crash that killed one person, Plenkovic said in a statement on November 11. Banozic was injured in the crash and taken to hospital with head injuries.
The accident happened on the DC-55 state road at the exit from Vinkovci towards Zupanja on the morning of November 11 and an investigation is underway.
Plenkovic expressed condolences to the family of the man killed in the accident, Goran Saric, and said he hoped that Banozic will fully recover from his head injuries soon.
Banozic was driving his own car when the accident occurred, according to government’s statement.
"Mr. Banozic was driving his personal vehicle, he was without bodyguards, he was going to a private event, he was not to an official event. As for the regime that applies to protected persons, of course it is always better that their vehicles are driven by professionals, people who are professional and adequately trained for this, which would increase their safety. This was a situation in which he, during the weekend, drove his car himself and there was a serious traffic accident," Plenkovic said at a press briefing broadcasted on the government’s website.
According to Croatian legislation, ministers are entitled to have personal guards from the state security service.
"We have no other information, we want Mario Banozic to recover, his condition to stabilise and once again we regret that there was a car accident and the death of Mr. Goran Saric," Plenkovic said.
On November 13, local media reported that Banozic might be charged with causing the crash. His lawyer, Fran Olujic, said as quoted by Total Croatia that it was too early to know what the sentence could be as it is yet to be determined whether the crash was caused by Banozic.
If the crash was caused by Banozic due to negligence, he could get between one and eight years in prison, while if the authorities determine it was because of intentional actions, the prison sentence is between three and fifteen years.
Plenkovic also said at the press briefing he is appointing state secretary Zdravko Jakop to head the defence ministry temporarily. Although local media speculated that Jakop could take over the position permanently, on November 13 Plenkovic said at press conference that he is nominating Ivan Anusic, the current prefect of Osijek-Baranja County.
"It is logical that Ivan, given his extensive experience, has all the references to be minister of defence, he will fit into the team and function as before," Plenkovic said.
Plenkovic said he will ask the parliament to vote on Anusic’s nomination this week as he did not want the position of defence minister to be held by a temporary replacement for long period.
"As far as the procedure is concerned, I will send a letter to the parliament speaker, I believe that the respective committee will be convened, I suppose on Wednesday [November 15]. As for the vote, it should be scheduled for Thursday. As things stand now and given the importance of the ministry of defence as a portfolio, we do not want to have this temporary management regime for more than a few days," Plenkovic said.
Anusic, called by local media the most powerful member of HDZ in the Slavonia region, took part in the civil war in former Yugoslavia.
In the past, there were disagreements between him and Plenkovic but the prime minister said they were left behind, according to N1.