The mayors of two Croatian towns, who are also sitting MPs, were the latest suspects to be remanded in custody as part of a corruption probe initiated on Croatian state-controlled oil pipeline company Jadranski Naftovod (Janaf).
Janaf head Dragan Kovacevic was detained along with 10 others on September 17 on suspicion of crimes, including influence peddling and incitement to influence peddling, bribery and abuse of office, according to a statement from the Office for Suppression of Corruption and Organised Crime (USKOK). Kovacevic is suspected of taking bribes in exchange for favouring certain companies when awarding contracts.
The following day, Zagreb County Court ordered 30-day pre-trial detentions for Kovacevic, Elektrocentar Petek founder Kreso Petek – who is suspected of giving bribes to Kovacevic and others – and several others. Detentions were also given to Velika Gorica mayor Drazen Barisic, an MP for the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and the mayor of Nova Gradiska, Vinko Grgic, who represents the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP) in Parliament. Fellow MPs voted earlier to strip Barisic and Grgic of their parliamentary immunity, and footage from outside the court showed them being led away in handcuffs. Both have denied any wrongdoing.
Petek is the key suspect in the case. He has been accused of giving HRK1.96mn (€205,000) to Kovacevic in exchange for contracts awarded by Janaf to Elektrocentar Petek, a provider of services to the energy sector and other sectors. He is also suspected of giving bribes to the two mayors in exchange for public contracts.
Janaf manages Croatia’s oil pipeline and storage system, supplying refineries in several other Southeast and Central European countries.
The arrests have caused a political furore. Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic commented on September 17, giving his support to law enforcers and saying that everyone found guilty would answer for their crimes.
Justice and Public Administration Minister Ivan Malenica said the following day that the government will prepare a new anti-corruption strategy for the period until 2030, state news agency Hina reported.
President Zoran Milanovic commented that he did not understand why Kovacevic and Petek were not arrested at the moment when Kovacevic received a bribe of HRK1.96mn from Petek.
USKOK deputy director Tomislav Kamber said he was satisfied with the judge’s decision. “The judge accepted USKOK's proposal and ordered custody for both defendants. These two defendants are in pre-trial detention for the next 30 days. We have taken certain actions to freeze property against one of the defendants; you will have this information on Monday,” he told journalists, according to Dnevnik.
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