Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

About the lorries, the millions and the convicted minister

Dessislava Dimitrova, December 10, 2010

In the end of 2004 a minister of defense concludes a deal worth several million for several lorries for the army. Last year it became clear that the same lorries could have been bought for several million less. The result: on Monday (December 6) the minister has received four years in prison and his financial adviser - two years. Of course this is not happening in Bulgaria, although here too we have a former minister of defense, charged on several cases and already acquitted on one of them.

Here we are talking about the former minister of defense of Croatia Berislav Roncevic and state secretary (equal to a deputy minister) Ivo Bacic. In mid-July last year the State Committee for Fight against Corruption and Organised Crime launched an investigation which showed that the Evrokamion deal (Euro-lorry) cost 10 mn kuna (1.4 mn euro) more than the price offered for the same lorries by the German company MAN. The explanation is that the lorries respond to Nato's criteria, in spite of the higher price. The investigation, however, showed that the MAN lorries also respond to these requirements.

The charges against Roncevic and Bacic have been confirmed by court in December 2009 and in the end of January this year both pleaded not guilty. They were sentenced to four and two years, respectively, for robbing the revenue by 10.2 mn kuna which will be paid by them. The sentence is not conclusive and can be appealed, so both might not go to prison. But it is a fact that there is a sentence and the existence of a specialised body aimed at fighting corruption and organised crime - USKOK - is also a fact, established in 2001 and functioning as part of the chief prosecution of the country.

The Committee itself is being defined as a specialised body, established to act effectively against corruption and organised crime, to investigate criminal activities and, together with similar bodies, to work for crashing crime in larger scales. Roncevic's sentence was described as the first major victory for USKOK because there are a lot of cases against big state-owned companies and officials but in most cases there are only arrests and not sentences.

"Chief Prosecutor Mladen Baic and the director of USKOK Dinko Cvitan showed relief after the former minister of defense has been sentenced to four years in prison because if he was to be released this would have been a great blow to all USKOK's investigations as the Commitee is expected to clean the entire dirt, piled during the government of Ivo Sanader", the Croatian Vecernji List daily commented on Wednesday.

Aside from relief for the Chief Prosecutor and the head of the USKOK, Roncevic's sentence is being perceived as a step forward to a real reform of the judiciary of the country, which the EU wants to see from Croatia and this was again emphasized in the annual progress report of the European Commission. So far the only success after the interrogations and the arrests of key figures of the country's economic life, thought to be involved with corruption, are reduced to the sentence of Damir Polancec, a former deputy PM and minister of the economy in the government of Ivo Sanader who resigned.

Only in four days in October he was indicted for a second time with corruption and has been sentenced to a year in probation. Before that Polancec was sentenced to 15 months for abuse of power and state means. Besides the former deputy PM is a defendant on another case, this time in his capacity of a director of the leading Croatian company Podravka, known mostly with its spices mix Vegeta and which gave the name of the scandal - Vegeta-gate. It was right after Vegeta-gate when Polancec was one of the arrested managers of the company, indicted with trying to buy company's shares with money of Podravka itself.

According to local analysts the arrests in the past few months could delay the business development in the country in the mid-term because many employees are afraid to sign any documents but on the other hand this is the way future corruption schemes to be prevented. In the same time, according to analysts, the anti-corruption campaign of PM Jadranka Kosor can only bring her positives and would improve the image of the country in the EU.

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