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High Society Arrests

ZAGREB, Croatia--A former foreign minister and a prominent businessman last month ended up in police custody in the wake of corruption allegations but have subsequently been released. Although no charges have been filed, the affair has nonetheless caused a scandal in Croatia. Accusations of corruption are commonplace in Croatia, but this marks the first time that such a high-ranking official has been detained.

Mate Granic--the foreign minister from 1993 to 1999 under independent Croatia’s first president, the nationalist Franjo Tudjman--was arrested on 7 May. He was suspected of seeking a bribe for his mediation in a financial transaction.

At the same time, Darinko Bago--Granic's brother-in-law and the president of Zagreb’s Koncar electronics consortium--was also arrested. During Granic's mandate at the Foreign Ministry, Bago served as Croatian ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina and to Bulgaria.

On 10 May, an investigative judge from the County Court in Zagreb, Kresimir Devcic, released the two, rejecting a request from USKOK--a special body operating within the Justice Ministry set up to deal with cases of organized crime--that the two men be kept in detention for a month. Devcic also refused to launch an investigation against Granic and Bago, arguing that the evidence presented by USKOK--including the results of undercover police surveillance—was insufficient.

Upon his release, Granic charged that the whole affair had been staged to defame him.

“I know who they are,” Granic said, referring to those figures he accused of plotting against him, “but I'd rather not name them.” Several hours later, he was admitted to a Zagreb hospital to undergo an emergency angioplasty after nearly suffering a heart attack.

“I am shocked and aghast at the news [of Granic's arrest],” said Vesna Skare-Ozbolt, the current justice minister and a close Granic associate in the Democratic Centre (DC), at a press conference on the day of Granic’s arrest. Skare-Ozbolt and Granic established the DC together after leaving Tudjman's Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), and she recently took over the chairmanship of the DC from Granic. “Nevertheless, the legal system must function regardless of the [position] of the suspect,” Skare-Ozbolt added.

“The rule of law should function, and no one is exempt from his or her responsibility, but since I have been, for 15 years, connected in various ways with this man who has been present on the public and political stage, then it is a painful situation for me as well, regardless of what the outcome of this affair may be,” Vladimir Seks, the speaker of the Croatian parliament and Granic's former HDZ party colleague, told the Zagreb daily Jutarnji list the day after the arrests.

(TOL 03.vi.04)

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