By Drazen Remikovic
A joint investigation by authorities in Slovenia and Croatia to crack an alleged bank corruption ring is an indication that Croatia won’t tolerate corruptive practices, Nikola Kristic, president of Transparency International Croatia, said.
The investigation, which is targeting the Croatian unit of Sloviena’s second-largest bank NKBM, is said to have cost the bank 60 million euros. At least three people have been arrested, including Matjaz Kovacic, former chief executive of NKBM.
Police are investigating the purchase of real estate by NKBM’s Croatian branch, KBM Projekt, which is suspected of extending loans to shell companies in Croatia. Police believe that the companies purchased land between 2006 and 2009 and then resold it to KBM Projekt at much higher prices, according to Reuters.
Officials at the Slovenian bank, KMC Projekt and Croatian anticorruption police, USKOK, declined to comment to SETimes.
Kovacic resigned from his position at the bank in January amid questions about the bank’s dealings with a now-bankrupt construction company, Konstrucktor, and an audit by the central bank, according to The Slovenia Times.
Kristic told SETimes that he believes that the public will continue to trust banks.
“We can see that the battle against corruption still takes its position in the EU member countries, such as Romania, Bulgaria, Slovenia, so basically, it is a never-ending story,” he said. “But citizens are still expecting the results of charges for corruption. When that happens, it will be an indicator of the seriousness in approach to fight against corruption.”
Dragutin Lesar, member of the parliament’s National Council for Monitoring Anti-Corruption Strategy Implementation, said the public is fully aware of the deepness of the corruption that Croatia had in the past 20 years.
“Therefore, government must set up highly transparent rules that apply to all,” he told SETimes. “I believe that Croatia will receive a positive evaluation in the fight against corruption from EU but officials need to understand that we must fight against it for the people, and not because of some EU regulations.”
Officials from the interior ministry say that ratings of European officials and experts on the issue of efforts to fight corruption so far have been positive. Croatia is still under monitoring by the European Commission after closing chapter 23 on EU accession negotiations, which covers the judiciary system.
“We don’t make any difference between the ‘high’ and ‘low’ corruption,” Jelena Bikic, a ministry spokeswoman, told SETimes. “Croatia has lowered the level of corruption, but it is a phenomenon that is difficult to eradicate completely. The government has drawn up several action plans and strategies regarding combating corruption, which has been successfully implemented.
“More has been done on the coordination of state institutions and their control, training of personnel, which resulted in increased number of indictments for corruption,” she said.