Croatia's former regime profiteers called to account

ZAGREB, Jun 20, 2000 -- (AFP) Croatia's new government, which has pledged to fight corruption, is beginning to call profiteers, ministers, generals and financiers of the former nationalist regime to account.

The center-left coalition pledged to reveal and punish fraud by its predecessors when it ended the nine-year rule of the late Franjo Tudjman's Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) in elections last January.

After taking over, the new authorities immediately started taking action and making arrests.

Former tourism minister Ivan Herak was arrested on January 28, when his immunity from prosecution expired, on suspicion of having embezzled 1.5 million kuna (183,000 dollars).

In March, former transportation and communications minister Zvonimir Vedris and Davor Zuvic, one of the senior officials of his former ministry, were also detained.

Vedris was suspected of having transferred 21.2 million kunas (2.5 million dollars) to Zuvic's bank account, in the name of his ministry for a non-existent study on the environmental impact of building airports on Croatian islands.

Businessmen of the Tudjman era, whose empires were built rapidly under unorthodox management methods and often through fraudulent privatization, were also a target of the fight against corruption intended to improve Croatia's credibility in the eyes of foreign investors.

Press tycoon Miroslav Kutle was on February 3 questioned by an investigative judge for embezzlement, and detained. Industrialist Josip Gucic, who fled to Germany, was placed on an international wanted list last Wednesday on similar charges.

The new government has also vowed to fight illegal building.

Villas belonging to Tudjman's former associates are now threatened with demolition by explosives as Minister of Environment and Regional Planning Bozo Kovacevic tries to bring some order to the chaotic construction that flourished during Tudjman's rule.

According to Kovacevic, a villa with a swimming pool built in a protected green area on the slopes over Zagreb, was just one site on a government hit-list. It belongs to former assistant to the defense minister, Ljubo Cesic-Rojs.

The local press, relishing each fresh scandal, had another field day a few days ago with the disclosure of a list of fake war invalids.

A first list, including the names of eight generals illegally receiving pensions obtained by fraud under the former nationalist regime, was made public by Prime Minister Ivica Racan's government.

Meanwhile, the World Bank congratulated Zagreb Friday on its efforts to reveal and reduce corruption.

Racan's government was "taking the right type of actions to reduce state corruption," said Andrew Vorkink, World Bank regional director for southeastern Europe.

"Recent revelations in Croatia confirm our fear of systematic and entrenched corruption in the previous government," said Vorkink, after promising financial help to Croatia for the fight against corruption.

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