Croatia: Probe Expected to Resolve Croatia’s ‘Per Diem’ Scandal

Criminal law expert says controversy over illegal payment of per diems – which shook the Croatian government – is likely to be resolved in course of a broadened investigation.

Andrej Plenkovic and Dinko Cvitan on an urgent press conference considering the scandal. Photo: Anadolu Agency/Stipe Majic
Andrej Plenkovic and Dinko Cvitan on an urgent press conference considering the scandal. Photo: Anadolu Agency/Stipe Majic

The saga over the payment of “per diems” to advisers in the Croatian government and state attorney’s office for fictional trips will likely be resolved in the course of a wider investigation, an expert told BIRN.

Tomislav Saucha, an MP of the opposition Social Democratic Party, SPD, and former head of the cabinet of former Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic, was arrested in February on suspicion of having signed off 40,000 euros worth of per diems for fictional trips by three government advisors. The Office for Suppressing Corruption and Organised Crime, USKOK, arrested him and took him to remand prison where he spent a week. However, after Saucha conducted his own private investigation, questioning the advisors and officials in the current centre-right government of Andrej Plenkovic, as well as those in the previous government led by Tihomir Oreskovic, he discovered that these two governments also paid out per diems and that the signatures of the heads of the cabinet had been forged.

A lawyer and a former criminal law judge, Branko Seric, told BIRN that the latest findings would likely mean the whole situation being resolved in a bigger probe.
“I’m convinced the whole situation will be resolved, the whole manipulation of the documentation, as well as the money,” he said. Seric said that Saucha’s investigation “wasn’t comprehensive because it was limited only to one person [Saucha] and to a limited period of time” – referring to the term of Milanovic’s government – and would therefore have to be extended. “The investigation is now likely to be broadened to cover a longer period of time because irregularities in the payments of these per diems were established over a longer period,” he said, emphasising that Plenkovic and chief state attorney Dinko Cvitan had established the system.

After Saucha brought his evidence before USKOK on March 6, Plenkovic and Cvitan immediately announced that an internal inspection within the government had also revealed that per diems for fictional trips were paid out on a much larger scale – and not only during Milanovic’s government. Plenkovic also pledged to change the way per diems are paid out to prevent any new irregularities. Cvitan thanked Plenkovic for his new evidence and later rejected claims that the initial investigation had been done badly, by not inspecting payments of per diems before and after Saucha’s term in office. Some politicians called for Cvitan’s removal from his position. Seric said the wider investigation would likely lead to new potential suspects, as it initially led to Saucha, paying out per diems under the current government as well as Oreskovic’s government. “It’s important for everyone that it’s resolved,” Seric concluded.

Over the last week, the government has run internal checks on the persons potentially connected with the affair, removing and transferring some of them. Zvonko Matisic, former head of the office for general services for parliament and government, was transferred on Friday to the office of the administration for political affairs in the Foreign Ministry. Terezija Matic was removed on Wednesday as acting head of the government’s office of general services. She headed the financial department of the office for general services under Milanovic’s government. Sandra Zeljko, a secretary in the government was moved to the government’s office for de-mining on Wednesday. She is also being investigated over claims that she forged her high school diploma – a precondition for her position.


13 March 2017

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