Sunday

29th May 2016

Opinion

EU should stop funding Croatia's corrupt networks

  • Former Croatian PM Ivo Sanader was convicted for corruption (Photo: CROPIX)

Global Financial Integrity (GFI), a Washington-based organisation, in December released a study stating that crime, corruption and tax evasion cost Croatia an astounding $15.2 billion (€11.3bn) from 2001 to 2010.

During the same period, Croatia received €1.5 billion in assistance from EU taxpayers and is scheduled to receive an additional €10 billion in EU funds during 2014-2020.

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EU taxpayers should stop all financial aid to Croatia until illicit enrichment amassed by its corrupt politicians and their partners in crime are confiscated including the $15.2 billion of illicit financial outflows.

In a pinprick strike against colossal corruption in Croatia, the country’s former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader was found guilty of taking bribes. The companies involved in bribing Sanader were Austrian-based Hypo Group Alpe Adria Bank (HGAA) and the Hungarian oil company MOL.

The political elite is hoping that Sanader’s case will convince Brussels that Croatia is addressing corruption and ready to join the EU in July 2013.

Yet, the question remains - where did the $15.2 billion end up and who is going to bring them back to Croatia’s treasury and how?

Croatia’s illicit financial outflows are much higher. During the past 20 years, proceeds from bribes, phony privatization schemes, illegal trade, arms and oil smuggling left Croatia and landed on secret bank accounts including HGAA branches in Austria and Liechtenstein.

After huge “losses” in the Balkans, HGAA was first sold to Bayern LB in 2007, costing German taxpayers €3.7 billion in a bailout subsequently, Vienna nationalized the bank, costing Austrian taxpayers nearly €1 billion.

Prince Michael of Liechtenstein took over HGAA Liechtenstein at the time of HGAA’s sale to Bayerische Landesbank, and then liquidated it. The accounts of Balkan corrupt politicians and criminals remained safe, protected by Liechtenstein’s bank secrecy.

Liechtenstein has long been accused of sheltering dirty money.

In 2008, the bi-partisan US Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations led by US Senator Carl Levin accused the LGT Group of “advising US clients to open accounts in the name of Liechtenstein foundations to hide their beneficial ownership of the account assets", and establishing “transfer corporations” to disguise asset transfers to and from LGT accounts.

According to Austrian media, Darko Saric’s Balkan cocaine ring laundered $100 million from 2007 to 2009 through HGAA accounts primarily in Liechtenstein.

Croatia’s tarnished politicians and organized crime groups are benefiting from the nefarious “Balkan Route” originating in Afghanistan/Pakistan via Iran which is used to smuggle heroin, weapons and young women and children into Europe.

Several high-profile Balkan criminals arrested in Spain in February 2012 possessed official Croatian passports. Investigations led to Croatia’s Ministry of Interior and revealed a track record of the illegal sale of passports since 2006. No high-level Croatian official was held responsible.

Croatia does not need foreign financial aid but foreign assistance to stop illicit financial outflows and combat the mafia state.

Croatia’s citizens urgently need visiting judges and prosecutors from strong rule-of-law nations to establish an independent judiciary, assist local honest judicial experts, confiscate illicit enrichment amassed by corrupt politicians and their partners in crime and bring the $15.2 billion of illicit financial outflows back to Croatia.

The writers are co-founders of the Adriatic Institute for Public Policy.

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