Monday

10th Aug 2020

Questions on commissioner Suica's wealth still linger

  • 'Suica is not the best person for the commissioner for demography and democracy - since transparency is among the key values for democracy,' Croatian NGO Gong told EUobserver (Photo: European Parliament)

Questions about both family wealth and EU values still hang over the new EU commissioner for democracy and demography, Croatia's Dubravka Suica.

Ahead of her appointment as a member of the new commission, doubts over the value of her property, lack of transparency and possible conflict of interests belatedly surfaced in Brussels.

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However, in her native Croatia, public scrutiny over how the 62-year old former school teacher became so rich around 20 years ago started years ago - she has three houses and two apartments in Croatia, a cottage in Bosnia, a yacht, and three cars.

Various Croatian media have reported her properties as worth a total of €5m - something which Suica has dismissed as "fake news". However, she declined to publish documents that would corroborate her account.

However, the Croatian NGO Gong, with the support of the country's information commissioner, appealed to the Croatian conflict of interest commission to request access to the "private" declaration file of Suica from 2000 to 2012 - now seen by EUobserver.

Suica was a member of the Croatian parliament from 2000 to 2011. But, in parallel, she also was the mayor of Dubrovnik from 2001 until 2009. This was a period with a long list of controversies, reported by the Croatian media, including disputes with local journalists.

"I feel confident about the so-called "disclosure" as I have always declared my assets according to the rules of institutions where I was serving. No conflict of interest ever existed and therefore I see no reason for raising this subject again," Suica told EUobserver.

According to Gong, "Suica's objection to publishing information about her property reflects a persistent culture of secrecy from the political class in Croatia".

Gaps and questions marks

In 2000, Suica only declared a house in the coastal village of Cavtat, while her husband listed one family home in Dubrovnik, a Renault 9 and an Opel Vectra, as well as more than €59,000 savings - although his assets sharply varied over time.

"My husband was a naval captain for 44 years and earned something through his working life. We inherited something. Everything is clear and transparent. There is no fear over our property and no fear that Croatia will be ashamed of it," she said earlier this year.

Suica's assets also varied often. She had about €3,000 savings in 2003, €16,000 a year after and €72,000 in 2008.

In September 2004, the format of the financial declaration changed, making obligatory not only to mention the name and location of the property - but also its value. However, Suica entered a question mark ("?") in this section.

One might think that she did not know how much the value of her property was at that time. But this information was then also missing in her declaration of 2008, of 2011 and of 2012.

A separate "declaration on the method of acquiring assets and sources of funds" from 2009 states that Suica's house in Cavtat was inherited.

The same year, 2009, Suica signed an additional statement stating that the house in Cavtat was given to her daughter.

But, as previously reported by the local media, her daughter Mirta in 2011, without a loan, acquired an apartment at a good location in Zagreb.

Suica also filed a financial declaration when she became an MEP back in 2013 and when she was elected commissioner-designate in 2019.

In her declaration submitted to the EU parliament in 2019, Suica listed the house under construction in Cavtat that she previously claimed to have donated to her daughter ten years before.

Additionally, the family yacht is not mentioned in any of the files, including the financial declaration submitted to the European Parliament.

According to EU rules, Suica was not obliged to declare properties reserved for the exclusive use of their family.

Right portfolio?

However, other commissioner-designates in the same position have included this information in their declaration to be as transparent as possible, an EU official told the EUobserver.

Declarations submitted to the EU parliament only deal with a potential conflict of interest with people's portfolios and do not give an exhaustive inventory of what they own.

And EP financial vetting, which is done by the legal affairs committee, has also been criticised for political games behind closed doors.

Little can be concluded from the historic property declarations of Suica, although many questions remain unanswered.

When asked how there is missing information in her declaration as MP during years, a member of the Croatian conflict of interest commission, from 2005 to 2013, Zorislav Antun Petrovic, said that "the commission did not have the resources to check hundred of files," Croatian daily Faktograf reported.

"Croatia is the most corrupt country in Europe and its institutions are not to be trusted," said independent Croatian MEP Ivan Vilibor Sinčić, who believes that "until a competent institution analyses [this case], Suica should not be trusted either".

According to Slovenian MEP, Milan Brglez, from the opposition socialist party, the question of the integrity of commissioner Suica is in the hands of the president of the commission, Ursula von der Leyen, as she bears the responsibility for the work and reputation of the commission.

But "Šuica's is not the best person for the commissioner for demography and democracy - since transparency is among the key values for democracy," Gong told EUobserver.

"The mere fact that one is not found in a conflict of interest does not guarantee that he or she will not abuse his or her position to place particular interests above the interests of EU citizens," Gong concluded.

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