Tapes Nail Tudjman Cronies

Newly discovered taped telephone conversations between the late Franjo Tudjman and his cronies have exposed a series of corruption scandals at the heart of the former Croatian government.

Tapes Nail Tudjman Cronies

Newly discovered taped telephone conversations between the late Franjo Tudjman and his cronies have exposed a series of corruption scandals at the heart of the former Croatian government.

Sunday, 9 April, 2000

More revelations about the corrupt activities of the former Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, government are being exposed in newly emerged records of conversations between late President Franjo Tudjman and his political associates.

Some 830 tape recordings, authenticated transcripts of conversations and correspondence are said to have been found in the former leader's offices.

Tudjman introduced the practice of taping confidential conversations in the winter of 1991. As a historian and a man obsessed with his role in the creation of the new Croatian state, he believed his utterances would serve as a significant contribution to the writing of the country's history.

Instead, however, the records have exposed "Watergate"-like scandals at the heart of the Croatian political establishment. But, unlike the former United States President Richard Nixon who paid for the secret taping with his job, the price of Tudjman's recordings is being paid by his once closest associates.

One of the published transcripts revealed details of the controversial privatisation of one of the most influential papers in Croatia, Vecernji List. In a conversation between Tudjman and Ivic Pasalic, the HDZ vice president of the Croatian parliament, it emerged that the then ruling party had illegally gained control of the paper.

The purchaser of the title, the Virgin Islands-based Caritus Fund, had been set up by the HDZ, with money from several Croatian banks.

Pasalic told Tudjman, "I've created a big smokescreen around the whole thing because we must not let it appear, even from an aeroplane, that this [the privatization of Vecernji List] has anything to do with us."

Tudjman replied, "That's fine. Our interest is to have it [the newspaper] under our control." Pasalic then added, somewhat cynically, "for the benefit of those outside we will also create the illusion of democratisation, privatisation and so on."

Pasalic had initially claimed the conversations about Vecernji List had never taken place. He then changed tack, arguing the tapes were private documents belonging to the Tudjman estate. Extensive and incriminating transcripts subsequently appeared in the Easter edition of the paper, Jutarnji List. The scandal could lead to the prosecution of Pasalic, who at present enjoys immunity as an MP.

Other tapes implicate Tudjman's Minister of Finance, Borislav Skegro. In a recorded conversation between the Croatian leader and Skegra just a few weeks before Tudjman's death, Skegro discussed the sale of the country's telecommunications company to Deutche Telekom for $850 million. He bragged that he had transferred $100 million from the transaction to an Irish bank. The HDZ, he said, would use the money in the run-up to January's parliamentary elections. In the last few days, Skegro has since stated that the funds weren't touched and have since been returned to the state.

Mesic claims that of the 830 tapes that have been found, 50 of them provide evidence of wrongdoing by the former Croatian authorities, conducted with Tudjman's blessing of course. While some of the contents have been made public, Mesic appears intent on keeping the bulk of the incriminating material under wraps, for now at least.

In the presidential office, officials are busy sifting through the tapes, separating those dealing with criminal activities from ones documenting ordinary political business. The former will be handed over to the police, the latter will be stored in the presidential archive. It is difficult to foresee what the tapes will reveal.

Since their election victory earlier this year, Prime Minister Ivica Racan and his ruling coalition have not shown much enthusiasm for dealing with their predecessors' corruption. So far, only the former Minister for Tourism, Ivan Herak, and a handful of tycoons, including Miroslav Kutle, Antun Novalic, Zeljko Miletic, have been put behind bars.

The fact that the very top of the former government has been implicated in the corruption will create an interesting situation. Most of the members of the previous government are now MPs. In order to start investigations against them, parliament must first annul their immunity from prosecution, a procedure that could take some time.

Drago Hedl is a correspondent for the Split-based Feral Tribune and a regular contributor for IWPR.

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