21:59 / 17.11.2021.

Author: Katja Miličić

Head of anti-corruption agency admits errors in Žalac case

Chief State Prosecutor Zlata Hrvoj-Šipek and the head of USKOK, Vanja Marušić

Chief State Prosecutor Zlata Hrvoj-Šipek and the head of USKOK, Vanja Marušić

Foto: Matija Habljak / PIXSELL

The head of Croatia's anti-corruption agency, USKOK, admitted on Wednesday that her agency had made a mistake in failing to forward its findings in a case that has now been taken up by EU prosecutors and which lead to the arrest of former Regional and Development Minister Gabrijela Žalac last week. 

Speaking at a press conference, the head of USKOK, Vanja Marušić, said the investigation was no longer active when the European Prosecutor's Office was formed earlier this year.

“At the time, there were no active investigations happening in this case,” Marušić said.

USKOK has come under criticism for failing to notify the European Public Prosecutor of suspicions that the former minister may have committed crimes related to the procurement of a software package for her ministry, which the government overpaid by 10 million kuna. European prosecutors ended up acting on information they received from OLAF the EU’s anti-corruption agency, which resulted in the arrest of Žalac and the current head of Croatia’s agency that oversees the distribution of EU funding.

“It was an error in reporting, not in procedure,” Marušić said in response to being asked who was to blame that OLAF had to notify prosecutors of information that was already in the hands of USKOK.

The software procurement case, referred to by Croatian media as the Software Case, was opened by USKOK after investigative reporting published by a local newspaper cast suspicion on the role of Minister Žalac in pressuring the Central Finance and Contracting Agency to bend procurement rules to favor one particular company.

Marušić said that after several months of investigating, document gathering, and taking statements from some 30 witnesses, USKOK concluded there was not enough evidence to open a formal inquiry and the case was effectively closed.

USKOK has been accused of protecting powerful individuals from investigation and prosecution over the developments in this and other cases. Marušić vehemently denies this.

Marušić spoke at a press conference today alongside Chief State Prosecutor Zlata Hrvoj-Šipek to address several issues, including the withdrawal of the Agrokor case, the arrest of a former deputy country prosecutor for leaking to a suspect in the Agrokor case, and the controversy over the handling of the software procurement case.

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