Published in Nacional number 774, 2010-09-14

Autor: Berislav Jelinić

Istria County prefect's role in Hypo scandal

Jakovcic and Haider met at least five times

Ivan Jakovcic has made vehement public denials of his alleged connections with Jorg Haider, but Austrian investigators into the Hypo bank scandal believe these claims are not true

CARINTHIAN CONNECTIONS Austrian investigators of the Hypo scandal believe that Ivan Jakovcic had strong links to the late right-wing Carinthian politician HaiderCARINTHIAN CONNECTIONS Austrian investigators of the Hypo scandal believe that Ivan Jakovcic had strong links to the late right-wing Carinthian politician HaiderIstria County Prefect Ivan Jakovcic, businessman Milan Naperotic, former tennis player Bruno Oresar, and hotelier Goran Strok are the new faces drawing a growing amount of attention from both Croatian and Austrian investigators of the Hypo bank scandal. Their relationships with the bank are under scrutiny because they received large loans from the Hypo Alpe Adria Group to launch the development of numerous projects but have, as a result of the recession, and perhaps as a result of some dubious dealings, found themselves in problems, and the bank now will find it difficult, if ever, to collect on these loans. And since the Hypo Alpe Adria Group has of late become a bank under majority Austrian state ownership, Austrian investigators are now trying to figure out if some of the entrepreneurs mentioned used the lines of credit for purposes they were not intended for, or caused damages to the bank in collusion with its former management. This development also suits some high-ranking Government officials.

"It would suit many if all of the problems associated with the Hypo scandal were simply attributed to Ivo Sanader, who can certainly be linked to the scandal in a number of ways. But in relation to some other persons Sanader was practically small fry in the whole affair, or perhaps just a mooch striking the pose of a pompous bluffer," a high-ranking Croatian official told Nacional last week. A special case in this context was Ivan Jakovcic, who did not participate directly in any development or tourism projects but was, as the most influential politician in Istria County, in a position to provide significant assistance in seeing through some of the projects the bank was copiously financing in Istria County.

Scrutiny into these projects could hurt Jakovcic politically, but it was Jakovcic himself who, with his nervous public appearance last Friday on the TV show Hrvatska uzivo (Croatia Live), has already done himself quite a bit of damage. Ivan Jakovcic has been very perturbed by the discovery that Austrian investigators have started to take an interest in him, as they have once again launched an analysis of what had been going on in the initial phases of the Barbariga and Dragonera project, which some political circles say is Jakovcic's key political project. Detlev Neudeck, the former treasurer of Haider's Freedom Party, took part in the first phase of the project, and is a person Austrians believe could fully disclose how Haider extracted money from the Hypo Alpe Adria Group and subsequently used it to untransparently finance his party.

In Austria they want to put pressure on Neudeck to reveal all of the secret links between Haider and the Hypo bank, and they want to do so by way of the Barbariga and Dragonera project. In the initial phase of the project Neudeck purchased a massive plot of land in the area through some companies he controlled - land that was subsequently re-zoned, making it possible to reap massive profits. The problem is that some high-ranking IDS (Istrian Democratic Assembly) politicians like Stevo Zufic were involved in the deal. Zufic was directly involved in the transaction as the then director of one of the companies that purchased the land in question.

The IDS could also, by way of its influential members, have had a hand in the re-zoning of the land, and that is what could now cause political fallout for Jakovcic. It has even been rumoured that practically all Hypo bank projects in Istria County were launched after a meeting there between Haider and Jakovcic. These allegations deeply disconcerted Jakovcic last week, and he was awkward and agitated in his defence, denying there had been any meetings and connections with Haider during a telephone interview on the Croatia Live TV show. Jakovcic said during the interview that he had never met Haider, and that he had only met with leftist Austrian politicians such as Christof Zernatto. Zernatto is an Austrian politician who spent almost the entire past decade as governor of Carinthia, but he is not a leftist, but rather a member of Austria's OVP (Austrian People's Party). Jakovcic may have made an inadvertent slip of the tongue in mentioning Zernatto, but that is most likely not the case when he spoke of his relations with Haider. A close associate of Jorg Haider's has told Nacional that Jakovcic and Haider met at least five times just in Klagenfurt.

"I know of this personally, but it can very easily be reconstructed by looking into the protocol books of visits and minutes of meetings, which are kept quite pedantically in our local governments. I had an opportunity to read five minutes in which it is stated precisely when they met," this Austrian politician told Nacional. Nacional has also learned that Jakovcic, because of the possibly negative consequences of the Hypo scandal, made efforts over the past few months in Austria to secure political protection from some members of the Austrian SPO (Social Democratic Party of Austria). These same sources claim that Jakovcic was very active when it came to tourism development projects in Istria County. The claim is that Jakovcic very frequently met with various influential foreigners who wished to invest in Istria. That he, for example, also met with Wolfgang Flottl, the former head of the Bawag bank, wealthy businessman Julius Meinl and Fiona Swarovski.

As Istria County Prefect he was able to do so, but the question that now arises is whether Jakovcic exceeded the limits of customary political activity. Ivan Jakovcic has of late won some unexpected political allies in Austria. It was not long after the revelation that dubious projects in Istria County were once again in the focus of the attention of Austrian investigators that the first initiatives surfaced to sack Alois Steinbichler, a member of the supervisory board of the Hypo Alpe Adria Group responsible for the bank's operations in Croatia. There were public calls for his dismissal from the post coming from members of the OVP people's party. Some Austrian politicians say that the Austrian People's Party feel that Steinbichler, by cooperating with investigators in an effort to unmask the criminal activity at the Hypo bank, could hurt the interests of their party. Some elements of the People's Party were fearful that testimony that might be given by the former Haider treasurer Neudeck could lead to a definite reconstruction of how former Austrian Prime Minister Wolfgang Schussel tolerated Haider's inappropriate influence on the Hypo Alpe Adria Group in order to preserve the coalition that was keeping him in power. The Austrian People's party wants to prevent this outcome because they feel it could do permanent damage to their party's image. The word is that this is why it does not suit them to reopen discussion on what took place in Istria County, and this could indirectly help Jakovcic.

Austrian investigators are trying to reconstruct the activities of all of the chief operatives of the Hypo bank's Istria County operations, these being Milan Naperotic and Vladimir Bernes. Their activities are described in detail in a secret November 2007 espionage report on the operations of and relations within the Hypo bank, likely commissioned for the Bayerische Landesbank not long after it acquired a stake in the bank with the aim of giving it a better understanding of the nature of the business it had taken on. Informed sources in the private sector say that Naperotic moved to Novi Sad above all because he feared the outcome of the Hypo scandal in Croatia, and has allegedly filed there for the documentation required for permanent residence and employment. In the report it is stated that Naperotic was very close with both Gunther Striedinger and Wolfgang Kulterer, former heads of the Hypo bank. It was through these contacts that he helped see through various projects all around Croatia and was most often acting as chief advisor to Vladimir Zagorec, Ivic Pasalic, Ante Nobilo, Mico Caric and others, whom he hooked up with politicians in Istria County or elsewhere depending on where they wanted to implement a project. In the covert intelligence report on the Hypo bank is says that Naperotic, together with Jakovcic, lobbied in favour of the Barbariga and Dragonera project, and even that he once said in private company that the Hypo bank was to thank for the rapprochement between Jakovcic and Sanader. The same document also mentions that Naperotic frequently organised social functions.

It says that he organised a lavish celebration in 2005 to mark the restoration of St. Martin's Church in Tarska vala in memory of his father, and that he was reputed to have financed the restoration. On hand for the celebration were his closest friends and associates, including Jakovcic and Zufic. The same document states that Vladimir Bernes is a lawyer whose speciality are geodetic and cadastral services, that he was given Naperotic's most delicate assignments, that his services are also used by both Zufic and Jakovcic, and that he was frequently Naperotic's go-between in negotiations on investments outside the bounds of official talks. Investigators of the Hypo bank scandal have started analysing the nature of the background to the business relations between the Hypo bank and businessmen Goran Strok and Bruno Oresar. They have for many years made use of large loans from the bank, but are unable to service their obligations as a result of the recession.

JORG HAIDER The xenophobic Austrian right-wing politician and the former president of the Freedom Party died in October of 2008 — there are claims that his political backing was key to the re-zoning of the land at Barbariga and DragoneraJORG HAIDER The xenophobic Austrian right-wing politician and the former president of the Freedom Party died in October of 2008 — there are claims that his political backing was key to the re-zoning of the land at Barbariga and DragoneraThis threatens the bank's operations, and the stability of Strok's company, with Strok now for months on an intensive search for a partner or a new owner. And while Austrian investigators are concentrated on finding out whether the bank suffered or is still suffering damages from these business arrangements, and if all banking procedures were abided by in issuing these lines of credit, Croatian investigators want to learn from their Austrian colleagues the details of suspicious transactions for several other reasons. The State Attorney's Office wants information pertaining to whether there was money laundering in the frame of the loan arrangements in question, whether a part of the money from these lines of credit wound up on secret bank accounts abroad, Lichtenstein above all, and whether there were other strange transactions.

The State Attorney's Office has previously requested information from its Austrian colleagues concerning whether some once influential Croatians such as Vladimir Zagorec and Ivic Pasalic had black deposits in Austrian banks of money pilfered from Croatian defence effort funds, later transferred to sundry foundations in Lichtenstein and other similar small countries. At the same time in both Austria and Germany investigators want to reconstruct who could have pocketed illegal commissions in the earlier sale of a stake in the Hypo Alpe Adria Group to the Bayerische Landesbank. In this regard there are efforts to uncover the background of the relationship between former Bavarian Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber and former Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader. In the context of the Hypo scandal there has been speculation more than once on who and what the interests are to hush up the scandal or bring it fully to light. Some German politicians have begun to say that the German side will do everything it can to bring the affair fully to light among other things for the personal reasons of the current Bavarian Minister-President Horst Seehofer.

The word is that Seehofer is convinced that his party-political colleague Stoiber set him up in the press with an scandal involving his mistress who made public the details of her relationship with Seehofer, which had hurt his ambitions to take over the leadership of the CSU (Christian Social Union of Bavaria). If this is true, then some personal political interests among Bavarian and Austrian politicians could play a significant role in the eventual final outcome of the Hypo scandal.

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