Published in Nacional number 777, 2010-10-05

Autor: Plamenko Cvitić

'If I am to blame, then so is the HDZ leadership'

Ivo Sanader has returned to Croatia well aware of the fact that he has no political support from abroad — at the same time the State Attorney's Office has sought the assistance of US investigators concerning the origins of the assets of the former Croatian prime minister

DEFENCE STRATEGY When giving his testimony to the parliamentary inquiry into the INA privatisation, former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader will lay the blame on others, just as Damir Polancec did when he fingered his former colleaguesDEFENCE STRATEGY When giving his testimony to the parliamentary inquiry into the INA privatisation, former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader will lay the blame on others, just as Damir Polancec did when he fingered his former colleaguesAlthough the testimony he will give to the parliamentary inquiry into the INA privatisation on October 12th will be made behind closed doors, it is not difficult to deduce what former Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader will have to say, that is to say, what form his defence will take in deflecting allegations that he is to blame for many of the scandals that have been linked to him. Sanader will foist responsibility for some of the decisions, especially those concerning INA, on the former coalition government led by Ivica Racan. For subsequent events, and the scandals he has been brought into connection with, Sanader will employ a defence similar to that of his former colleague in the cabinet Damir Polancec - all of the decisions that may now appear dubious, from INA to the sale of electric power to TLM, were political decisions that the members of the HDZ presidency, i.e. all of the ministers in Sanader's cabinet, all new about and jointly decided on.

In short, Sanader's testimony will not differ essentially from Polancec's mantra - "If I am to blame, so are all the others." This defence concept will be a major challenge for the State Attorney's Office, which would, to prove the true nature of the many scandals that occurred during the Sanader administration, have to offer unequivocal evidence before a court of law showing that Sanader benefited personally from one of these cases. The only way to prove this, aside from a possible confession from a lower-ranked participant, would be the discovery that the former prime minister holds assets he could not have gained from his regular income in the past, more concretely, that he has a large sum of money somewhere of unknown origin.

Given that Since Sanader spent a certain amount of time after his flight from the post of prime minister in the United States, and that one of his daughters lives and studies there, and that he either purchased or is renting a luxurious apartment at a prestigious New York address, Croatian investigators recently sought the assistance of the competent US institutions and their cooperation in seeking possible unknown Sanader bank accounts in that country. And while no one at the State Attorney's Office is, of course, willing to confirm this direction in the investigation of the many corruption scandals, a well-informed Nacional source points out that Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor used her visit last week to the United States to also discretely encourage her American hosts to help Croatian investigators in their efforts to uncover unknown Sanader assets. If it is in fact established that Sanader has unknown capital in America, and details of this are passed on to the Croatian judiciary by US institutions, the former Croatian prime minister would be hard put to it to avoid criminal persecution, and his position in all of the major corruption scandal investigations would be much more precarious.

Besides, Sanader's return to Croatia this week was a clear sign that he has no political support abroad, and his only option is to return to Croatia and to try by his statements and testimony to avoid criminal persecution he could not avoid even by fleeing abroad. After he fled the post of prime minister in July of last year, some people in Croatia felt that he had the support of some western European politicians with whom he was on very good terms during his term in office. It quickly became clear, however, that his "good friends" abandoned him as soon as he resigned, and especially when he was brought into connection in Croatia with numerous corruption scandals, and in Austria with the Hypo scandal. As a result many felt that his recent and frequent visits to the United States signalled some kind of political protection from the US authorities, or a guarantee that he could live there unmolested, which is clearly not the case. During his term in office, namely, Sanader in no way indebted the Americans, and the US authorities evidently concluded that he could be of no further use to them. Among diplomats in Zagreb there has been speculation over the past year that it was in fact the United States, by way of former US Ambassador to Croatia Robert Bradtke, that played a still mysterious, but very significant, role in the departure of Ivo Sanader from the post of prime minister.

AMERICANS WANTED SANADER OUT Former US Ambassador to Croatia Robert Bradtke was at the meeting in Brussels at which Sanader was asked to step downAMERICANS WANTED SANADER OUT Former US Ambassador to Croatia Robert Bradtke was at the meeting in Brussels at which Sanader was asked to step downIt was Bradtke, allegedly, who on 18 June 2009 unexpectedly came to a meeting between Sanader and unnamed European Union officials in Brussels, where Sanader was told to resign. In any event, the former Croatian prime minister clearly does not have the support of a single foreign politician, and he has tried to compensate this fact over the past year by his allegedly major business engagements - back in October of last year he announced through some journalists loyal to him that he had been employed at the foundation led by the eccentric and wealthy Canadian Louise Blouin, but even if that had been true, in the space of a few months she grasped herself or was quietly told by someone that many possible embarrassing scandals and corruption cases have been linked to Sanader, after which she quickly dumped him. In a similar vein Sanader tried to attach great consequence to his new job at Columbia University's Harriman Institute in New York. Objectively speaking, that job too or the institution for that matter are far from being as significant as Sanader and his close friends are trying to depict them as being, and his time in the United States is evidently motivated only by the fact that his daughter Petra studies there.

Besides, Nacional has learned from diplomatic sources that the American authorities have decided to comply with the request from Croatian investigators to investigate possible traces of corruption money from Croatia in the United States. The competent American institutions will investigate if Sanader has capital accumulated on their territory, and in particular by what means he purchased or rented the luxurious property in New York where his daughter Petra lives. The apartment is in what are known as the Zeckendorf towers at One Irving Place near Union Square. The price of the apartments bears witness to the elite nature of the location - one room costs a million dollars on the average, and it is not hard to conclude that the possible monthly rent on such an apartment is measured in the thousands of dollars. Over the past few months Sanader has shown an interest in some other real estate in the USA, and he had allegedly purchased some very valuable paintings there of late. The US authorities are investigating the origin of the money used to pay for this art.

BLAME OTHERS Former Economy Minister Damir Polancec has based his defence from allegations for many corruption scandals on pointing the finger at his former colleagues in cabinetBLAME OTHERS Former Economy Minister Damir Polancec has based his defence from allegations for many corruption scandals on pointing the finger at his former colleagues in cabinetBy his return to Croatia Sanader has demonstrated nervousness and concern, and it appears that he has good reason to feel this way - Nacional's source points out that the State Attorney's Office is satisfied with the direction many open corruption cases are developing, and in some of them there are ever firmer revelation leading straight to Sanader. And while there is no official confirmation, there is speculation that Sanader has already been fingered as the "head of the corruption octopus" by the former head of the Croatian electric power authority HEP, Ivan Mravak, and by the former head of the Croatian forestry authority Hrvatske sume, Darko Beuk, and it remains unknown how the scandal with the Fimi-media marketing agency will wind up. However much some foresee small chances of the former head of the Customs Administration Mladen Barisic blowing the whistle on his long time friend and patron - faced with the evidence and the possibility of getting a long prison sentence, Barisic could break and "squeal" on Sanader. The cooperation between the State Attorney's Office and Parliament's domestic policy committee may also appear ominous for the former prime minister.

The chairman of the committee, Ranko Ostojic, has announced that he would help the State Attorney's Office set up a five-member subcommittee that will seek information from Austria concerning secret bank accounts used for the money of Croatian citizens gathered to purchase arms. This information could be very useful in shedding light on the role Ivo Sanader played in these dealings or on his connections with some of the players in the lucrative arms smuggling operations. As it appears, it all together influenced Ivo Sanader's decision to get back to Croatia as soon as possible and to try and somehow mitigate his, now very precarious, position. If suspicious funds are located abroad, or if Mladen Barisic "sings" in Croatia, the fate of the former Croatian prime minister could be forever sealed.

After the apartment in New York, purchased costly works of art

Although he is currently unemployed, and allegedly lives solely off his wife's wages as a professor, Ivo Sanader has no financial tribulations - he continues to invest in business, real estate and luxury

THE PURCHASE OF A VILLA on Zagreb's Kozarceva Street in the early 1990s was the first suspicious case related to Sanader's assetsTHE PURCHASE OF A VILLA on Zagreb's Kozarceva Street in the early 1990s was the first suspicious case related to Sanader's assetsThat Ivo Sanader clearly has some other, unknown, sources of income regardless of his currently being unemployed is demonstrated by the news reported three weeks ago by the Austrian press. Just a day after making an appearance at a political forum in Austria's Alpbach, Sanader visited Innsbruck, where he opened Prima Consulting GmbH, a consultancy firm, and it evidently was not a problem to bring the notary public the 35 thousand euro, i.e. half of the initial capital, needed to establish the company. All of these details are causing many to conclude that the former Croatian prime minister has no financial troubles after his departure from the post of prime minister, and many feel that he is quite wealthy indeed, but still aware that he remains under the eye of the general public, and is making a great effort to not show just how much money he has at his disposal abroad.

For some his recent founding of a company in Austria is also suspicious - given that he has recently found employment in the United States it would be logical to set up a company there, or in the homeland, in Croatia. The founding of the Austrian company has led to rumours that it could be used by Sanader to legalise the capital he has accumulated - related companies in off shore locations could pay him fees for purported "consultancy services," and he could then claim that he had earned the money by providing lobbying and consultancy services, and thereby de facto launder money of dubious origins and to some extent explain the luxury that surrounds him a full year after his flight from the post of prime minister.

Ivo Sanader's assets have always been a great enigma in Croatia, because his lifestyle gave the impression that he was living far beyond his means. The first suspicious case related to Sanader's assets was the phased purchase of a villa located on Zagreb's Kozarceva Street. Since returning in the early 1990s from Innsbruck in Austria, Ivo and his wife Mirjana did not appear to be a wealthy guest worker couple - the four-member Sanader family first lived in a rented apartment in a house in Zagreb's Remete quarter owned by the parents of his former chief of staff Bianca Matkovic. As science minister, Ivo Sanader lived in 1992 in a room of the Intercontinental hotel in Zagreb, while his wife Mirjana and two daughters lived in a rented apartment in Split. Nevertheless, from mid 1992 to 1994 Mirjana Sanader and her father Ivo Saric managed to put together 600 thousand German marks and buy the large villa on Kozarceva Street floor by floor. At the time Sanader's real estate was not the subject of much public attention, and rumours surfaced only after he had won the leadership of the HDZ and in late 2003 became the Croatian prime minister. To all inquisitive questions concerning his assets, Sanader's aides cited his previous long spell spent living in Austria like some mantra they had learned by heart, claiming that Sanader had there, besides earning his doctorate, had the time for a successful business career, justifying his evident wealth during the wartime period in Croatia. Sanader's aides repeated similar arguments when Nacional researched and published the details of his business career in Austria in January of 2007. Sanader was the co-owner of two companies established with the smallest possible amount of initial capital, one of which was shut down in less than three years time, while the second was somewhat longer lived. The first company was called KCBS Bau-und Planungs-gessellschaft m.b.H., founded on 28 November 1989, and liquidated by March 27th of 1992, "because of a lack of assets" as the court decision read. The second firm was the WAPAGG-Handelsweren-Vertriebs-Gessellschaft m.b.H., established on 26 May 1986, and shut down on August 31st of 2001. Even if it is true that he had a successful business career in Innsbruck, Sanader himself has never publicly explained exactly what line of business it was in which he had managed to gain his wealth abroad.

The next doubts concerning Sanader's assets surfaced when Nacional that same month ran a story on Sanader's luxury collection of wristwatches. The story was simply, but telling - numerous photos of the Prime Minister at various events were drawn from the photo archives, from sessions of Government, public appearances to various events and receptions, and it was noticed that Sanader wore various expensive wristwatches at these various events. According to the estimates of experts, based only on the published photos, it could be concluded that the Croatian prime minister owned a collection worth at least 150 thousand euro, more than a million kuna, which was five times his annual pay as prime minister. Doubts in the origin of the assets, i.e. speculation that Sanader had received these luxurious wristwatches as gifts or bribes was amplified by the fact that he never registered them in his declaration of assets, nor the large collection of expensive paintings of which there was frequent gossip in Zagreb culture circles. Likewise, in September 2008, the Sanader couple were in Dubrovnik at a chamber music festival, where Mirjana Sanader was photographed holding a Chanel bag worth some ten thousand kuna - about as much as her monthly wage as the Faculty of Philosophy in Zagreb. In December 2008 Mirjana Sanader was photographed by reporters taking a walk on the streets of Zagreb carrying an expensive Hermes Birkin bag that allegedly costs as much as 15 thousand euro. Immediately following his departure from government Ivo Sanader spent most of the summer of last year touring the Adriatic on the motor yacht Malo vitra, and while it has never been formally proven, many have speculated that the 18-metre wooden yacht has a fictive owner, and that the actual owner is the former Croatian prime minister.

For the past year no one, in fact, knows for certain what Ivo Sanader is living off - in mid September of last year he asked Government to terminate the monthly wage of 23 thousand kuna he was entitled to up to January of this year. Since then there has been no information on Sanader's possible new employment, from which it can be concluded that the four-member family, of which one daughter studies in Zagreb and the other in the United States, lives off only the professor's wage earned by Sanader's wife Mirjana.

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