Justice minister calls for investigating Hypo Group's business deals in Croatia

Justice Minister Ante Sprlje on Friday urged the relevant institutions to investigate "suspicious" business deals by the Hypo Group in Croatia, amounting to "hundreds of millions of kuna" and which, according to Sprlje involved highly positioned people in Croatia's social, political and economic milieus.

"It's about years-long suspicious dealings that spread over a wider area in Croatia," Sprlje said, adding that the epicentre of the alleged wrongdoing was in Istria, the Zagreb area and on the island of Pag.

He, however, would not reveal any concrete names nor any specific details of "investigations" conducted by the State Prosecution so far.

Minister Sprlje said that a month ago he first contacted a member of an Austrian parliamentary commission of inquiry, Rainer Hable, who has focused on the Hypo scandal in Austria, which has also extended to the Balkans.

"According to the information we obtained from Austria and what we were able to ascertain ourselves regarding headlines in Croatia and activities conducted by Croatian institutions, it is obvious that the Hypo Group spread a large number of murky deals in Croatia over the past two decades which involved a certain number of Croatian citizens and interest groups," Sprlje told a press conference.

Therefore, in my capacity as minister, I want to publicly criticise certain state bodies for their passivity and urge them to start working and report what they have done regarding the financial transactions and business dealings by the Hypo Group in Croatia, which appear to be suspicious financial and real estate deals, Sprlje said.

He called on the Croatian National Bank (HNB), the Croatian Financial Services Supervisory Agency, and the Office for the Prevention of Money Laundering to provide statements of what has been undertaken in regard to the Hypo Group. He further called on the Tax Administration and the Tax Fraud Division to investigate the origin of the money of the people mentioned in the Hypo case.

The latest arm of the Hypo graft case in Croatia started coming to light following media reports that about ten years ago the bank allegedly paid 210,000 euros in kickbacks to three Croatian citizens each - Constitutional Court judge and former Croatian Democratic Union official Davorin Mlakar, State Electoral Commission member Josip Vresk, and Danijel Ropus - in exchange for services in the conversion of land which Hypo Bank bought in Simuni on the island of Pag and for influencing HNB executives so that the HNB would consent to the sale of Hypo Banka to the Bavarian BLB Bank.

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