Croatian former minister’s husband arrested by Kovesi threatens journalist

Jalac serves in the office of the current prime minister from 2016 to 2019. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT OF CROATIA

Gabriela Jalac, accused by a news site of fraud, damaged the budget by 2 million euros

A former Croatian minister of regional development and EU funds has been arrested for corruption in an operation by the European Prosecutor’s Office, a body headed by Romanian Laura Covesi. Tomislav Petric, director of Croatia’s Central Finance and Contracting Agency, which controls the spending of EU funds, and two businessmen close to the former minister were arrested along with Gabriela Jalac on Wednesday night.

Jalac and her accomplices were arrested in a case called Software. While head of the Ministry of Regional Development and EU funds, she commissioned Ampelos to develop software, with the corruption scheme damaging the EU and Croatia by nearly 2m euros. Three weeks ago, by order of the European Prosecutor’s Office, the police conducted several searches at the ministry and seized documents related to the contract with Ampelos. Its owners are the two businessmen arrested together with Jalac.

Laura Coveschi’s prosecutor’s office believes that the former minister, whose name is not mentioned in the official announcement, provided privileges to businessmen by changing the terms of the public procurement in 2017 so as to benefit them, while increasing the value of work for development of an information system for strategic planning and development management.

Jalac changed the procedure so that the assignment of the software development could be done without a tender, but through direct assignment. In addition, the technical specifications of the system have been adapted to suit those used by the favored companies. The European Public Prosecutor’s Office reports that

the price of the work was determined

at about 1.31 million euros – almost five

times above market

In order to ensure the continuation of the award procedure without prior publication of a public invitation to participate, the Minister ordered the director of the EU Funds Control Agency not to challenge the procedure despite the increased price. As Jalac was also the Chairman of the Management Board of the EU Funds Agency, she was the Head of the Director and he could not refuse. He thus violated the Public Procurement Act, for which he was also arrested.

In the end, a tender was announced, which was won by the company “Ampelos” – a business partner of the company of the first businessman. The price of the contract is 1.73 million euros at a market price for the information system of approximately 265,000 euros.

Together with the VAT due, the amount swells to 2.16m euros. After the money was transferred to the winning company, some of it was forwarded to the first businessman and subsequently an unnamed amount of it was withdrawn in cash. According to the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, as a result of the scheme, the financial interests of the EU and Croatia have been damaged by a total of 1.8m euros. Koveshi is starting to monitor the case due to the fact that 85% of the amount was paid from the European budget through the Operational Program “Competitiveness and Cohesion”.

The news portal Telegram first revealed the scheme in the summer of 2019, indicating the exact amounts with which the European budget was damaged. Croatian police say they will also investigate Mario Jalac, the husband of the arrested ex-minister. As police searched their house after Wednesday’s arrest, Mario threatened Telegram reporter Drago Heddle. The Croatian Association of Journalists condemned such behavior and again called on the relevant institutions to respond to open threats against journalists. Hadle has won a number of journalism awards.

The fall of the former minister began in 2019, when several scandals broke out. The first was about a car

a catastrophe she caused in March

2019, driving with a license that expired 3 years ago

A 10-year-old girl was injured in the accident. Shortly afterwards, Jalac resigned, and Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, in whose office she served from October 2016 to July 2019, rejected her. Shortly afterwards, the media found an expensive Mercedes in her backyard, which the politician did not declare, although she was obliged to do so.

At the end of August 2020, the former minister re-entered the media after it was revealed that she was pressuring Josipa Rimak, a former secretary of state and former mayor of Knin, to falsify her brother’s civil service test so that he could pass.

Jalac’s arrest has given the opposition another reason to sharply criticize the ruling center-right Croatian Democratic Union. Its president and prime minister, Andrei Plenkovic, commented on the arrest, calling for the presumption of innocence to be respected and adding that he was “surprised by the news”.

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