Croatia: 29 Arrested For Misuse of EU Funds At Zagreb University

The European Public Prosecutor's Office (EPPO) has arrested 29 Croatians associated with the University of Zagreb for suspected misuse of about  €1.7 million in European Union funds.

Sea Dock BoatsThe dean and a professor of the Faculty of Geodesy in Zagreb have been arrested for misusing EU funds and buying luxury items such as a motor boat. (Photo: Pxhere, License)Those arrested include the Dean of the Faculty of Geodesy in Zagreb and a professor from the same institution. They face charges of abuse of office and authority, misuse of public procurement procedures — the process where goods, services or works are obtained through European financing — forgery of official documents, and money laundering, reported EPPO on Nov. 8.

The suspects are accused of demanding kickbacks, filing expenses for non-existent travel and filing invoices for work that was never done. They are also accused of buying two vehicles for private use and a motor boat that was rented out for tourism activities.

The arrests come after a series of searches carried out at the University of Zagreb on June 29, 2023.

According to the investigation, between October 2019 and November 2023, the dean and a professor of the University of Zagreb were responsible for organizing public procurement procedures related to four projects at the Faculty of Geodesy.

These projects, which focused on areas such as natural disaster risk assessment, climate change, sustainable development of maritime ecosystems, and surveying damaged cultural heritage buildings after an earthquake, had a total value of €5,988,300 (US$ 6,503.862), with 85 percent of it coming from EU funds.

Investigators say the dean and the professor misappropriated the  €1.7 million euros from those funds for their financial gain and benefit for themselves and others involved.

EPPO reported that they manipulated 28 procurement procedures to favor specific companies, including small businesses and law firms. In return, investigators say these companies returned a portion of the funding to the dean and professor, either through direct payments or by performing work on their private properties.

Some companies were used as intermediaries to channel funds to the dean and professor, even though they were not supposed to provide any services, the report says. Others submitted bids that were either invalid or inflated, so that preferred companies were selected for the projects.

The dean and the professor are also suspected of using EU funds to buy the motorboat and two vehicles, one for the professor's personal use and another for an employee of the Faculty of Geodesy.  The motorboat, valued at €598,750 ($650,233.52) was not used for projects involving the University but instead rented to tourists.

The dean and the professor face allegations of submitting false travel expenses and daily allowances for themselves and 11 members of project research teams and expert associates on numerous occasions, for at least 317 instances of fictitious travel.