Croatia: Former Mayor Charged with Corruption

Published: 04 June 2015

marina Lovric Merzel

By Igor Spaic

Croatian prosecutors have charged the former mayor of the eastern county of Sisak Moslavina for corruption, abuse of power, money laundering, bribery and falsifying official documents that allegedly netted her more than a million euros.

The country's Bureau for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption (USKOK) charged Marina Lovric Merzelon Tuesday after an investigation dating back to March 2014.

Lovric Merzel was arrested a month after the probe began. Zagreb Country Court judge Zdenko Posavec held her in detention for a total of five months because of the risk that she could influence potential witnesses if released.

Her political party, the Social Democrats (SDP), terminated her membership shortly afterwards. In October 2014, she was stripped of the immunity from prosecution enjoyed in her role as a member of Parliament.

The case was opened after an interview with former Sisak Moslavina county employee Jasmina Jovev was aired on the TV show Nedjeljom u 2. In the interview, Jovev accused Lovric Merzel of corruption, nepotism and embezzlement.

She claimed she had been asked as Lovric Merzel's assistant to bribe political opponents, as well as forge bills and other documents to cover up her boss's private parties – allegedly paid for with county funds – and the salaries of people that were unnecessarily employed by Lovric Merzel.

Lovric Merzel is indicted alongside five other people and one company.

These include Silvijo Kobescak, president of the executive board of Cesta Sisak, an infrastructure company partially owned by the Sisak Moslavina county.

As mayor, Lovric Merzel allegedly sold the county's share in the company for a price below its value to entrepreneur Zeljko Zuzic, who is also indicted with embezzling € 50 million (about US$ 56 million) in a separate case.

According to Croatian daily news website, Zeljko Zuzic has claimed that Lovric Merzel accepted his € 100,000 (about US$ 112,500) bribe in exchange for changing tender regulations to ensure that the county-owned shares would be sold to him, rather than other interested parties.

According to prosecutors, Lovric Merzel concealed the bribe by buying an apartment in the coastal town of Zadar under the name of her nephew, Dalibor Rozankovic, who is also indicted.

The fourth is Bernard Popec, who was allegedly helped by Lovric Merzel to sell his commercial building to the Sisak Moslavina county to serve as a local emergency aid station for much more than it was worth. In this way, according to USKOK, Lovric Merzel deprived her county's coffers of € 745,000 (about US$ 838,000).

The fifth person indicted is Zvonko Rozic, former head of the Hrvatske Sume, a public company that owns a restaurant at which Merzel held private parties as well as her own wedding. According to the indictment, Rozic arranged that the wedding costs be paid by the company.

USKOK also alleges that Lovric Merzel deprived the state of € 800,000 (about US$ 900,000) by paying monthly reimbursements to her advisers, who had already been paid from the official budget, between 2009 and 2014.

In addition, Lovric Merzel also allegedly signed unnecessary service contracts worth about € 90,000 (US$ 101,000) with friends and relatives, and used official credit cards to pay for private parties, costing the county about € 65,000 (about US$ 73,000).

She denies the charges.