December 10, 2010, former Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader was driving with his brother on an Alpine highway when Austrian police stopped his car and arrested him under an international warrant. Sanader had fled Croatia a day earlier, hours before his colleagues in parliament — still led by his own party — stripped him of legislative immunity. The Austrians extradited him back home, where he was facing charges of large-scale corruption. After a year-long trial, he was convicted and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment, shortened to eight and a half on appeal, for illegal kickbacks totaling 10 million euros. (In late July 2015, he was granted a retrial.)
USKOK has successfully prosecuted more than two thousand defendants, achieving a conviction rate of roughly 95 percent.USKOK has successfully prosecuted more than two thousand defendants, achieving a conviction rate of roughly 95 percent.Besides Sanader, defendants have included a former deputy prime minister, a former vice president, three former ministers, a top general, the ambassador to the United Nations, and senior tax officials. Just this year, USKOK arrested and indicted Zagreb’s mayor on multiple charges of corruption and abuse of office.
“We were receiving constant signals not only from the EU but also from the United States.”“We were receiving constant signals not only from the EU but also from the United States.” Media and civil society groups, unleashed by Croatia’s political liberalization, also began to look into high-level graft, raising public concern.
“Instead of a tiger,” Petrović said, “we got a pussycat.”“Instead of a tiger,” Petrović said, “we got a pussycat.” He recalled visiting the bureau’s headquarters and finding a mostly empty office. “At the beginning, USKOK had only a principal, a secretary, and a ficus plant. There were no funds, no support . . . [I]t looked to me like USKOK was there just to fill in the box.”
All prosecutors were required to undergo media training.All prosecutors were required to undergo media training. USKOK also received critical assistance from EU programs, as well as advanced investigative training in the United States.
We worked 14- to 15-hour days. We had wild mood swings, from euphoria to depression.We worked 14- to 15-hour days. We had wild mood swings, from euphoria to depression.” Ultimately, the investigation led to the conviction of ten officials. The vice president of the privatization office was sentenced to 11 years in prison, an unprecedented corruption sentence. “From then on, things weren’t the same at USKOK,” Cvitan said. “We set the highest possible standard.”
“It’s deeply rooted in our society now,” said Vladimir Šeks. “there is no way back to the old bad habits.”“It’s deeply rooted in our society now,” said Vladimir Šeks. “there is no way back to the old bad habits.”