Supreme Court quashes acquittal of ex-transport minister, orders retrial

NEWS 19.09.202222:04

The Supreme Court has quashed the acquittal of former transport minister Bozidar Kalmeta of the HDZ party, and he and his three associates will again stand trial for siphoning over 15 million kuna and €850,000 from road construction and maintenance companies.

Without disclosing the former minister’s and his associates’ identity, the Supreme Court ordered a retrial in the case fully upholding appeals by Kalmeta’s former state secretary Milivoj Mikulic, who also sat on the HAC highway operator’s management board, former HAC and Croatian Roads (HC) executive Stjepko Boban, and former Viadukt management board member Damir Kezele.

Three years ago, the Zagreb County Court sentenced Mikulic to three years in prison, Boban to two years and Kezele to three and a half years, and all three were ordered to pay back the unlawfully acquired gain.

Contrary to prosecutors’ allegations, the trial court concluded that Kalmeta did not organise a group to siphon money from the state-run companies, which, apart from him and the other three men who were found guilty, also included HAC Supervisory Board chair and state secretary Zdravko Livakovic, executives of construction companies Miroslav Bunic and Petar Pecin, and HAC and HC executives Jurica Prskalo, Mario Lovrincevic and Sandro Vukelic, who were all acquitted.

The Supreme Court has upheld the acquittal of former HAC and HC executives Prskalo and Lovrincevic.

Kalmeta was also acquitted of defrauding the ministry he headed of HRK 600,000 by commissioning the promotional film “The Transport Renaissance of Croatia” from the Fimi Media marketing agency. The agency was convicted, in a separate trial, for filling the HDZ’s slush fund with money from state institutions and companies.

Judges of the Supreme Court believe that Kalmeta was acquitted in that segment of the indictment based on the erroneous determination of the facts, which will have to be determined anew.

The former minister and long-time mayor of Zadar had denied the charges from the beginning, claiming that he was a victim of a politically motivated trial. But the indictment also covered three indictees who pleaded guilty and plea-bargained before the start of the trial.

Already during the investigation, former HAC financial director Josip Sapunar identified Livakovic and Mikulic as the persons to whom he carried money which subcontractors for HAC paid into the Austrian bank account of the Czech company Remorker, owned by Igor Premilovac who like Sapunar, after pleading guilty to the charges, was sentenced to community service and ordered to pay back the illegal gain. Former Viadukt director Ivan Berket also plea-bargained.

In its appeal against the acquittal the USKOK anti-corruption office alleged that there was no reason for the court not to believe Sapunar because he was found guilty of the crimes Kalmeta and the others were charged with. The defence, on the other hand, stressed that Sapunar was first a suspect and then a witness in the same case, which they maintain is not in line with the law.

In a separate trial in the same case, long-time Croatian Chamber of Commerce director Nadan Vidosevic was sentenced to eight years in prison pending appeal.