Croatian football superstar, former boss … and scandal-ridden sport | Croatia

From his hiding place in Bosnia and Herzegovina, to the place where he dramatically fled on the eve of his fraud conviction three years ago, Zdravko Mamić, once the most powerful figure in Croatian football, turned to his Facebook account last Thursday to heal some wounds. .

“Netflix: let Narcos go, come here,” he wrote in reference to the hit TV show about the massive corruption in Mexico and Colombia by narcotics gangs. “Over the past few weeks and months I have been quietly working on judicial reform, and today you can see another in a series of results of what we started together. “

Mamić, former executive director of Dinamo Zagreb and vice-president of the Croatian Football Federation, referred to the news of the arrest of Judge Zvonko Vekić and his close friend Nataša Sekulić, accountant, for money laundering.

Vekić was one of three judges in the town of Osijek, in eastern Croatia, whom Mamić accused of accepting a total of € 370,000 in bribes in March. Vekić reportedly accepted Mamić’s money, and even a pair of Louis Vuitton shoes during the New Year’s holidays in Dubai, in exchange for dropping a string of fraud and tax evasion charges against him and his brother, Zoran, a former Croatian international. and star director of the country’s most successful club, Dinamo Zagreb, regarding the embezzlement of club funds through illegal reductions in transfer fees.

Vekić denies the allegations, including accepting the shoes, and claims he was in Dubai to see his brother-in-law. Sekulić, to whom Mamić claims to have handed over thousands of euros for races, has not yet commented.

Vekić had been arrested a few months earlier on suspicion of accepting bribes, but this time, after a hearing on Friday, the judge and Sekulić were held in the prison of Zagreb County for fear of being mixed up with witnesses.

Croatian Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren arrives in the Croatian city of Osijek on September 1, 2017 to testify in a corruption trial against the former president of Dinamo Zagreb. Photograph: AFP / Getty Images

But Mamić, seemingly full of indignant rage, apparently didn’t settle for it. And what followed has thrown a piercing light on the apparently widespread and ever-escalating levels of corruption in Croatian society, which studies have shown are shattering morale in the country.

On Friday, wearing a stylish jacket and an open-necked shirt, Mamić called the cameras of Croatian channel Dnevnik Nova TV. “Croatia’s biggest cancer is the judges,” Mamić said. “I’m the only one who has the courage to talk about it in all this trouble. Of course, I have 50 other judges that I gave money to, not for myself but for other services.

Mamić’s allegations have yet to be corroborated and the former football boss has so far shown no interest in helping investigators. The complaints also follow the rejection this week of his appeal, in absentia, by the Constitutional Court of his six-and-a-half-year prison sentence by the country’s Supreme Court for his role in his celebrity-strewn fraud case.

The Mamić case first erupted six years ago when he was arrested for stealing millions of euros from the club he led and dominated. He was later found guilty by Osijek County Court in June 2018, despite all his apparent efforts to pay for his release.

The court found that he made illegal personal profit on transfers of Dinamo Zagreb players, including the transfer of superstar footballer Luka Modrić who was illegally paid 50% of the € 21m transfer fee paid by Tottenham Hotspur, to transmit only 1.9 million euros. money to Mamić and her family.

Modrić went on to lead his country to a World Cup final in 2018, won four Champions League titles with Real Madrid and is the only footballer other than Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi to be named the best player in the world in over a decade. ‘a decade.

Marin Deskovic, reporter for the Jutarnji list The newspaper, which has been covering Croatian crime and corruption for 20 years, said there must be some skepticism about the strength of Mamić’s latest claims, but added that his known close connections with senior members of the magistracy made them very plausible. “Of course it’s shocking,” he said.

Croatia joined the EU on July 1, 2013 with great fanfare and with the hope of a new chapter in the history of this troubled country, but evidence suggests there has been a free fall in ethical standards then. that the pressure to live up to the Brussels membership criteria has disappeared.

Last year Croatia’s outgoing President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović said corruption was so entrenched in her country that at school children who cheated on tests were celebrated as “heroes”. A recent Eurobarometer survey revealed that a majority of Croats feel concerned about corruption in their daily life (59%). The country has the highest proportion of all EU Member States of respondents (16%) who are personally exposed to it.

Tado Juric, an assistant professor at the Catholic University of Croatia in Zagreb, said his research suggested that emigration was making the problem worse. “We compared the trends in corruption and migration from 2012 to 2020 and Croatia’s ranking in the Global Corruption Index, and found that corruption was more pronounced when the number of people leaving the country was higher. high, ”he said. “Common sense says that if people who are not involved in corruption networks emigrate and those who remain are involved in such networks, corruption activities will be even easier to carry out and more frequent. If the critics go away, so much the better and easier for those who are criticized. “

Juric added that “the so-called ‘corruption of the elites'” was “deeply rooted in Croatian politics and had become” a parallel system that undermines the economy and society “.

“Corruption has done more harm to Croatian national identity, to the sense of unity and solidarity and to Croatian culture in general than it has done to the economy, which is undoubtedly great “, did he declare.

Most Croats are no doubt hoping they don’t need to rely on a soccer boss’s revenge to take out the worst of the problem – but maybe Mamić has made a start.

About Eleanor Blackburn

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