ZAGREB, November 23, 2018 – The Conflict of Interest Commission on Friday decided to launch proceedings to establish if Prime Minister Andrej Plenković was in conflict of interest when he failed to inform the public that Igor Pokaz, who has recently been appointed Croatia’s ambassador to Great Britain, was the best man at his wedding.
The commission’s vice chairman Davorin Ivanjek said that during the appointment of Pokaz, a career diplomat, to the ambassadorial post in London, Plenković should have informed the public that Pokaz was his best man and that he should have notified the relevant authorities that participated in the decision-making process.
Plenković should have informed the government officials who prepared the nomination of Pokaz at the proposal of the Foreign and European Affairs Ministry, said Ivanjek.
Ivanjek also commented that Plenković should also have notified President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, who co-signs appointment decisions.
Ivanjek assessed that this failure amounted to a breach of the Conflict of Interest Act.
Ivanjek says that the Commission will ask constitutional and law experts to give their opinions on whether Plenković could have exempted himself from the procedure of co-signing the decision on appointing Pokaz as the ambassador, considering the fact that such decisions are first co-signed by the head of government and then by the head of state, who makes a final decision.
Plenković said on Friday that the Conflict of Interest Commission has unfoundedly and unnecessarily launched proceedings against him and underscored that the prime minister cannot be excluded from the process of appointing diplomats.
“All legislation regulating the appointment of heads of diplomatic missions and consular offices does not foresee any variant of the exemption of the prime minister. Therefore, legally they cannot be exempted,” Plenković told reporters.
Commenting on the complaint filed by MOST MP Miro Bulj, Plenković underscored that he participated in the selection process that ended with the appointment of someone he has known since 1994, someone whom he worked with and who has already been a Croatian diplomat in the North Atlantic Alliance, the Russian Federation and who worked in our mission to the United Nations and held several other diplomatic positions.
Pokaz, a career diplomat, was Permanent Representative to NATO and Ambassador to Russia, among other things, before his ambassadorial position in London, according to his CV available on the foreign ministry’s web site.
“I believe then that I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary, in fact, I did something good because he does his job well,” Plenković claimed. He underscored that, in that regard, there is no way that he would exempt himself from the role that he was democratically elected to and won the confidence for in parliament.
On the other hand, that would mean that I would have to exempt myself when appointing any diplomat. “They are more or less all my friends, acquaintances, colleagues. We’ve known each other for 25 years. How will the Commission ascertain that someone, other than Mr Pokaz, wasn’t close to me…if I were to appoint them to some other position,” Plenković questioned.
Former prime minister Zoran Milanović, who comes from that same circle, was in the same position when he appointed deputy foreign minister Joško Klisović who was his best man. Was that a matter of conflict of interest?, Plenković added.
It is unbelievable, he added that the Commission didn’t see the government’s opinion on Pokaz’s application for that position, even though it was registered accordingly. “We went a step further than some interpretations of parts of the law and that is what I am referring to without trying to mount pressure. We will open everything and I think that at the moment this is unfounded and unnecessary,” he added.
Asked whether he believed that commission was politicised, Plenković said that that body was supposed to work in accordance with the law but also that it should observe the principle of purposefulness. “This is an example of a complaint by an opposition political party for some pointless question to be raised and I consider it to be excessive and am not entirely sure that it is beneficial to the general climate in these matters,” he said.
Responding to a reporter’s comment that he seemed to be a frequent target of complaints to the commission, Plenković said that complaints to the commission and pressing criminal charges seem to have “become a sport,” for some. “Like we have done until now, we will respond calmly to all the questions that will be asked,” he said.
For more on the conflict of interest issues in Croatia, click here.