The bill was huge, a total of HRK 23,750. The Ministry of Regional Development and EU Funds approved that account for payment on March 4, 2019, at the expense of the Operational Program Competitiveness and Cohesion, i.e. from EU funds. Telegram.hr reports today that the disputed account is in the case file of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, on the basis of whose order minister Žalac was arrested at the end of last year on suspicion of illegalities in the process of public procurement of an IT system, known as the “software affair” discovered by Telegram.
The European investigator’s office is in possession of invoices proving that the Ministry headed by Gabrijela Žalac spent more than two million kuna in just one year for catering, various meetings, conferences and working groups, or hotel and restaurant services. There is a well-founded suspicion that these expenses were often a cover for issuing fictitious invoices. Telegram’s source reveals that, for example, on January 31, 2019, food was ordered for 50 people of the Interdepartmental Working Group for the preparation of the National Development Strategy until 2030, but the food was allegedly not delivered at that meeting, for which the ministry was later billed in the amount from HRK 14,000. The participants of the meeting said that on that occasion they were not served oxtail soup, duck pâté, or beef loin bruschetta. On February 13, 2019, the ministry headed by minister Žalac paid that bill to the company Gero. d.o.o. which owns the restaurant Atlanta Bocca Marai, and it was at the expense of the Sector for expert management and coordination of investments from EU instruments.
The invoices combed by the Office of the European Investigator were often issued after midnight, and there was no cost specification on them, but only the total amount, which most often ranged from HRK 10 to 20 thousand. None of the invoices included the names of the persons who attended the lunches or dinners, although this is an obligation imposed by fiscal responsibility. Telegram unofficially learned that at the celebration of the minister’s 40th birthday in the Šarm restaurant in February 2019, among others, there was Mladen Šimunac, owner of the company Micro Projekt, whom the Office of the European Investigator suspects because of the contract concluded with the Ministry of Regional Development and EU Funds regarding with the installation of the SPUR software, as well as Tomislav Petric, at that time the director of SAFU, arrested on November 10 last year, when Gabrijela Žalac was also arrested. According to Telegram’s source, the guests at that party were Ivana Jakir Bajo, then the chief state treasurer, now the vice-governor of the Croatian National Bank, and the then Minister of Agriculture and Deputy Prime Minister, Tomislav Tolušić.
Interestingly, the costs of the consumption of spirits and wine, drunk during dinners and lunches were paid by the state budget, since the rules of EU funds do not recognize the costs of alcohol consumed at conferences. Those bills, Telegram’s source claims, were mostly signed by the then minister Žalac, state secretaries or others from the minister’s cabinet.