May 2, 2020 – Beware the Croatian inspector – a new series courtesy of Glas Poduzetnika (Voice of Entrepreneurs), highlighting a Croatian business reality that helps kill growth, profit, and entrepreneurship. Long Live the Croatian Justice System!
I have seen them operating all over the country over the last 18 years, the most feared visitors to Croatia’s cafes, restaurants, and other businesses – the Croatian inspector.
As with many corrupt countries, the role of the inspector should be to make sure that the rules are being adhered to in the particular area they specialise in – sanitary, fiscal, etc – but in reality, the prime motivation is to find ways to fill the State coffers and their own. Allegedly.
I heard SO many stories of inspections where perfectly run businesses end up paying thousands in fines, some of it justified, much of it grossly unfair. And there is an old truism here:
If the Croatian inspector comes to visit, he will find something, even if there is nothing there.
It is a subject that I have wanted to cover for years, but I never had quite the right material. Until now.
Huge thanks to those very proactive chaps at Glas Poduzetnika, who are really becoming a force for change to be reckoned with. A really great initiative. In one of their latest moves, they have been collecting some of their members’ experiences with the Croatian inspector, to highlight the issue and the realities of doing business in Beautiful Croatia.
Story #7: Long Live the Croatian Justice System!
In the summer of 2015, during the Ultra Europe Music Festival, my company was the official transporter for the festival, and we worked with 12 vans.
During the main evening (Saturday), inspectors obviously got the order to check my vans. At intervals of 2 hours, 4 of my vehicles were checked (+another one the next day). All vehicles had the same and completely accurate documentation. All the controls were conducted without any violations found, and we were even praised by the customs inspection, except in the case of one control, in which the main actor is the inspector from the previous story. On the fourth day, he stops the vehicle in which the driver is employed in my company.
As per the instruction, the driver calls me and puts me on speakerphone to give him instructions about where to find the necessary documents in the vehicle. The documentation was in order, control done, no violations, I hang up. After that, the inspector says to the driver, “This is M. C. you work for? Let me write something down, so the two of us can sort this at court.” The driver refuses to sign, but the inspector assures him that he will write a fine to him if he doesn’t sign.
The driver, unfortunately, signs without reading the charge, which stated that the taxi activity was carried out without permission, license, price list, taximeter, mark on the roof, that cash is charged for which no invoice is issued, that the vehicle is not adequate for auto-taxi transport, etc. in total 90,000 kn of the suggested fines. Everything stated in the order is a lie and an invention to the extent that the company has never had anything to do with auto-taxi transport.
For the trial, I hire one of the best lawyers in Split, all the evidence and documentation is on my side, the driver will testify, but I was burned with the event from 2014, so I was “blowing on the cold, too”. The judge knows absolutely nothing about transport, does not know the laws, does not deal with this material. It is challenging to communicate because she does not even know the basic terms related to the transportation of passengers.
At some point, we learn that the judge and the inspector are on friendly terms. She tries to lead to a sentencing judgment in every possible way. After several hearings, since she could not come in a normal way to a sentencing verdict, she rejects the driver’s testimony as irrelevant to the case, rejects all the evidence as unreliable. She makes the decision based on the report by the inspector, violates all legal acts she could have violated, and sentences the company and me for a fine of 32,000 kn in total.
Fortunately, her incompetence was shown in the text of the verdict, where she mixed up all possible and impossible, and where there is no explanation for rejecting the evidence. Hence we complain to the High Misdemeanor Court in Zagreb. The High Misdemeanor Court annuls the sentence and returns the case to trial. The same judge again!
I consult with a lawyer whether I should ask for the judge’s exclusion, and we conclude that it shouldn’t be done, because the crime does not exist, so if she tries to convict me again, the High Court will eventually release me. During the trial, we act more aggressively, both my lawyer and me, and attach the official opinion of the Ministry, which states that the inspector even exceeded his authority and dealt with the part that is not in his jurisdiction but in the jurisdiction of the Tax Authority inspection.
Given our persistence and aggressive approach, and with a new document in the case, at some point, the inspector also backs off, saying that no one is to blame until proven guilty and justifying that he no longer remembers the specific events because of the passage of time. But the judge insists on sentencing, trying to add sentences that the inspector did not say in the record. As that fails, she tries to question the inspector again and put words in his mouth, without having the legal ability to question him again.
During all other testimonies, we have to request that the inspector leaves the courtroom because she “forgets” that every time. At the end of the trial, after several hearings, we were satisfied that we have proved our innocence, and nothing is in doubt. Verdict: Sentence! The text of the verdict is even more chaotic than after the first trial, there is no evidence against the company and me, all our evidence and the driver’s statements were rejected, and even the Ministry’s opinion, because, in the judge’s opinion, the Ministry was not the competent body. We appealed to the High Misdemeanor Court in Zagreb and waited for the suspension of the process.
It was already April 2019, almost 4 years since the control. On 11th July 2019, the case enters the limitation period, my lawyer contacted the court and got the information that the case had not yet reached the High Court and submits the request for suspension of the case due to limitation. In September 2019, cold shower—the High Court confirmed the sentence of the Misdemeanor Court in Split (2 months after the limitation), predates the dates in the case, so it seems that the case was decided in May, without the right to appeal. The reasoning of the High Court is a special category (I can present as necessary), the point was to charge in any case, because based on the evidence in the case, according to which the innocence is visible, they had to compensate me for the costs of the trial and lawyers, that in 4 years was not that little.
Although the sentence from Misdemeanor Court in Split is both procedurally and legally erroneous, the High Court confirmed it and predated its decision. To an official request for an explanation, if the decision was made in May (and in July we were told that the case had not yet been processed), how was it possible that we received the decision only in September—the answer was that it probably got lost in the drawers somewhere due to a large number of cases. I paid! Both for myself and the company! We are now officially recidivists. Fines + expenses + lawyer = about 5,000.00 €.
I decide to file the lawsuit to the Constitutional Court. My lawyer advises against it because the Constitutional Court is a “political” body, I don’t have an important first and last name, I don’t have influence, and I am not famous, the lawsuit will most likely be declined. I say to go to the constitutional lawsuit because if it gets declined, that opens the door for the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, and I will not stop until the justice wins. I quote my lawyer’s question, “After 4 years, you are ready to f**k around with this for another 4?” I said that I was ready to do so even for another 20 years if needed, because there was no violation, on which the man tells me, “OK, for your attitude, persistence, and courage, I’m charging you 50% less from now on.” We’re now waiting for the signal from Constitutional Court—I suppose we could have it at the end of 2021. Long live the Croatian justice system!
P. S. How did I get rid of the inspector? When I saw that he’s targeting me at the trial in 2016 and that I could have further issues with him, I looked up how can I protect myself. I found out that a man whom I played basketball as a child in Sibenik was a traffic inspector in Sibenik. I contacted him, and he told the inspector from the story that we were friends. He never stopped any of my vehicles again. Since then, I have had a lot of controls, but a violation was never found.
Beware the Croatian Inspector is a new daily series (yes, there really is that much material) which you can follow here.
If you have a Croatian inspector story you would like to share with the Glas Poduzetnika team (in English or Croatian), you can do so via [email protected] Subject TCN inspector.
You can follow the 55,000+ others on the Glas Poduzetnika Facebook page.