Two months have passed since the disputed flight of an HDZ delegation to Finland for a political meeting of the European People’s Party, but the government has still not provided clear answers to questions who went there for a party political event and which expenses were paid by the taxpayers, reports 24sata.hr on January 8, 2019.
On 7 November, the HDZ delegation flew to an event of the European People’s Party in Helsinki, where the political group elected its candidate for the European Commission president if they win the majority in the European Parliament. The trip was described as an official visit to Finland because Prime Minister Plenković met before the convention with Finnish Prime Minister Juho Sipila, while Speaker of Parliament and HDZ secretary general Gordan Jandroković spoke with Finnish Parliament Speaker Paola Risik.
The problem is that a number of ministers flew as party officials and, apart from the EPP’s Congress, had no other obligations, such as Administration Minister Lovro Kuščević, who is HDZ’s political secretary. The aircraft was also used by HDZ vice-president and Agriculture Minister Tomislav Tolušić and party international secretary and Interior Minister Davor Božinović. Also, the airplane and its crew waited for the party meeting to finish the next day, and only then did the prime minister and the delegation return to Croatia.
Since the official state aircraft cannot be used for private purposes, and a party event is not an official engagement, the Conflict of Interest Commission has initiated an investigation. Nataša Novaković, chairwoman of the Commission, said she would also demand answers to the questions of who paid for the daily travel allowances and accommodation and in what capacity did the officials use the aircraft. Before the New Year holidays, replies from the HDZ and the government, as well as from some of the ministers, arrived.
Besides, Plenković and the ministers were not the only ones who travelled to Finland. HDZ’s members of European Parliament also went there, as well as some of HDZ’s MPs, such as Miro Kovač and Davor Ivo Stier. Did the HDZ pay for expenses, the daily travel allowances and the accommodation for all those who went there? What engagements did party and government officials like Kuščević, Božinović and Tolušić had in Finland? Who was on the plane? These questions have not yet been answered.
“After we received the replies, additional information from the government and the HDZ were requested on Friday,” confirmed a source from the Commission. In their responses, the HDZ and the government did not provide answers to the questions that the Commission had specifically asked them. It is surprising that it takes them so much time to do it.
HDZ secretary general Gordan Jandroković said last week that everything was clear and that the Commission wanted to find a violation but would not succeed. Government spokesman Marko Milić said they did not yet complete the reply to the latest request. But the message is that everything is clear. “HDZ paid for accommodation and daily travel allowances to all those who travelled to Finland, either by a government plane or by a commercial flight. There is also a decree which allows the prime minister to use the official aircraft and decide who will join him,” said Milić.
The cost of the travel was 85,000 kuna.
For MOST’s MP Nikola Grmoja, this is a clear case of misuse. “It is obvious that they cannot justify this party political trip since otherwise they would have already given clear answers. HDZ behaves towards the budget as if it were their own, and the prime minister himself has said that he could do whatever he wanted,” said Grmoja.
More news on the conflict of interest issues in Croatia can be found in our Politics section.
Translated from 24sata.hr (reported by Ivan Pandžić).