ZAGREB, March 12, 2018 – Zagreb County Court judge Ivan Turudić on Monday again rejected a plea bargain reached between the USKOK corruption investigation agency and the accused businessman Željko Žužić who, together with former Sisak-Moslavina County Prefect Marina Lovrić Merzel, is charged with embezzlement.
The plea agreement between USKOK and Žužić, who confessed to having given 100,000 euros in bribes to former Sisak-Moslavina County prefect Marina Lovric Merzel, was overturned by Judge Turudić for the first time in late 2015. Under the plea deal, Žužić would be sentenced to a suspended term of one year on condition that he did not repeat such an offence in the next five years. The judge insisted then that the plea agreement was not equitable, and said that it would have sent a message that corruption paid off, as the defendant would be given a lenient punishment.
However, in December 2017, the Supreme Court ruled that the judge should not have overruled the plea bargain saying that courts should not intervene in the contents of plea bargains between indictees and the prosecution, but that it is within the remit of courts to check whether plea bargains are in line with laws.
After Turudić overruled the bargain for the second time, USKOK asked for the exemption of the judge, which was the reason for the postponement of the trial of Lovrić Merzel.
USKOK charged Lovrić Merzel and five other persons with several crimes, including bribe taking, money laundering and embezzlement of public money. Lovrić Merzel was arrested in April 2014. The other accused in the case are businessman Žužić, the chair of the Supervisory Board of the Ceste Sisak road maintenance company Silvijo Kobešćak, Bernard Popac, Lovrić Merzel’s nephew Dalibor Rožanković, and an executive of the Hrvatske Šume forest management company Zvonko Rozić.
USKOK contends that Lovrić Merzel, a senior official of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) at the time, in the second half of 2011, after the county assembly had adopted a decision to sell 57.33 percent of the county’s shares in the Ceste Sisak road management company, asked Žužić for a 100,000 euro bribe so that his company could acquire the stake.