August 18, 2019 — Washington, DC | Since the fall the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the emergence of new independent states, Eastern Europe’s media groups have struggled to maintain their independence due to the influence of corrupt politicians and organized crime networks. In describing the scale of corruption, NATO’s eastern members including the Balkan region and Turkey, over $397 billion in illicit financial outflows via crime, corruption and tax evasion (for the years 2004–2013) have hemorrhaged economies. For Croatia, a member of the European Union, the $35 billion in illicit financial outflows which left the nation during 2005–2014 amounts to 73% of the Balkan country’s 2015 GDP.
Croatia’s media groups have not fared well. The few independent journalists including a handful of investigative reporters within state-run broadcasters and online groups continue to address rampant corruption. A number of independent Croatian journalists face pressures. The few brave and courageous media leaders deserve the support from Western democracies which uphold the rule of law.
However, it came as a surprise when Index.hr, once known as an independent media group in Croatia decided to prop-up a local politician mired in corruption and placed under the spotlight for ties to Nigerian money-laundering in the city of Rijeka.
Index.hr has yet to report on corruption and money-laundering case connected to Vojko Obersnel, mayor of Rijeka which was red-flagged by the US Justice Department and highlighted by Croatia’s main state broadcaster HRT:
Index.hr has decided to cherry-pick corruption cases by highlighting Croatian politicians affiliated with the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and failed to report on cases connected the Social Democrat Party (SDP).
In August 2013, Slavko Linic, Croatia’s former finance minister mired in corruption faced Andreja Hudika, editor, Index.hr in a lawsuit which he filed against the media group. As part of an international monitoring group, International Leaders Summit’s leadership board members were present in the Rijeka court room to observe the proceedings with the purpose to file briefings and reports to legislators and judicial experts in Europe and the United States on the assault of media freedom in the Balkans.
Today, there are questions raised about the media group Index.hr, propping-up Slavko Linic’s close ally — Vojko Obersnel, mayor of Rijeka. Both Linic (former mayor of Rijeka) and Obersnel belong to the same Social Democrat Party (SDP) which is mired in corruption, alleged theft of private property and according to formal documents with ties to Nigeria’s money launderer red-flagged by the US Justice Department.
US Taxpayer Aid and Money Laundering Sustains Corrupt Networks in Croatia and Eastern Europe — International Leaders Summit
The International Leaders Summit’s blog team reached out to Index.hr for a comment. It did not receive a response at the time of posting this piece.
Croatia and the Balkan region’s media freedom is under assault. For some media groups in Croatia, self-censorship is the pathway to receiving advertising revenues. For the brave and independent journalists, they face continued pressures. For others, cherry-picking corruption cases and whitewashing cronyism, money laundering cases and theft of taxpayer funds is becoming part of the editorial decision making process. The latter will be a great loss for Croatia’s citizens yearning for justice and freedom.