Croatia’s deputy PM resigns over Agrokor debt crisis

Deputy Prime Minister and Economy Minister Martina Dalic (C) and Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic (R) during a government session in Zagreb. [EPA-EFE/ANTONIO BAT]

Croatia’s deputy prime minister resigned on Monday (14 Monday), after pressure from coalition partners and the public about her alleged conflict of interest in the restructuring of the country’s biggest private company, the debt-laden food and retail concern Agrokor.

Martina Dalić was a close ally of Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, whose conservative HDZ party has a wafer-thin majority in parliament thanks to a coalition with two junior partners and ethnic minorities.

“In this unbelievable maze of interests and circumstances, I have turned out to be a burden for the prime minister, the government and the HDZ, which I don’t want to be,” Dalić told a news conference in Zagreb. Her successor was not immediately named.

Dalić, who is also economy minister, led efforts to save Agrokor after it accumulated life-threatening debt during its expansion drive and was put under state-run administration in April 2017.

“My political task was to find a solution and prevent the collapse of Agrokor, which would have sunk the entire economy back into recession… The task has been accomplished,” she said, adding that she had “done nothing wrong, illegal or immoral”.

Croatia, which joined the EU in 2013, suffered a deep recession from 2008 to 2015, when its economy, relying heavily on tourism and services, started growing again.

Croatia's Agrokor crisis worsens as crisis manager quits

A prolonged crisis in Croatia’s top employer, food and retail concern Agrokor, took another dramatic twist on Wednesday (21 February) as its government-appointed caretaker manager stepped down and the Zagreb Stock Exchange suspended trade in all Agrokor companies.

Last Wednesday, local news portal published what it said was one-year-old email correspondence between Dalić and financial and legal experts she had consulted while preparing an emergency law to save the firm — the Balkans’ biggest employer — from bankruptcy.

Some of the experts were later engaged as consultants in the restructuring process for hefty fees, prompting the opposition’s conflict-of-interest claim.

Dalić denied the allegation on Friday, saying that the emails had been taken out of context. In parting comments on Monday, she called for a “full investigation into who exactly published the fragments of my communication, not because of me but because it is important for the state institutions.”

“Unauthorised access to and spreading of someone else’s emails is a crime under our law,” she concluded.

The opposition, led by the Social Democrats and the centre-right Most (Croatian for ‘bridge’], has previously highlighted Dalić’s role over Agrokor, and she survived a no-confidence vote in parliament last month.

Agrokor’s creditors, which include foreign and local banks, agreed on debt settlement terms last month. They must be approved in a vote before 10 July to prevent the firm, which employs more than 60,000 people, from going bankrupt.

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