SMS scandal: Prime Minister announces a clean-up

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Andrej Plenković

On Tuesday, Deputy Speaker of Sabor Milijan Brkić did not want to give public statements about the deposition of arrested IT expert Franjo Varga. Apparently, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković did not talk to Brkić on the subject either, even though he had told the media he expected to meet with him.

Only informal claims could be obtained from the circles around Brkić, too — to the effect that the entire deposition was untrustworthy and rife with inaccurate details, and that Brkić himself was a victim of Varga's faked text messages. Talking to the media, the Prime Minister did not go into any detail of the case; he just stressed he expected the scandal to be clarified to the full.

— We did not see each other — he said, referring to the expected meeting with Brkić. — I thought [it would happen] today. I expect light to be shed on the scandal to the full. The more information appears in the public about it, the worse it looks. I cannot say what part of that is true and what not.

Status of investigation

Asked if he should perhaps seek some answers from Brkić himself, Plenković told the reporters he was "neither an investigator nor a police officer".

— It is important that the facts be established, what is true and what is not — he said. — We are dealing with the scandal [that revolves around] fabrication. If a group of people has been involved in it for a long time, the matter needs to be [investigated and clarified]. As the Prime Minister, I have no insight into the investigation. I have enough political experience to remain cautious in my approach to the matter, but the whole deal does appear to be getting increasingly worse; I think it requires further steps.

Plenković said he had talked to Brkić about the matter as the scandal broke out, but not later again. He noted he was aware of the political responsibility and said it would be discussed politically within the [ruling HDZ] party in due time.

Asked if he had ever thought there could be a conspiracy against him within his party, he said that, "in the game of politics, everything is possible in some way".

— However — he said — I have never, at any point, felt any kind of threat [or seen any sign of a] conspiracy, so I never made any effort to resolve it. There is no doubt that some people have been doing things that are outside the law. To me, that is unacceptable. When all the facts are established, we will see what further [action may be needed].

Plenković's statement, that the 'SMS scandal' looks increasingly worse, which in his opinion requires further steps, is the strongest we have heard from so far in the case.

— The Prime Minister's message is clear — an HDZ source close to Plenković told us. — I does not apply just to Milijan Brkić, but to the entire circle of people who are involved, directly or indirectly. It was an activity [aimed] against the Prime Minister and we want to know who ordered it. First of all, it is necessary to ascertain what is true and what not, but when all the dots are connected... Just remember the former [party] leadership.

He added that the case must be resolved as soon as possible. — The information coming out to the public is such that we cannot remain just observers — he said.

HDZ sources indicate that almost all the other issues within the party have been swept aside; that the 'SMS scandal' is the only thing being discussed.

— Plenković's statement is definitely a sign — said a party member. — The relations are obviously [moving towards conflict]. The question is what information the leadership has.

Varga's deposition

IT expert Franjo Varga told the investigators, among other things, of co-operation with Plenković's deputy Brkić and former HDZ leader Tomislav Karamarko. He said he had helped Karamarko prove his claim that the HDZ lost several seats in the Sabor in the 2015 elections through ballot theft, and that he wrote part of the "Five plus" campaign platform as well as penned answers to reform demands by the Most party. [Back then, the Most was HDZ's coalition partner in the elections.] Varga said that Karamarko had ordered him to find out who had released the "Five Plus" platform. Learning [from Varga] that it was Miljenko Manjkas, Karamarko had Manjkas replaced.

In the testimony, Varga also said he was investigating — on Brkić's behalf — a person privately close to Brkić. Further, he investigated university professors who were deciding on a possible rescinding of Brkić's diploma [due to accusations of plagiarism] and thus helped Brkić retain it. He was also asked to help in the matter of Brkić's diploma by Brkić's best man Blaž Curić, as well as President Grabar-Kitarović's national security adviser Vlado Galić.