Minister Malenica: Croatia will help its citizens in Zambia

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Justice and Public Administration Minister Ivan Malenica said on Wednesday that a new hearing should be held on Thursday for eight Croats detained in Zambia on suspicion of attempted child trafficking, who are again charged with the same crime although a court in Ndola had discontinued the case two days earlier.

The detained Croatian citizens have been in Zambia since mid-December, when they were first arrested. The prosecution charged them with falsifying the documents of four children from the Democratic Republic of Congo whom they had adopted and intended to take to Croatia.

After the case was discontinued, the four adoptive couples were headed for Croatia, but were rearrested at the airport and charged with the same crime as in December.

“We have no new information, we hope to learn more about why they were rearrested from the hearing that should be held tomorrow. “This is a very strange situation, they were given 48 hours to leave the country and travel documents were returned to them, only to be stopped at the immigration office and re-detained for the same crime”, Malenica said.

He added that he was in communication with their lawyer and that Ambassador Ante Cicvarić was on his way there.

Asked whether the adopted children are Croatian citizens since they have valid Croatian documents, but Zambia clearly considers the way the documents were obtained to be problematic, that some of the identity documents may have been falsified, Minister Malenica said that they have valid Croatian travel documents and that Croatia continues to take care of them diplomatically. From the information available from the first hearing, he continued, he understood that the issue of validity of the documents and legality of the documents that led to the issuance of Croatian documents had not been raised.

‘The documents were issued in Croatia according to valid procedure. Along with adult Croatian citizens, we continue to take care of the children, of course”, said Malenica, adding that the new circumstances were “very serious”.

He said he had no information at the moment about any report filed against the four couples from Croatia and could not confirm it.

Minister Malenica mentioned a provision in the Zambian law stipulating that, after the case is discontinued, the charges can be re-introduced, adding that was apparently had happened in this case.

“Strangely, they were released and were given a 48-hour deadline to leave the country and then they were arrested again. It is definitely unusual”, Malenica said.

“Given that they are Croatian citizens, I am concerned about this situation”, the Minister added, emphasizing Croatia’s full commitment to the case and communication with the Zambian foreign and justice ministers as well as the commitment of the permanent representation of the EU in that country.

He reiterated Croatia’s maximum efforts to help Croatian citizens in every possible way.

When asked about an investigation into the issuance of documents in Croatia, Malenica replied that he had no information about an investigation.

“It’s a question for the State Attorneys’ Office,” Malenica said.

He confirmed that the Ministry of Justice and Public Administration had carried out an inspection of the courts that had issued the decisions recognising foreign court decisions, and that the inspection had found, within its scope, that the algorithm for case assignment had been respected.

“The cases were assigned randomly,” Malenica said, adding that the President of the Supreme Court had confirmed it.

When asked how the algorithm could have assigned all cases to the court in Zlatar, he said that the provision on territorial jurisdiction had been respected, but that there was no exclusive territorial jurisdiction with regard to the domicile of those persons, and those persons could also have brought proceedings in the court in Zlatar.

Asked whether the practice of issuing documents for children adopted from such problematic countries as the DRC, which is not a party to the Hague Convention, would be changed, Malenica replied that the Ministry of Labour, Pension System and Social Policy had proposed amendments to the Act on Private International Law, which governs the recognition of foreign court decisions, so as to include the Social Welfare Centre in such adoption procedures to verify whether the adoption requirements laid down in Croatia are fulfilled and subsequently to conduct supervision over adopted children and adoptive families the same way they do for children adopted in Croatia.

Periodic vetting abolished by the Constitutional Court, not the Ministry 

Commenting on the Constitutional Court’s decision to repeal the article of the Courts Act which prescribes security vetting of judges every five years, Malenica said that the Government would respect the decision, but disagreed with it.

“Security vetting was in place even before its introduction into the law,” the Minister said, adding that the law was amended last year, after a series of scandals among judges, when citizens’ trust in the judiciary was at a low level.

He also expressed disagreement with the assertions justifying the abolishment, saying that the vetting of judges did not presume any guilt on the part of judges, nor would the executive be able to influence the selection and appointment of judges.

“In security vetting procedures, the executive, the Ministry of Justice or the Security and Intelligence Agency would have no influence, it would be under the sole competence of the Supreme Court to initiate or not initiate disciplinary proceedings if certain obstacles were identified,” Malenica said. 

To the journalist’s claim that some judges disliked the idea of security vetting, Malenica responded: “That’s a fact”, adding, however, that he did not regard it as a “slap in the face” and that it did not mean judges were untouchable.

Options for revising the voters lists 

“In the coming period, we will prepare amendments to the Act on Constituencies and revise the data from the electoral register. It is largely based on domicile records," Malenica said in a statement to the media after a Government meeting.

Regarding the differences between the electoral register and the population census, he announced that his Ministry would sit down with the Ministry of the Interior and consider the options for aligning the figures. At the moment, there are just over 3.6 million people in the electoral register, while the census has shown that there are just over 3.8 million inhabitants in Croatia. 

He noted that the electoral register is based on the domicile and residence of citizens, and account must also be taken of the recent decision of the Constitutional Court, which decided that the Ministry of the Interior had violated a citizen’s freedom of movement by cancelling their domicile ex officio.  

“This has brought into question the procedure of police stations regarding the supervision and control of citizens’ domicile and residence”, he said.

The alignment of this data with the data from other registers is being considered, and efforts will also be made to raise citizens’ awareness about updating their data. 

Malenica explained that the census represents “statistical data”, while the electoral register determines the current number of voters. 

“It is the electoral register that is valid, it establishes the number of voters in a given moment. We will devote attention to this matter in the coming period," the Minister said.