Croatia's Deputy Prime Minister and Economy Minister Martina Dalić resigned over leaked emails that proved she deliberately deceived the public about the state of affairs in Agrokor and used her position to help associates benefit from the restructuring of the ailing food giant, dubbed the Hotmail scandal.
Leaked emails and reactions
On 9 May, the news website Index.hr published leaked Hotmail emails containing pieces of correspondence between Dalić and various consultants, lawyers and brokers who later became members of the state extraordinary management of Agrokor, or whose companies made lucrative deals with Agrokor, the biggest Croatian private company. This indebted food and retail group, employing around 40,000 in the country and some 60,000 people across the region, fell into financial problems at the beginning of 2017. In April last year, the parliament passed a special law, dubbed Lex Agrokor in the media, to bring in a 15-month extraordinary state management of the company, to stop it going bankrupt and save jobs.
Screenshots of leaked emails show that Dalić used her private account while communicating with people who were later involved in the work of the state management in Agrokor. Some of the companies later got lucrative agreements with the new Agrokor management, while one of them, Ante Ramljak, was named the extraordinary state manager. No contract was signed with any of these people in order to conceal the whole process. The leaked emails could affect the process of reaching a settlement between all Agrokor's creditors (suppliers, banks and bondholders) by July 10, when the 15-month state management will end.
The opposition in parliament said it was unacceptable that Dalić had allowed the same consultants who drew up the rescue plan to be paid to roll it out, calling it a conflict of interest, describing the leaked emails as a scandal that should lead to snap elections. Gordan Maras, an MP from the Social Democratic Party (SDP), called the whole issue shocking, claiming that Dalić worked on the draft of the law along with her friends and acquaintances. "I call on the state attorney to step into action immediately, while the Prime Minister should remove the minister [Dalić] who has compromised him and the whole state," Maras said.
Ivan Vilibor Sinčić, the president of the Human Shield (Živi zid), and Božo Petrov, the president of the Bridge of Independent Lists (MOST) party, both called Dalić and government to resign. The opposition has already tried to oust Dalić for her role in the process of drafting the law on Agrokor. However, it did not manage to gather enough votes to remove her in a non-confidence vote in April.
From denial to resignation
On the same day, 9 May, Dalić dismissed media allegations that leaked emails show that she used her position to help friends and associates benefit from the ailing Agrokor company. She told regional press that she thinks she "didn't do anything illegal." While testifying before a parliamentary committee in February, Dalić said that she was the main author of the law, but had taken opinions from consultants, lawyers and experts outside of state institutions. When asked about this on 9 May, she said that there was no secrecy in the process, and the final result was that the company was saved. Dalić claimed that it was her obligation to make such contacts, adding that the consultants, lawyers and brokers were not paid because they agreed to give their suggestions and advice for free.
Prime Minister Andrej Plenković defended Martina Dalić, claiming there is "nothing illegal" in her emails. "Croatia's entire economy was threatened by a crisis. For me as Prime Minister, the overall interests of Croatia was the top priority. That is the goal we wanted to achieve, and that goal has been achieved," Plenković said. Responding to calls for her resignation, he said: "I don't see anything new [in these emails], except the same accusations we have been hearing for months... You are now hounding Deputy Prime Minister [Dalić], and she had been given an award recognizing it [Lex Agrokor] as the best decision in 2017," referring to the award for the Business Event of the Year handed to Dalić in December 2017 by a panel of experts and business journalists. "I don't see any nefarious intentions in the gist of these emails, or anything illegal," Plenković told reporters.
Under pressure from opposition parties, Martina Dalić finally resigned on 14 May, quitting her jobs as Deputy Prime Minister and Economy Minister. At a joint press conference with Prime Minister Plenković, Dalić said she was resigning as she "did not want to be a burden" to the Prime Minister's government and to Plenković's ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ). She again denied causing any damage to the troubled food giant and said that she" had done everything she could to ensure the company's employees and suppliers and the Croatian economy got what they were looking for." Plenković stated he had accepted Dalić resignation, but saying he felt sorry that the vice-president of the government had left, and he regretted a lack of transparency that might have ensured such "small stains" could be avoided. "I just regret that the process was not a bit more transparent. I'm sorry about Dalić leaving the Government. It is our task now to reach the settlement within the legal deadline," he added. He did not name her replacement and denied any intention of stepping down.