Croatia's Chief State Prosecutor, Drazen Jelenic, told N1 television on Wednesday that he was not thinking of resigning over his acknowledged membership in a masonic lodge. His comment came in the wake of a bizarre scandal involving a popular tabloid and allegations of blackmail and extortion targeting a wealthy eye doctor who also heads a masonic lodge in Zagreb.
The investigative weekly Nacional had published a cover story in its Tuesday issue which claimed that Jelenic is a Freemason, which led Jelenic to send an unusual press release to the media in which he openly admitted to being a member of a Zagreb masonic lodge.
Jelenic, who is the state's chief prosecutor since April 2018, is often target of criticism by opposition politicians as well as the media for what is perceived to be inaction and incompetence in dealing with high-profile corruption cases.
Although Freemasonry is not illegal in Croatia, with a number of lodges known to operate in the country, due to its veil of secrecy and refusal to publish its membership, it is widely seen as a suspicious organisation and a common scapegoat in conspiracy theories spread by tabloids and right-wing media.
Bizarre scandal involving an eye doctor and a tabloid
The issue cropped up in recent weeks after a bizarre scandal last week in which a wealthy doctor who runs a private eye clinic, Nikica Gabric, had reported to police that he was target of extortion by journalists of the tabloid website Dnevno.hr and its sister print weekly 7Dnevno, who threatened to publish pictures of Gabric attending masonic ceremonies.
In exchange for not publishing the pictures, Gabric claims they tried to blackmail him into buying 200,000 kuna (€27,000) worth of advertising space in the 7Dnevno weekly. Gabric had notified the police, who opened an investigation which led to the arrests of Dnevno.hr's editor-in-chief Mark Cigoj, his deputy Vuk Radic, and the website's owner Marija Dekanic.
Gabric, who is open about heading a masonic lodge in Zagreb, said that the website's deputy editor-in-chief, Vuk Radic, was in fact a fellow member of his masonic lodge, who came into possession of photos in order to be published in their members-only newsletter, edited by Radic.
Although Cigoj, Radic, and Dekanic were all released the same day, with the investigation still ongoing, investigative weekly Nacional published a cover story on Tuesday revealing that the chief prosecutor, Drazen Jelenic, is also a mason, raising the question whether he is now in a conflict of interest by being involved in the investigation of the Gabric case.
“I felt impressed”
He said that he did not believe that his membership of a masonic lodge had in any way discredited the office of the chief state prosecutor, that it did not affect his duties, which he always performed in line with the law.
Asked why he had joined the Freemasons in the first place, he said that a friend of his invited him, and that the invitation impressed him.
“Since their motto is that only eminent people can become members of a masonic lodge, I must admit that at that moment I felt impressed that someone had recognised my expertise, the work that I do, my professional dedication… and that in that way (be joining a masonic lodge) I could contribute to the work of an association which advocates for well-being in the society at large, in the community – starting from one's immediate family, and the environment one lives in, and all the way up to Croatia, that is, one's homeland,” Jelenic told N1 television.
Asked if he thought that, because of the secrecy traditionally associated with the Freemasons, his credibility might be questioned in public, he said he did not fear for his credibility because they are a legally formed association which engaged in activities that are perfectly legal in Croatia.
Gabric, who meanwhile went on to talk to a number of media outlets about the affair, told Nova TV on Tuesday that he had a tape of a conversation in which Jelenic had asked him for “a favour” after the investigation had started, without specifying any details. The same day, Jelenic replied by saying that Gabric had tried to “influence the course of a preliminary investigation” into the three journalists.
On Wednesday, Jelenic clarified his statement, saying that Gabric was clearly the victim of attempted blackmail, and downplayed the importance of any contacts he might have had with him during the investigation.
“He (Gabric) was a victim here… In any case during the investigation he contacted me as well as the local municipal prosecutor's office, and asked for some things to be done differently… He thought he could influence how things are done, but this is a job that the state prosecution and police are in charge of,” Jelenic said.
He added that he did not know what was exactly on the recordings that Gabric had mentioned, but that he was not afraid of any such tapes getting released to the public.
Masonic membership a “potential risk”
Later on Wednesday, Justice Minister, Drazen Bosnjakovic, from the ruling conservative Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) party, told reporters that Jelenic's open membership in a masonic lodge is “unacceptable” and that he expected him to tend his resignation over this.
“A membership in such an association – regardless of the fact that it has been registered in line with Croatian laws – is unacceptable. Its activities and membership are wrapped in a veil of secrecy, and that itself represents a potential risk for the way chief state prosecutor does his job,” Bosnjakovic said.
Bosnjakovic confirmed that he talked to Jelenic over the affair, and said that unless he resigns himself the government would swiftly move to sack him.
“We'll see what happens, I expect him to tender his resignation… I think that you can draw your own conclusions from what I just said on what my view of this is, and the kind of epilogue I expect. If this doesn't happen, I think the government will move to dismiss Jelenic,” Bosnjakovic added.