Senior Croatian government official sentenced for corruption in the field of art

The former president of the Croatian Chamber of Commerce, Nadan Vidosevic, was found guilty of corruption on multiple counts, including the purchase of works of art with the money of the public service.

The eight-year sentence (pending appeal) was handed down by Zagreb County Court in December. It follows a lengthy investigation into the public figure, who was employed in the chamber between 1995 and 2013 and ran for president in 2009, prompted by suspicions over his 26 properties, more than 400 works of art and his possession of HRK 33.4 million (£3.7m).

While police investigations later concluded that much of the property had been acquired legitimately, some of the artwork was found to have been purchased “for private purposes”, misusing funds or public influence; three sculptures by Croatian artist Šime Vulas, titled Sails, armored fortress and To cross, and two works by Croatian sculptor Kazimir Hraste. All works were deemed to be now the property of the Croatian Republic.

The other charges related to the embezzlement of money for personal purposes and were first brought amid a wave of investigations against senior officials, including former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader.f

Corruption issues are still of considerable importance in Croatia and the region

Aleksandar Stulhofer, professor

The co-defendants, who were all also employed or connected with the Chamber of Commerce, included Zdenka Peternel, who was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment (pending appeal), while Josipa Miladinov and Jasna Mikić were acquitted. Four other defendants offered pleas and received community service. The arts journalAttempts to contact representatives of the defendants were unsuccessful at the time of publication.

“Corruption issues are still of paramount importance in Croatia and the region, although there is a real risk of desensitization due to the number of open cases and the length of court proceedings,” says Aleksandar Štulhofer, professor of sociology at the University of Zagreb, who has researched corruption in the region.

International control

The significance of art purchases in this major corruption investigation comes at a significant time for the art market, which is coming under increasing scrutiny from international governments.

As anti-money laundering regulations in the UK continue to take hold, the recent publication of the US Anti-Corruption Strategy in December specifically noted “art and antiques markets – and market players who facilitate transactions -[as] particularly vulnerable to financial crimes”. The strategy has faced some backlash, in light of US President Joe Biden’s son’s continued ties to the art world, but signals a clear intention by the administration to tighten scrutiny of the sector.

As regulations tighten, high-profile cases look likely to continue. “Because politicians are public figures, their prosecution usually receives wide media attention,” says Georges Lederman, special counsel with Withers’ white-collar defense team. “Because prosecutors don’t have the resources to prosecute every person who commits a crime, especially in the white-collar realm, making an example of a politician is designed to act as a deterrent against those who might be considering engage in similar acts of corruption. .”

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