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Analysis 13 Jun 17

Modric, Lovren Testimonies Highlight Croatia Football’s Woes

Testimonies by Real Madrid and Liverpool FC stars on Tuesday at the Osijek trial of Zdravko Mamic may cast more light on the corruption scandals surrounding Croatian football.

Sven Milekic
BIRN
Zagreb
Luka Modric (front) Dejan Lovren (in the back from the right) will testify upon details of their million euros transfers. Photo: Beta

One of the world’s top football players, 31-year-old Luka Modric, will enter a courtroom in the eastern Croatian city of Osijek on Tuesday to testify in a trial against his former chief in Zagreb football club Dinamo, Zdravko Mamic, suspected of graft that allegedly cost the club and the state about 17.2 million euros.

Only two days after playing for Croatia’s national team in Iceland, Modric, one of the biggest stars at European giant Real Madrid, is due to discuss his 21-million-euro transfer from Dinamo Zagreb to Tottenham Hotspur in the UK in 2008.

After a first arrest back in July 2015, Mamic - Dinamo’s executive president and the vice-president of the Croatian Football Federation, CFF until last July - is now on trial along with his brother, the former club manager Zoran Mamic, the former club director Damir Vrbanovic and a tax administration employee, Milan Pernar.

The indictment claims Dinamo paid Luka Modric a part of the transfer fee, most of which he then returned to Mamic and his family in cash.

Along with Modric, Dejan Lovren, the Liverpool FC centre-back, will also testify on Tuesday on allegedly illegal activities concerning his 9.5-million-euro transfer from Dinamo to Olympique Lyonnais in Lyon, France, in 2010.

Zdravko Mamic on the convention of the governing centre-right Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ. Photo: Beta

The trial before Osijek County Court started on April 27, with Mamic entering a plea of not guilty and calling the whole judicial process “a lie”.

“I know what I’m charged with but I don’t understand the indictment. It is the most disgusting and wicked lie I've heard in [my] life and I don’t want to listen to it [being read out],” Mamic said on April 27.

Although he now acts only as Dinamo’s advisor and has had no executive functions in Croatian football for almost a year now, he is still widely considered the “puppet master” of national football owing to his extensive network of people and connections to the governing centre-right Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ.

Mamic supported the HDZ in 2007 parliamentary elections, when he paid for an advert stating that all Dinamo players and him supported the HDZ.

He also donated money to the HDZ’s winning presidential candidate in 2014, Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic, who became President in 2015 after beating the incumbent, Ivo Josipovic.

Dea Redzic, an editor and journalist for the Croatian news site Index, referring to Modric’s testimony on Tuesday, told BIRN that Mamic was still the most powerful figure in Croatian football.

“Although he doesn’t hold executive functions any longer, he’s still calling the shots,” she said.

“But the situation in the Croatian Football Federation is such that a redistribution of power will soon take place,” Redzic added, pointing the finger at the CFF’s president, football legend Davor Suker, who could lose the position.

An anonymous source, well informed about how football transfers function in Croatia, told BIRN that most big transfers – such as Modric’s and Lovren’s – had worked in the same way.

This source explained that budding players in their early twenties are offered chances to play in major clubs in exchange for handing over some of the transfer money to the club managers, owners and football agents.

He added that most players willingly take part in such deals, unwilling to lost the chance to start a career at the highest level.

Security camera video on the attack on Mamic.

Redzic stated that although problems in the management of football federations exist in many other countries, Croatia’s are specific.

“Dinamo is closely linked with the national team, which is practically ‘a shopping window’ for Dinamo players. This has hurt Croatian football in the long run,” she explained.

Many fans and football experts have claimed that some Dinamo players are only playing in the national team due to Mamic’s influence.

According to Redzic, the responsibility for alleged corruption in Croatian football lies with the officials of the Federation, which is burdened by claims of corruption and match fixing.

Mamic was arrested twice in 2015, in July and November, on a warrant from the Croatian anti-corruption agency, USKOK, on suspicion of tax evasion, bribery and other unspecified criminal acts.

At a press conference in February 2016, Mamic denied the accusations. “If the presumption [of innocence] is the same for all the citizens of the world, we are all as clean here as Pope Francis,” he said.

This April, the daily Jutarnji list reported that USKOK was finalising an investigation into Mamic and his colleagues for allegedly forming a joint criminal enterprise that “pumped” around 23 million euros out of Dinamo, mostly using offshore companies. No charges have been filed in this case, however.

All this has turned some supporters away from the national football team. Some have turned their disappointment into violence.

A 22-year-old man attacked Mamic in the town of Bol on the southern island of Brac on Wednesday, punching him in the head from the back, pushing him into the sea. Police later arrested the man.

A group of football fans of Hajduk, a club from the coastal city of Split, on Saturday surrounded and insulted Janica Kostelic, the Croatian skiing legend and the state secretary for sport, as she came to Brac with a ferry from Split. Police arrested 12 persons, seven of whom received five-day prison sentences.

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