Support independent journalism in Central & Eastern Europe.
Donate to TOL!

× Learn more
No, thanks Photo: Abbas Atilay
back  |  printBookmark and Share

Historic Croatian Corruption Bust Nabs Doctors, Bulgaria Blasted for Refugee Treatment

Plus, the only Western energy company in Uzbekistan abruptly pulls out and protesters look for new tactics in Ukraine.

by Barbara Frye, Ioana Caloianu, and Karlo Marinovic 6 January 2014

1. Doctors target of Croatia’s biggest ever corruption case


Croatia’s anti-corruption agency has charged the Farmal pharmaceutical company with bribing more than 300 doctors to prescribe the company's drugs, Balkan Insight reports.


Drazen Dedi
The 13-month investigation snared 364 people, including Farmal President Drazen Dedi, whose company is alleged to have bribed Croatian doctors and pharmacists from 2009 to 2012, Vecernji list writes.


Prosecutors say the company rewarded doctors with money and gifts based on how many of its drugs they prescribed. Dedi, who was taken into custody along with eight other Farmal employees, denied the accusations, according to Vecernji list.


The number of charges makes this the largest criminal case in Croatian history and suggests the presence of pervasive corruption in the country’s health care system.


Some Croatian doctors were charged with corruption in 2009 as part of an ongoing investigation into alleged bribes paid by Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis to doctors in Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Italy, and Switzerland, Novi list notes.


In another case, American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer agreed in 2012 to pay a $60 million fine amid accusations of bribing Croatian doctors to lobby for the inclusion of company's products on the country's list of approved drugs, SEEbiz reported at the time.


The most recent case only scratched the surface of corruption in Croatian health system, according to Novi list reporter Ljerka Bratonja Martinovic, who writes that the system is rife with bribes from pharmaceutical companies and patients.


The arrests come after the national health insurer recommended in August that doctors prescribe the cheapest generic medications. That move was criticized by drug manufacturers and the Croatian Medical Chamber as potentially favoring one producer and limiting competition, Poslovni dnevnik reports.


Farmal, a Croatian company that specializes in cheap generic drugs, is owned by German pharmaceutical firm Dermapharm.


2. Citing poor conditions, UN asks countries to halt return of refugees to Bulgaria


The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, is asking EU members not to send back to Bulgaria asylum-seekers who first entered the EU in that country but have since fled appalling conditions there.


“Asylum-seekers in Bulgaria routinely lack access to basic services, such as food and health care; face lengthy delays in registration that subsequently deprive them of their basic rights; and are at risk of arbitrary detention. In addition, there are serious challenges to access fair and effective asylum procedures alongside ongoing reports of pushbacks at the border,” agency spokesman Babar Baloch told reporters last week.


The UN has asked for a three-month stay on transfers of asylum-seekers back to Bulgaria, despite EU regulations that require the country of entry to hold refugees and determine their status. The delay is meant to give Bulgaria time to “improve the reception conditions and asylum procedures.”


Amnesty International said Bulgaria is shirking its responsibility to respond to the influx of people crossing its borders, which has ticked up during the conflict in Syria. Citing government statistics, the group said 11,606 people entered the country in 2013. Bulgaria has a population of 7.3 million.


The stream of asylum-seekers raised tensions in the country in November as some nationalist groups held anti-immigrant rallies and a young Syrian man was attacked near a shelter in Sofia.


Bulgaria shares a border with Turkey, through which thousands of Syrian refugees are passing. Bulgarian officials have called on the EU for assistance, and the country’s deputy interior minister announced 5 January that 8.5 million euros ($11.5 million) in emergency aid was on its way from Brussels, as well as $3.5 million from UNHCR, Novinite reports.


3. British energy firm abruptly pulls out of Uzbekistan


Tethys Petroleum, a UK-based oil and gas exploration company, has announced it will end operations in Uzbekistan “due to recent changes in the business climate and political environment,” according to a company statement.


A Tethys Petroleum operation in the North Urtabulak oilfield, Uzbekistan. Photo from the Tethys Petroleum website.


The company’s exit will leave no Western firms working in Uzbekistan’s oil and gas industry.


Tethys did not elaborate on its decision, news of which was embedded in a long statement on new exploration projects in Georgia. In a video interview with World Finance magazine only a few weeks ago, company President David Robson didn’t sound like a man looking for the exit sign.


“It certainly, out of the countries we work in, some of the bureaucracy is quite slow there. It takes a little time to get things done,” he told the magazine. “Therefore it’s a country you can’t rush in – you’ve got to be very patient. You’ve got ups and downs. And we’re patient people. And I think as time goes on we will certainly develop more there, but it’s not going to happen instantly.”


Uzbekistan is a notorious human rights abuser. It imprisons critical journalists, dissenters, and opposition figures while persecuting family members of those who manage to flee abroad. Each year, the government forces thousands of people, including children, to work on the cotton harvest. Uzbekistan ranked 164th of the 179 countries on Reporters Without Borders’ 2013 press freedom index and is perennially rated “not free” in democracy watchdog Freedom House’s annual Freedom in the World survey.


Human rights groups have called for sanctions, but Uzbekistan’s considerable energy resources offer a potential alternative to Russian gas for many European countries, making disengagement unlikely.


Uzbekistan had 594 million barrels of proven crude oil reserves and 65 trillion cubic feet of proven natural gas reserves as of January 2013, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. To put those numbers in context, Germany used nearly 2.4 million barrels of oil per day and nearly 2 trillion cubic feet of gas for all of 2012, according to the agency.


“Uzbekistan is a country which people have shied away from because of the lack of enthusiasm in the past, certainly for Western investment, and some of the political issues around there,” Robson said in the World Finance interview.


After Tethys’ departure, which is expected to take three months, the field will be left to Chinese and Russian companies. The British firm will turn its attention to a potentially massive shale oil exploration project in Georgia.


4. Protests shrink but persist in Kyiv as tactics change


Pro-EU demonstrators are keeping up a presence in central Kyiv even as their numbers dwindle and the country prepares to celebrate Orthodox Christmas on 7 January.


More than 10,000 people showed up over the weekend for a rally on Independence Square, known locally as the Maidan, AFP reports. That is an impressive number considering the weather and time of year, but only a fraction of the 200,000 who participated at the protest’s peak in early December.


Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko is urging the protesters to carry on and has called for a general strike to get the attention of the authorities, who he said “are pretending they cannot hear us.”


Ukrainian authorities have backed away from an initial approach of violently dispersing the protests, with  subsequent tactics apparently meant to fly under the radar of international observers. A driver in a rally associated with the pro-EU movement was charged 3 January with hitting a traffic police officer, even though witnesses said the officer “walked up to a car driving at low speed and fell, pretending to have been hit by the car,” according to Halya Coynash, a human rights activist and journalist who frequently contributes to TOL.


The protesters are also adopting new tactics, urging viewers and advertisers to boycott Inter, “Ukraine’s arguably most watched and influential television channel,” according to the Kyiv Post.


Activists say Inter is ignoring the EuroMaidan movement, “trying to create an impression that all is quiet in the country and millions of Ukrainian citizens protesting against the government simply don’t exist,” the newspaper reports.


In addition to an audience and advertiser boycott, the protesters are urging opposition leaders to stop cooperating with the channel for one week “until its editorial policy is restored back to ‘universal standards of objectivity, impartiality, and truthfulness,’ ” the Post writes.


5. EU health care report highlights Czech corruption


A European Commission report on corruption in health care across the EU has brought two formerly high-ranking Czech officials into the spotlight, the Czech Press Agency reports, citing Prague daily Mlada fronta Dnes.


The study cites the cases of Marek Snajdr, who served as deputy health minister and chaired the board of national insurance company VZP from 2006 to 209, and Petr Bendl, a former governor of the Central Bohemian region, as examples of high-level corruption.


In his dual roles, Snajdr was in “the controlling seat of the Czech health care system,” the study’s authors write. His position enabled him to control judicial investigations into corruption allegations in exchange for political support, according to the study. Snajdr was a player in a July corruption scandal that toppled the government of Prime Minister Petr Necas, who was investigated for bribing Snajdr and two other members of parliament with lucrative positions in state-run companies to give up their seats in the legislature.


During his gubernatorial term, Bendl was involved in the privatization of several hospitals in Central Bohemia, including one that the study says was poorly run and was a target for closure but prospered nevertheless through preferential treatment from VZP. In turn, the hospital signed a lucrative contract with a training company led by anonymous shareholders, Snajdr allegedly among them, the study notes.


The Czech Press Agency reports that Snajdr refused to comment to Mlada fronta Dnes on the allegations.


Barbara Frye is TOL's managing editor. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Karlo Marinovic is a TOL editorial intern.
back  |  printBookmark and Share



© Transitions Online 2015. All rights reserved. ISSN 1214-1615
Published by Transitions o.s., Baranova 33, 130 00 Prague 3, Czech Republic.