Drazen Jelenic announced on Wednesday afternoon he would step down as Croatia’s Chief State Prosecutor over his membership in a Zagreb masonic lodge, reversing his position from earlier the same day.
Earlier on Wednesday, Jelenic told N1 he was not thinking of resigning, saying his being a Freemason had neither discredited the office of the chief state prosecutor nor affected his duties.
The unusual scandal began unravelling last week, when a prominent Croatian eye doctor, Nikica Gabric, reported to the police that journalists of the popular tabloid website Dnevno.hr and its weekly print issue 7Dnevno were threatening to publish photographs showing Gabric attending masonic ceremonies.
Gabric claimed that, in exchange for not publishing the photographs, the journalists wanted him to buy 200,000 kuna (€27,000) worth of advertising space in the 7Dnevno weekly. The police investigation was opened, resulting in arrests of Dnevno.hr’s editor-in-chief, his deputy, and the website’s owner. According to Gabric, the arrested editor-in-chief’s deputy is also a member of the same masonic lodge.
Then, on Tuesday, the Nacional weekly published a story claiming that Jelinic was also a Freemason, asking whether that meant he was in conflict of interest now that the state prosecutor’s office was investigating the Gabric case. Jelenic later issued a press release confirming the claim but insisted that his membership in a masonic lodge had no effect on his performance.
Both Justice Minister Drazen Bosnjakovic and Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic called on Jelenic to step down on Wednesday.
Bosnjakovic, confirming he had spoken to Jelenic about the affair, said Jelenic's membership in the lodge was unnaceptable, while Plenkovic said the most appropriate thing in the circumstances would be for Jelenic to step down himself.
"Naturally, if he doesn't do so, the government will decide on the next steps at the cabinet meeting tomorrow," he said.
Finally, on Wednesday afternoon, Jelenic caved to the pressure and announced he would step down.
"In the last days, insinuations surfaced in the public about my membership in a masonic lodge. My membership in this, perfectly legal, organisation has not in any way affected my duties. However, the slander has made it impossible for me to perform my duty as chief state prosecutor. I estimated that, in these circumstances, the only moral and responsible solution was for me to resign my post,” Jelenic said in a press release.
Chief state prosecutor is proposed by the government and confirmed by the parliament for a four-year term. Jelenic, who took over the post in April 2018, is often criticised by the media and opposition MPs who claim that he is inactive and incompetent in handling high-profile corruption cases.
Gabric told Nova TV on Tuesday that he had recorded a conversation with Jelenic, in which Jelenic asked him for “a favour” after the beginning of the investigation, but did not go into details. Later that day, Jelenic said that Gabric was trying to influence the investigation into the Dnevno.hr journalists.
Appearing on Wednesday’s N1 television's live programme, Gabric insinuated that one of the accused persons in the case was attempting to compromise Jelenic and that he had asked Jelenic to hand the case over to one of his deputies instead of handling it himself. Gabric refused to identify the person he claimed was attempting to implicate Jelenic in the case, or to clarify how Jelenic could be compromised.
To prove his point, Gabric brought printouts of what he claimed were WhatsApp messages he had exchanged with Jelenic earlier this month.
In the press release announcing his resignation sent later on Wednesday, Jelenic said that he had done his work “with pride, commitment, professionalism, and honesty.”
“Even though my term as chief state prosecutor will end early due to my resignation, I leave that post with a clean conscience,” he said.