President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic asked for a report from the head of the Security and Intelligence Agency SOA about the so-called Text Message Affair, N1 television learned on Wednesday from sources close to the President, adding that Grabar-Kitarovic wanted the report to focus on "facts related to national security."
According to N1 sources, Grabar-Kitarovic has not been briefed about the affair so far, either from SOA or any other government institution, although she insists that the investigation should be “completed as soon as possible, so that all the facts can be determined.”
The statement comes only a day after police searched the home of a key suspect in the affair, an IT expert formerly employed by the Croatian police, Franjo Varga, coinciding with fresh media allegations that Varga is suspected of aiding illegal spying of electronic communication of four persons.
According to N1 sources, Grabar-Kitarovic was also quoted as saying on Wednesday that she had “no knowledge” whether or how the persons that the key persons involved in the so-called Text Message Affair, Franjo Varga and Milijan Brkic, had anything to do with her 2014 election campaign.
However, she added, neither Brkic nor Varga were part of the “closest circle of her associates” with whom she prepared and ran her campaign.
Media allegations centre on Brkic and Varga
According to investigative weekly Nacional, a prominent member of the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and Deputy Parliament Speaker, Milijan Brkic, had hired Varga through his close friend Blaz Curic to spy illegally on electronic correspondence of four people on behalf of Brkic and his brother Jozo Brkic.
According to Nacional which cited leaked police investigation reports, the persons spied on were Brkic’s ex wife, as well as two younger women referred to only by their initials which are thought to have provoked Milijan and Jozo Brkic’s romantic interest, one of which is also a HDZ party member and a local government official in the Split-Dalmatia County.
Both Varga and Curic had been arrested in September last year in an investigation over forged text messages. Varga was arrested on the suspicion that he had produced forged text message correspondence for the convicted football mogul Zdravko Mamic, which Mamic then used in the closing stages of his embezzelement trial to claim that he was being framed by state prosecutors. In spite of this, Mamic was convicted to six and a half years in prison in June, but subsequently fled to neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina, and later successfully fought Croatia’s extradition request.
Curic, who was at the time official driver to HDZ’s Agriculture Minister, Tomislav Tolusic, was arrested several days after Varga, under suspicion that he had notified Varga of the ongoing police investigation against him, with phone records indicating he might have warned Varga of his impending arrest.
Varga and Curic were both released in March after spending the legally mandated maximum of six months in pre-trial custody.
Media connect Varga with Grabar-Kitarovic’s 2014 election campaign
In his deposition to investigators, Varga reportedly told investigators about his cooperation with former leader of the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), Tomislav Karamarko, and his second in command Milijan Brkic, as well as with former Agrokor owner Ivica Todoric and President Grabar-Kitarovic adviser Vlado Galic, who had allegedly introduced Varga to Karamarko.
This repeats her earlier refutal from November 2018, after local media cited Varga’s deposition leaked from investigators, according to which Varga claimed he had been hired by HDZ to work on HDZ-backed Grabar-Kitarovic’s 2014 election campaign.
At the time, Grabar-Kitarovic commented on the allegations by saying that her advisor Vlado Galic told her he had been in contact with Varga twice during the campaign, “when various trolls and websites which promoted hate speech appeared.”
“But Varga didn’t work for the campaign. No services were asked of him nor did we create any trolls. Frankly, I was too busy with the election programme at the time to think about logistics. I only know that I told my associates at the start of the campaign that I wanted everything to be clean, no dirty deals. As you know, during the campaign I never condemned anyone but talked about work and performance, and I never let anyone be personally attacked,” Grabar-Kitarovic told reporters in mid-November.
But in mid-December, Galic resigned, for what the President’s office vaguely described as “moral and ethical reasons.”