Slovenia Launches Second Legal Action Against Croatia Over NLB

By , 29 Mar 2018, 20:22 PM Business
Slovenia Launches Second Legal Action Against Croatia Over NLB Wikimedia - Cédric Puisney, CC by 2.0

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The first was over the border. 

STA, 29 March, 2018 - Slovenia is preparing a second legal action against Croatia before the EU Court of Justice, this time over the damages suits against the NLB bank and its precursor stemming from Yugoslav-era deposits, the STA has learned from well-placed sources.

The lawsuit, which follows the one prompted by Croatia's refusal to implement the border arbitration award, is to be ready before the end of the current parliament's term, the STA learnt unofficially.

The Foreign Ministry would not comment on the information, but said that Slovenia had protested several times in the strongest terms against Croatia's unacceptable conduct in the matter, most recently with a diplomatic note on Wednesday.

"Slovenia is also considering several avenues to ensure compliance with international and EU law and with Slovenia's Constitution and law - from intervention by the European Commission to available legal means. Decisions on concrete steps ... will be taken later," the ministry said.

Croatia has been leading a legal battle in its courts trying to claim from NLB money for the Yugoslav-era foreign-currency deposits with the Zagreb branch of the defunct LB bank which the holders had already recovered from Croatia.

This is despite that Croatia had confirmed, by signing the 2001 Succession Agreement as well as the Mokrice memorandum of 2013, the view that the issue is a matter of succession to the former Yugoslavia.

NLB could be facing up to EUR 400m in damages, the cost of interest included, should the Croatian banks representing the Croatian state in court cases succeed in all their claims.

Slovenia brought its first lawsuit against Croatia over the matter in September 2016 at the European Court of Human Rights demanding at least EUR 360m in compensation for the LB Zagreb branch.

In that suit, which is still pending, Slovenia alleges multiple violations of the European Convention of Human Rights stemming from LB's inability to recover debt from Croatian companies incurred in the 1990s in Croatian courts.

This time Slovenia will take Croatia to the EU Court of Justice alleging contravention of European rules. The case is being prepared by a group of Slovenian legal experts.

While it has not been disclosed what the legal argument will be, Slovenia's positions so far would indicate it will argue Croatia is breaching its own commitments under international law.

In the intergovernmental Mokrice memorandum, Croatia committed to stay all legal proceedings against LB and NLB until the countries reach a conclusive solution to the deposits issue.

Despite the commitment, procedures before Croatian courts have been continuing. What is more, NLB has already seen its assets seized through enforcement, while NLB paid damages in one of the suits itself.

Croatian courts perceive NLB as a legal successor to LB despite a Slovenian constitutional law providing to the contrary, but not when it comes to LB's claims against Croatian legal entities where NLB is not recognised as a party to procedure, and procedures in these cases have been in limbo for years.

Slovenia plans to protect its assets also by amending the constitutional act to prevent NLB from settling damages stemming from the LB deposits taken over by Croatia.

Should NLB's assets in Croatia be confiscated, Slovenia would take compensation measures through enforcement on the assets of Croatian companies in majority state-ownership in Slovenia via the Financial Administration.

This proposal of the constitutional amendment is being deliberated on by a group of experts. Once the legal dilemmas are cleared, the parliament's Constitution Commission will resume debate on the proposal.

The issue is separate from the LB deposit holders who did not opt to transfer their savings to Croatia, and who are being compensated by Slovenia under a 2014 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights.

Under this ruling, Slovenia will compensate around 230,000 account holders of former LB subsidiaries in Sarajevo and Zagreb.

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