STA, 8 April 2019 - POP TV reported on Monday that the Croatian government had used an intermediary to try to prevent the commercial broadcaster's news portal from revealing that the Croatian intelligence agency SOA was behind the tapping of the phone calls between Slovenia's judge and agent in the border arbitration.
It was 24ur.com which reported last week that the communication between Jernej Sekolec and agent Simona Drenik, who were not allowed to communicate with each other, was reportedly picked up in July 2015 by SOA operative Davor Franić.
The recorded conversations were leaked the same month only to have Croatia declare the border arbitration process "irrevocably compromised".
POP TV journalist Jure Tepina said today that a day before the portal planned to publish the name and a photograph of the Croatian operative, a phone call came from a person asking the portal not to run the story.
"The lobbyist who contacted us was not even aware of the consequences, and he did not know who had actually ordered the attempt to put pressure on an independent Slovenian media house," Tepina said.
"The intention to run the story was known only to two POP TV journalists. Croatia could have learned about this only with special intelligence methods," he added, suggesting that Croatia is spying on journalists.
Tepina said that it was not the only attempt from Croatia to prevent the name of the Croatian operative and the conspiracy by the SOA from being revealed to the Slovenian and foreign public.
"A member of the management board of one of the most influential Croatian media houses and a good friend of numerous Croatian politicians tried to prevent or even bribe a director of a foreign multinational to put pressure on POP TV."
POP TV revealed in its evening news show later in the day that the high-ranking media official was Ivan Tolj, a 51-year-old Franciscan priest "with great influence on the Croatian media".
Citing Croatian media reports, Tepina said in an article posted on 24ur.com that Tolj headed a small parish in Bosnia but spent most of his days in Zagreb, working as a representative of Styria, the Austrian-owned publisher of Večernji List, the paper that first ran the Sekolec-Drenik wire taps in 2015.
Tolj also seems to be close to the Croatian political elite. He has hosted President Kolinda Grabar Kitarović in his home town in Bosnia a number of times, according to Tepina. He was a friend of former Prime Minister Ivica Račan and an ally of former President Ivo Josipović.
24ur.com has published an audio recording of the conversation, in which Tolj says he "has a proposal from the Croatian government" and asks for help. He asks the person on the other side of the line whether he had "influence on POP TV".
Croatia officially denies the report about its intelligence agency being behind the wiretapping and claims that the story is a fabrication.
If this is so, the question is "why the Croatian side would bother so much to influence a foreign media house and prevent the release of a story, for which it claims, without any proof, that it is a fabrication", Tepina wonders.
Croatia has been rejecting any responsibility for the recordings of the conversations between Sekolec and Drenik, which were first published by the Croatian media.