Slovenia graft scandal takes new turn

Slovenia has asked the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE to make another program on the Patria affair.

Source: B92

This time, official Ljubljana says, it should "fill the gaps in the allegations" it previously made.

In the meanwhile, the graft affair, dubbed Patria, continues to shake Slovenia, coinciding with an election campaign that is heating up, where Prime Minister’s Janez Janša’s ruling Slovenian Democratic Alliance and the opposition left-wing Party of the Slovenian Democrats, are almost neck and neck in the polls.

The YLE investigative program MOT earlier this month accused Janša of having taken bribes in connection with the sale to Slovenia of armored modular vehicles and 120mm mortars by the Finnish defense equipment manufacturer Patria.

After the second protest note the Slovenian government has sent to Finland in the past 24 hours, the Slovenian Office for Communications sent an appeal to the Finnish broadcaster to air another program, this time stating "opposing facts,” and “additional explanations regarding the truth" about the Patria affair.

This additional explanation that the office was pleading for is designed to give clear guarantees that accusations against the Slovenian officials and the Finnish company are unfounded, our reporter in Ljubljana says.

On the other hand, YLE TV1 Director Riitta Pihlajamaki reacted to statements coming from the Slovenian government, that include threats of a lawsuit against the TV outlet, by saying and she had "never heard that any democratically elected government filed suit against the media", adding that all the relevant evidence used to prepare the broadcast which Slovenia found disputable would be made public.

Pihlajamaki said that YLA TV was not trying to interfere in the Slovenian electoral process.

She told Ljubljana daily Delo that neither the Finnish government nor police in that country ever denied that information broadcast in The Truth about Patria program was true.

Meanwhile, Slovenian businessmen Rudolf Leban, engaged as "adviser for coordination" when Ljubljana struck the arms deal with the Finnish company, spoke to the press to say that he was authorized by Patria to reveal the details of his contract.

Leban received EUR 680,000 for the job, with additional EUR 180,000 in case the contract were to be extended.

"That’s far from the alleged EUR 5mn, YLA TV reported,” he told Slovenia's newspaper Finance.

But another report, this time in the daily Dnevnik, suggests that Slovenian police ignored information coming from the Austrian Interpol office.

Even though the Slovenian State Prosecution maintains that they are doing their job, it transpired that the Austrians earlier sent information explaining why the roles of Walter Wolf and Wolfgang Riddle, the two middlemen in Patria’s business dealings with Slovenia, needed to be checked.

After the Slovenian defense minister signed the contract with Patria in 2006, Riddle received a commission of EUR 2.3mn, to transfer the money to Wolf.

The Austrian authorities suspected money laundering and other offenses, when Wolf’s bank warned them about the suspicious transactions and blocked his account.

Having been notified about that, Austrian Interpol notified the Slovenian police.

But, they failed to react for more than a year, unlike the Finland police that started gathering evidence and launched a pre-trial investigation that led to the arrests of some of Patria’s top brass.

The information about the Interpol note challenges claims of Slovenian defense minister

Karel Erjavec, who publically denied allegations of Slovenia's involved in Patria’s corruption scandals.

Reports that Finnish investigators were in Slovenia a year ago to look into the involvement of Slovenian nationals in the controversial business dealings were also denied.

Faced with all this, the Slovenian opposition is asking the minister this question: “Is it possible that the Finns were in Slovenia to bribe themselves?”


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Region Sunday, September 28, 2008 10:45 Comments: 0
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