Politics

22 Feb 2020, 09:54 AM

STA, 21 February - Police Commissioner Tatjana Bobnar is to file a defamation complaint against Žan Mahnič, a Democrats (SDS) MP and vice chair of the parliamentary Commission for the Oversight of Intelligence and Security Services (KNOVS) after he had accused her of lying about alleged spying on politicians by the police and called on her to resign.

The police said in a press release late on Thursday that Bobnar would lodge a complaint against Mahnič over "misleading and malicious statements and an attack on her honour, good name and integrity".

"It has apparently become a habit of some politicians to try and shape public opinion" by intentionally repeating lies, the police said after Mahnič called on Bobnar to resign.

Mahnič said the fact that the police had launched a preliminary investigation into the spying allegations - Bobnar spoke on Thursday of an investigation against possible spying by individuals outside the police force - was proof that she had been lying to KNOVS members as they had made an inquiry on Tuesday, and should thus resign.

The MP said in a tweet yesterday that the launch of the preliminary investigation in and of itself meant that there is reasonable suspicion that politicians had been spied on.

Bobnar told him and two other KNOVS members, who made an unannounced visit to the police on Tuesday, that the allegations were "fabrications of some web portal and that procedures cannot be launched over every article," said Mahnič in reference to reports about spying allegations published by the SDS-launched weekly Demokracija and the news portal Požareport.

The police responded in the evening, saying that "in line with the principle of legality, police always investigated to see if there is reasonable suspicion for criminal acts of which perpetrators are prosecuted ex officio.

"The police have done this in this concrete case as well, but the launch of a preliminary investigation is far from reasonable suspicion and cannot be launched because of something that has, in Mahnič's words, been known for a long time," the police also said.

22 Feb 2020, 09:34 AM

STA, 18 February 2020 - The Democrats (SDS) called on Tuesday for an emergency session of the parliamentary Public Finance Oversight Commission to examine a cooperation memorandum signed last September by the state-controlled energy company Petrol with a Russian company subject to US sanctions.

The memorandum with T Plus was signed as part of a visit to Moscow by outgoing Prime Minister Marjan Šarec and envisages cooperation with the T Plus Group and Schneider Electric Russia in the field of energy efficiency.

Petrol's chairman at the time Tomaž Berločnik said the two projects planned involved work on the optimisation of district heating. He valued them at "a few million euro" and potentially at a few dozen million in the future.

However, citing documents published by the US Department of the Treasury, the SDS is pointing out that T Plus is part of the Russian Renova Group, which is subject to US sanctions along with its billionaire owner Viktor Felixovich Vekselberg.

The sanctions were introduced in April 2018 over interference in the 2016 US presidential election, with the US also freezing Vekselberg's assets.

The SDS is puzzled by how the government, Foreign Ministry and the SOVA intelligence agency could allow the memorandum to be signed, and what is even worse, to be signed during Šarec's official visit to Moscow.

The party claims all of the listed institutions as well as the PM and the management and supervisory bodies of Petrol and state asset manager SSH had obviously failed to fulfil their duties.

The SDS says that Petrol now runs the danger of becoming subject to retaliation measures on the part of the US, which could undermine government revenue and the value of state assets, while the SSH and government could also be compromised.

"The signing of the memorandum under to auspices of the Slovenian government could also bring negative consequences for other areas of transatlantic cooperation," the party wrote.

The SDS is thus proposing that the Public Finance Oversight Commission ask the government to have the SSH draw up a report on the matter, to have Petrol withdraw from the memorandum and to have authorities examine whether official duties were neglected, money laundered or terrorism financed as part of the memorandum signing.

21 Feb 2020, 09:43 AM

STA, 20 February 2020 - Slovenian President Borut Pahor has sent a letter of condolences to his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier over Wednesday's terrorist attacks in Hanau, which has left eleven people dead, including the suspected perpetrator and his mother.

In the letter, Pahor expressed his condolences and compassion to the families and relatives of the victims on behalf of Slovenia, says a post on the president's official Twitter account.

A subsequent tweet added that the "president condemns any violence which endangers tolerance and coexistence, without which it is impossible to build a safe future for all."

Foreign Minister Miro Cerar also expressed Slovenia's solidarity with Germany in a tweet today. He extended his "sincere condolences" to his German counterpart Heiko Maas and the relatives of the victims.

The town in the German state of Hesse, located 25 km east of Frankfurt, saw two separate armed attacks on Wednesday evening and night, in which at least nine people were killed.

Several hours after the attacks, the police found in an apartment the dead body of the suspected shooter along his dead mother. The German federal prosecution is treating the attacks as an act of terrorism.

20 Feb 2020, 11:34 AM

STA, 20 February 2020 - The parliamentary Culture Committee called on the corruption watchdog last night to look into appointments of heads of culture institutions made by the Culture Ministry due to suspicions of politically-motivated staffing. Culture Minister Zoran Poznič denies the allegations.

The committee session was called by the Left, which claims that Poznič, a member of the Social Democrats (SD), has been appointing people linked to the party to top positions in some of the main public institutions.

The Commission for the Prevention of Corruption (KPK) will thus look into appointments and attempts to replace heads at the Technical Museum, the Slovenian Philharmonic and the Modern Gallery museum.

Poznič defended the decision to appoint a translator to the helm of the Technical Museum late last year despite the fact that the museum's council and expert board found that director Nataša Polenec was the only candidate to meet the conditions from the call for applications.

Poznič said Polenec was replaced because he was unhappy with the way she led the museum. However, Polenec challenged the appointment of Barbara Juršič in administrative court. She achieved a temporary suspension and took over from Juršič after only ten days.

Luka Mesec of the Left said in the debate that the head of the Book Agency was facing dismissal by the ministry and criticised the situation in the Ljubljana Opera House after the appointment of Staš Ravter, who was allegedly responsible for the closure of the Kinodvor cinema years ago.

Poznič on the other hand, denied the allegations of political staffing and expressed anger over "half-truths and lies" reported by the media.

According to these reports, his predecessor Dejan Prešiček is a candidate for several jobs, Poznič said, while one of the employees in his office was reportedly to replace Zdenka Badovinac at the helm of the Modern Gallery, which Poznič said was absurd.

Poznič wants, according to the Left, to appoint Prešiček head of the Philharmonics. Indeed, the minister has launched the procedure to dismiss Philharmonic director Marjetka Mahne, citing poor business results.

Mahne, in response, said that she had complete control over the use of public funds. Most of the ensemble wants Mahne to stay, while the Philharmonics' two governing bodies have called on her to resign.

20 Feb 2020, 09:36 AM

STA, 19 February 2020 - Tensions are running high as the police and the Democrats (SDS) clashed over the jurisdiction of the parliamentary Commission for Intelligence and Security Services Oversight (KNOVS), which wanted to investigate on Tuesday allegations that police had been spying on coalition party heads on behalf of outgoing Prime Minister Marjan Šarec.

Three KNOVS members made an unannounced visit to the police headquarters yesterday, investigating the suspicion that Šarec and his state secretary Damir Črnčec abused the police to gain information to extort party leaders in coalition-building talks with the SDS.

Šarec and Črnčec - the latter ran both national intelligence agencies under Janša's rule - both denied the allegations, with Šarec saying that the media "close to the SDS...are obviously describing their own methods".

He believes the SDS, whose MP Žan Mahnič led Tuesday's visit by KNOVS, is abusing the commission for political purposes.

"Independent institutions are investigating Hungarian funds which are flowing we all know where and attention has to be diverted," he said in reference to alleged by-bass funding of the SDS or the media associated with the party through circles close to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Črnčec denied the allegation through his lawyer, and posted a lengthy post on Facebook this morning, criticising Janša. He also wondered why and for how much Janša had "sold Slovenia's national interests to Hungary".

He said in a post that Janša's and him parted ways parted when he had realised that "the SDS apparatus operates on the principles of a mafia business, where all paths lead to its leader and his inner circle".

Meanwhile, the police force also issued a determined response, underlining it is not "a dislocated unit of any politician or of any political organisation."

Police Commissioner Tatjana Bobnar said in a statement that the three members of KNOVS had tried to gain access to information that were beyond the scope of their legal powers.

The police said they wanted the names of police officers who potentially accessed records of certain MPs and information about ongoing investigations, including in cases without covert methods, the latter being in the domain of KNOVS.

Bobnar said the police would not give in to pressure from anybody and called for an election campaign built on arguments and not made-up stories at the expense of the police force and threats to its leadership. She vowed that the police would do everything in its power to prevent the spread of fake news within the force.

She also noted KNOVS deputy chair Žan Mahnič warned her she might want to think about her future because she would face criminal charges if the commission finds out that she was covering up political abuse of the police force. The statement interpreted as a threat was witnessed by Bobnar's deputy, as well as the boss of the criminal police departments.

Mahnič later tried to downplay this, announcing that a different parliamentary commission that is already looking into alleged politically-motivated prosecution would look into the spying allegations and demand the material that was denied to KNOVS.

The commission demands that the police provide within 10 days a list of all interventions into police records for any of the 90 MPs, all the cabinet ministers and the outgoing prime minister.

The General Police Administration said that the police had started checking the allegations and that the state prosecution would be kept informed.

Most parliamentary parties have expressed concern over the allegations. They believe that the matter should be investigated and all suspicions clarified.

According to reports by news portal Požareport, the alleged mission by Črnčec and Šarec targeted friends of Zdravko Počivalšek, the outgoing minister of economy and the head of the Modern Centre Party (SMC) and MPs of the SMC, as well as MPs of the Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) and of the Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB).

Meanwhile, the Left's MP Miha Kordiš labelled the developments as usual political scandaling, and took aim at the SDS.

The party and Janša have abused state institutions many times, he said, adding that Črnčec also belonged to that school of thought. It would not be surprising if the prime minister "has developed this bad habit too", he said.

19 Feb 2020, 13:48 PM

STA, 19 February 2020 - Prime Minister Marjan Šarec has denied allegations that he and his State Secretary Damir Črnčec demanded information from the police about party officials in coalition-building talks with the Democrats (SDS) so as to pressure them to withdraw from the talks.

"When various portals close to the SDS report that I ordered lists and whatever else about parties in government negotiations it is clear that they are describing their own methods," Šarec tweeted last night.

"This is an attack on the police force without comparison. I believe that things would work that way with [SDS]. Maybe they already did in the past," he also said in the tweet posted after it was reported that the parliamentary Commission for the Oversight of Intelligence and Security Services (KNOVS) had visited the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) [that story is here].

On Facebook this morning Šarec said: "This is the same scenario all over again; a few KNOVS members make an unannounced visit to the NBI and the police. Because the NBI is allegedly being abused to persecute political opponents.

"But in truth, KNOVS is the one being abused and nobody else. Independent institutions are investigating Hungarian funds which are flowing we all know where and attention has to be diverted."

Yesterday's inspection was headed by KNOVS vice president Žan Mahnič, a member of the SDS, the party associated with media that have allegedly received funding from circles close to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

It was reported last week that the NBI was investigating alleged funding from Hungary to two media outlets close to the SDS, which the SDS has no denied. However, the police said yesterday in relation to this that they were not investigating illegal funding of political parties but a criminal act investigated ex officio.

Šarec's State Secretary Črnčec issued a statement through his lawyer last night denying reports by the right-leaning Demokracija that he had spun a web of spies.

This morning, he also took to Facebook, posting a strong-worded criticism of SDS leader Janez Janša. Črnčec used to be an associate of Janša's and was appointed the head of the Intelligence and Security Agency at the Ministry of Defence in 2005 when Janša was first prime minister and became the head of the National Intelligence and Security Agency SOVA in 2012 when Janša was prime minister a second time.

Today, he said that Janša's modus operandi was harmful to democracy and right-wing political parties. He said that their ways parted when he realised that "the SDS apparatus operates on the principles of a mafia business, where all paths lead to its leader and his inner circle".

He said he needed a while to realise the ramifications of Janša's modus operandi, which, he says entails submissiveness to foreigners while systemically undermining vital social subsystems, like freedom of speech and other constitutional values, in Slovenia.

"Yesterday's fake news about alleged mass espionage, the abuse of KNOVS by MPs of the SDS, and the attack on the police show how close Slovenia is to slipping into Janševist authoritarianism, funded with no-good money from abroad."

In his post, Črnčec also wonders "why and for how many Judas silver coins or millions did [Janša] sell Slovenia's national interests to its eastern neighbour".

19 Feb 2020, 12:44 PM

STA, 18 February 2020 - The parliamentary Commission for Intelligence and Security Services Oversight performed an unannounced inspection at the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI; Nacionalnega preiskovalnega urada – NPU; “Slovenia’s FBI”) on Tuesday, investigating suspicion that pressure was being exerted on political officials participating in coalition-building talks conducted by the Democrats. The police strongly rejected this.

Commission vice president Žan Mahnič, a member of the Democrats (SDS), told the STA that three commission members visited the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on suspicion that outgoing Prime Minister Marjan Šarec and his state secretary Damir Črnčec had abused intelligence and security services to "influence, threaten and extort MPs and leaderships of parties of the potential future coalition".

Related: Interview With the Head of Slovenia’s National Bureau of Investigations

Mahnič was accompanies to the NBI by his party colleague Zvonko Černač, and Branko Simonovič of the Pensioners' Party (DeSUS), which is also in talks for the potential new coalition.

This comes after newsportal Požareport reported that Črnčec has delivered to certain criminal police officers "a list of people who had to be processed for information".

This alleged mission reportedly targetted friends of Zdravko Počivalšek, the outgoing minister of economy and the head of the Modern centre Party (SMC) and MPs of the SMC, as well as MPs of DeSUS and of the Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB), the portal said.

It added that criminal police had also been looking into privatisation of spa operator Terme Olimija, where Počivalšek served as CEO for a long period before becoming economy minister.

Commercial broadcaster Kanal A reported that KNOVS members spent an hour and a half talking to Police Commissioner Tatjana Bobnar. Mahnič told the STA the group could not perform the inspection in its entirety because Bobnar had blocked them.

"We wanted to see who of the employees might have gone through records of certain MPs and politicians in the past days and weeks, but she would not permit it," Mahnič said.

The police, meanwhile, released a strong-worded response, rejecting the reports that criminal police officers were looking into party officials at the order of the prime minister's office. "We are not a dislocated unit of any politician or of any political organisation."

"Background checks of people for political reasons are not a part of the police job description, legally defined or otherwise. The police does not investigate a list of politicians and their families based on an order.

"There are no confidants in the police to carry out such operations on the orders of any politician, and the collecting of useful information is not the police force's job."

The police sees the developments as a result of "mutual accusations in different media among different sides, who show a distorted image of the police force's work".

"In order to get the police force to engage in the debate, and operating under the principle of the goal justifying the means, they are discrediting certain units, the leadership and individuals within the force."

The General Police Administration believes that the goal is to destabilise the criminal police force, reduce its effectiveness and indirectly influence its work in concrete investigations. However, the police force will not give in, the statement says.

The statement also touched on the recent reports about alleged funding of the SDS from Hungary being investigated by the NBI, saying that the NBI "is not investigating illegal funding of political parties, but has been investigating since March 2018 suspicions that a criminal act had been committed for which the perpetrator must be persecuted ex officio.

"Irrespective of the suspect in this case, the police will, now and in the future, carry out the investigation with expertise and in line with the law, no matter the pressure exerted."

Črnčec meanwhile issued a statement through his lawyer, denying a report posted on the website of the right-leaning Demokracij that he had established a network of spies to exert pressure on party officials.

He also said that he had not subjected to himself the police or intelligence services and abused his previous positions. Črnčec served as director general of the Intelligence and Security Agency at the Ministry of Defence between 2005 and 2012, after which he was appointed director of the intelligence and security service SOVA.

18 Feb 2020, 14:43 PM

STA, 18 February 2020 - The Culture Ministry joined on Tuesday the condemnation of different forms of attacks on journalists reporting about alleged funding from circles around Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban of media with ties to the Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS).

Echoing last week's reaction by the Journalists' Association (DNS), the ministry wrote that the recent outburst of public stigmatisation and even street assaults on journalists is a worrying indication that pressure is escalating.

Undermining the independence of media and attacks on journalists present a serious challenge for democracy, as nobody can perform their work at the highest possible level if they are not safe.

"Violence, harassment and bullying targeting journalists and often also their families does not only cause fear among them but also mistrust and uncertainty in society at large," the ministry wrote, noting undermined freedom of speech leads to poorly informed voters.

It pointed out that reports on the safety of journalists have been included by the European Commission in the regular monitoring of the state of the rule of law in member states, with rising pressure on journalists also appearing in countries with long democratic traditions.

Verbal attacks and bullying, especially when coming from public figures, are often only one step away from physical forms of violence, the ministry said, pointing to reports of international organisations about this becoming a trend in many countries especially before elections.

The ministry said it would continue to push for comprehensive efforts to secure a safe environment for journalists, including with the currently shelved new media bill that entails greater autonomy and social security for journalist and greater transparency of the operations and financing of media outlets.

All our stories on Hungary and the media are here

18 Feb 2020, 11:02 AM

STA, 17 February - Slovenian Foreign Minister Miro Cerar has assessed that the EU 7-year spending plan recently proposed by European Council President Charles Michel is still inadequate for Slovenia. There are slight improvements in cohesion policy in comparison with the previous proposals, but this is not enough, Cerar believes.

The foreign minister assessed the compromise proposal for the 2021-2027 EU budget to the press in Brussels on Monday as he is attending a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council.

Cerar pointed to the Slovenian priorities, which are keeping cohesion funds at an appropriate level, an appropriate solution for Western Slovenia, the more developed of the two Slovenian cohesion regions, and an increase in funds for rural development.

The minister noted that the outgoing Prime Minister Marjan Šarec was the main negotiator, and that Foreign Ministry State Secretary Matej Marn would represent Slovenia's position at a working meeting in the afternoon.

This will be the first meeting after Michel presented the proposal based on talks with the EU 27 leaders, which is not significantly different than the December proposal by the Finnish EU presidency, which satisfied no one.

Michel has proposed a budget worth EUR 1,095 billion or 1.074% of the gross domestic product of the EU 27. This is very close to the Finnish proposal and much less than the European Commission's proposal, but still much more than the net contributors would be willing to pay.

Support for new Libyan action

Cerar also announced that the EU would launch a new operation in the Mediterranean Sea to ensure the implementation of the embargo on arms imports in Libya, which was to upgrade the current operation Sophia.

The EU wants to be active on land, at sea and in the air in preventing arms trafficking which facilitates conflict in Libya, he said, adding he was happy that a commitment had been made today at the political level.

According to Cerar, specific aspects of the new operation are yet to be defined, which is something the EU foreign ministers will discuss at the next meeting, in March.

It is important that the EU does not allow the vacuum which is being created in Libya and around it to be filled by countries such as Turkey and Russia, he said, adding that the EU must show it was a partner to Africa.

Cerar noted that the operation would cover a slightly different area than Sophia, as it would be focused on the east of the Mediterranean, on the routes used to bring arms to Libya.

He stressed that it should not be understood as an invitation for migrants as it was a military, and not a humanitarian operation. "If migrations increase because of the operation, it will have to be aborted."

The purpose of the operation is to mitigate the conflict and find a political solution for the hot spot that is Libya, Cerar said, adding that land operations remained a sensitive element.

18 Feb 2020, 10:05 AM

STA, 17 February 2020- The secretary general of the Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB) Jernej Pavlič rejected on Monday speculation that SAB was considering joining a potential centre-right government. "Talks on entering a Janez Janša government never took place and we'll never engage in them," he said, adding SAB's deputy group stood united in this respect.

Pavlič explained that SAB had only exchanged two emails with the head of the Democrats (SDS), informing him they could not attend the first round of talks hosted by him because of meetings scheduled for the party's bodies on the same day.

Pavlič said Janša replied by saying that SAB obviously lacked interest and was excluding itself from the talks for the time being. "He was correct in establishing this," he said.

Pavlič added that SAB, a centre-left party with 5 MPs which was part of the recently disbanded coalition, would not abandon its priorities, which include pensioners, public education and public healthcare.

"The priories are not in line with the coalition emerging under Janša. We don't intend to give up on our priorities merely to keep our seats or any other posts," Pavlič said.

As for the speculation that some of SAB's MPs may join Janša after all, he acknowledged some statements had been made or interpreted the wrong way, but added it had been clarified now that SAB will remain an opposition party in case of a Janša government and support good proposals.

SAB on the other hand still has not given up on its initiative for a new "project-based government" that would focus on key projects until a new election is called under a revised electoral law.

Talks have already been held with the Pensioners' Party (DeSUS), New Slovenia (NSi) and the SocDems and a meeting is also scheduled with the Modern Centre Party (SMC), Pavlič explained.

Scholars protest Janša

Meanwhile, a group of left-leaning scholars warned today against a potential Janša-led government, writing in a letter that this could quickly lead Slovenia into the circle of EU members listed as violators of democratic principles, the rule of law, of media independence and human rights.

Led by sociologist Rudi Rizman, the 74 scholars, among them eight former university rectors, say the SDS was unacceptable because its authoritarian and nationalist populist traits presented a great danger for democratic culture and political processes in the country.

It is also unacceptable in terms of economic and social affairs, the SDS being bent on ruthless privatisation of companies, of public education and healthcare, the petition says, while also noting the SDS is a denier of human influence on climate change.

It is moreover "completely unacceptable because it is funding its propaganda illegally from foreign sources that are closely connected to the authoritarian government of the neighbouring country, which means a serious peril to our sovereignty and financial independence".

The petition comes after a group that included Žiga Turk, the reform minister in Janša's second government, former MEP from the ranks of the SDS Romana Jordan, economists Igor Masten and Sašo Polanec, and banker Marko Voljč called last week for the formation of an inclusive and operational coalition.

They addressed a letter to all parliamentary parties bar the Left and the National Party (SNS), expressing the belief that a snap election would not change the balance of powers. It would only widen Slovenia's development gap and slow down preparations for the EU presidency in 2021.

17 Feb 2020, 11:22 AM

STA, 15 February 2020 - President Borut Pahor has expressed sadness over the "abuse of 10 February, the Foibe Remembrance Day," and regret that high representatives of Italy ignored the historical truth Slovenia and Italy established together.

Addressing a World War II commemoration on Friday in the town of Komen, not far from Slovenia's border with Italy, Pahor was quoted by his office as saying he regretted that "high representatives of the Italian state still do not respect the mutually agreed historical truth for the period between 1880 and 1956 as determined by the final report of the Slovenia and Italian mixed historic and cultural commission".

Sunday night the Italian neo-Fascist movement CasaPound put up banners describing World War II Partisans as assassins, issuing a protest following an attempt in December to deny the suffering of Slovenians at the hands of Fascists.

The banners were raised in Slovenian towns and villages on the eve of the Foibe Remembrance Day dedicated to the victims of post-WWII killings by Yugoslav Communists, many of whom were thrown in Karstic chasms called foibe in Italian.

On Monday, the Foreign Ministry condemned the smear campaign and urged the Italian authorities to respond and "take measures in accordance with their powers"

The ministry added that Slovenia respected the Italian Foibe Remembrance Day and that it expected "the same respect for Slovenian and other victims of the resistance against the occupying Fascism, in particular civilian victims who massively perished in Italian concentration camps."

Yesterday, Pahor said that he had great hopes for the joint commemoration Italy and Slovenia are preparing to mark 100 years since the Fascists burnt down the Narodni Dom community centre of the Slovenian population in Trieste.

Pahor will attend the ceremony planned for 13 July alongside his Italian counterpart Sergio Mattarella. He also expects that the building, which had been renewed, would be returned to the Slovenian minority in Italy. "It should be a great day, a turning point we all will remember with joy," he said.

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