Corruption Suspected in Deal for Anti-Migrant Border Fence with Croatia

By , 08 Mar 2019, 10:30 AM Politics
The border fence being erected The border fence being erected totalcroatianews.com

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STA, 6 March 2019 - Transparency International Slovenija (TI) has reported the director of the Agency for Commodity Reserves Anton Zakrajšek to the state prosecution over suspected abuse of office in the procurement of what is currently a 179-km fence on the border with Croatia.

 

Following allegations that the procurement of the fencing favoured a specific contractor, TI obtained part of the documentation after almost three years of efforts, receiving a nod from the Information Commissioner and engaging in a tug-of-war with the agency in courts.

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Screenshot from YouTube

TI believes Zakrajšek abused his powers when signing a razor wire contract with Minis in 2015 which included the provision of an advance payment of EUR 860,832 or 70% of the contract's total value.

Minis has been the main supplier of "technical obstacles" that Slovenia started erecting on the Croatian border during the migration crisis. It has received more than EUR 9.3m from the agency, while the remaining suppliers have been paid a total of EUR 6m, the newspaper Dnevnik reported today.

TI says the agency would have required special consent from the finance minister for the advance payment, which it does not appear to have received, while Zakrajšek is arguing the payment had never been executed.

The official, who is adamant that Minis was always picked as the cheapest bidder, argues the advance payment had been conditional on the supplier securing a bank guarantee in the full amount of the payment, which it failed to do.

What is more, the Finance Ministry said this provision only applied to direct budget users, while the agency is not defined as a budget user at all.

TI responded by saying "the alleged advance payment is only one of the suspicions elements, while confirming or rejecting the suspicion is in the domain of the relevant authorities". The NGO told the STA it saw no reason to withdraw its report.

TI only asked for a portion of the documents, as much of the fence procurement documentation remained classified as internal. The STA has not yet received an answer from the government about whether it planned to declassify them.

The agency said in a press release in the afternoon that the documents were classified because their contents could put in jeopardy the government's objectives to regulate migration flow.

Moreover, Zakrajšek said in the press release that the agency had asked Minis for a bid because the company had already been cooperating with the Interior Ministry at that point and the department had no complaints. The Interior Ministry also provided the specifications for the fence, the press release said.

The fencing contracts, signed under special provisions governing procurement in cases labelled classified, have been raising eyebrows for some time.

Alenka Bratušek, the head of the SAB party who was an MP at the time, caused waves after a 2017 session of the parliamentary Commission for Public Finance Oversight, when she claimed the documents studied had been manipulated with and that the chosen bidder had not been the cheapest.

SAB secretary general Jernej Pavlič said today that Bratušek had forwarded her findings at the time to the prosecution.

Zakrajšek insists the chosen bidder had been the cheapest and fastest and claims Bratušek is misleading with her accusation, which he says is based on a mistake that occurred in one of the minutes.

Media have also been wondering about the choice of Minis, with POP TV reporting on Tuesday that the company and a local office of the Modern Centre Party (SMC), the senior coalition party between 2014 and 2018, shared the same address for a while.

SMC leader Miro Cerar responded to the reports by saying the intensive migration pressure in 2015 required the decision to protect people and property.

"This was the task I put to the ministers," he said, expressing his belief the decisions followed professional criteria and legal obligations. "I believe Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek acted in due fashion."

All our stories on corruption and Slovenia are here

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