STA, 7 March 2019 - The Ljubljana District Court acquitted Ljubljana Mayor Zoran Janković of bribery charges in the Gratel case on Thursday. The prosecution sought a three-year prison sentence and a EUR 50,000 fine for Janković. It also wanted the Ljubljana municipality to return the donation it received from the company Gratel.
The ruling is not final yet and prosecutor Blanka Žgajnar announced an appeal.
The case concerns EUR 500,000 which the mayor demanded from construction company Gratel in March 2007 to allow it to dig roads to install optic cables.
Gratel then transferred two EUR 250,000 instalments to the municipality as a donation for the renovation of Ljubljana Castle.
This enabled it to resume its work under a new development permit after Janković had initially banned Gratel from digging on public premises.
Janković argued that the payment had been made in compensation for the damage incurred by the city because Gratel had dug up wider conduits and installed more cables than agreed.
He maintained throughout the trial there was nothing wrong with a company making a donation to a public institution, saying it caused no harm to anyone and nobody except the prosecutor was claiming anything back.
Gratel owner Jurij Krč backed up his story, saying the donation to Ljubljana Castle was not a bribe but a payment in line with the contract, while former Gratel CEO Drago Štrafela said he did not understand why the money should be paid to the municipality, arguing the city suffered no damage.
In presenting closing arguments today, prosecutor Žgajnar said Janković had used his power to pressure Gratel into the donation. "When they did that, he allowed them to continue the work," she said.
"Donations are not forbidden if they are voluntary," she stressed, adding that three witnesses had confirmed that the defendant had demanded money. She believes that the one witness who did not confirm this was not telling the truth.
But Judge Vladislava Lunder said today that the evidence presented had not corroborated the claim that Janković had demanded a bribe and that none of the witnesses had confirmed this.
"None of the witnesses confirmed the claim that Janković made obtaining the permit conditional on the payment of the damages," the judge said.
The problems of the project as part of which Gratel was building an optical network for operator T-2 had started in 2006, which is before Janković became mayor. According to Lunder, not only testimonies of witnesses but also documents presented as evidence showed this.
The judge was not convinced by the prosecutor's claim that Janković had revoked the permit to Gratel only to allow it to continue work once it paid a bribe.
Žgajnar moreover said that Štrafela had softened his statements compared to those he had given to police during the investigation. She believes it was him who had made the deal with Janković.
Janković's lawyer, Janez Koščak, said that no proceeding had been filed against the person who allegedly paid the bribe so technically there was no bribe to be accepted by Janković or the municipality.
He said Janković was on trial for acting with due care and diligence by demanding compensation after a contract partner had violated the contract. "If he hadn't done that he could be indicted for negligence."
Janković said today the had been the target of a political campaign by four persons, including Žgajnar, for the last four years. He believes this attack had been triggered by a "pamphlet of the parliamentary enquiry which was led by Alenka Jeraj of the SDS."
Jeraj of the opposition Democrats led between 2009 and 2011 a parliamentary inquiry into major public construction projects and other major investments funded from the Ljubljana or state budgets.
The final report of the inquiry commission, which had also investigated construction deals of companies owned by Janković's family members, suggested that Janković abused his power to allow his sons to profit from a re-zoning plan that opened agricultural land for construction.
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