STA, 14 January 2020 - Darko Muženič, the director of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI; Nacionalnega preiskovalnega urada - NPU), does not think there are untouchables in Slovenia, but he does think that procedures are taking too long. He also told the STA in an interview that crime investigation and prosecution should adapt to globalisation and new technologies.
In the ten years since its inception, the NBI has handled 1,100 criminal offences, filing 796 criminal complaints for criminal acts that netted a total of EUR 1.048 billion in illegal proceeds.
Calling the decision to establish the bureau visionary, Muženič says that the NBI can respond nation-wide any time and any place with all resources.
The staff includes 58 fully operative investigators, but Muženič would like to staff the bureau up, mainly with operational analysts and computer forensic specialists.
The NBI is looking for experienced crime investigators with specialist expertise to keep abreast with offenders, who use advanced technologies, virtual currencies, and even transport drugs by submarines.
"They are always in step with technological advances to cover up their activities," says Muženič, so he does not think it possible for the law enforcement to work the same way as it did 50 years ago.
The NBI cannot attract staff with wages alone. "People who come to work with us want to investigate crime and do something good," says Muženič, a former crime investigator himself.
He believes that criminal procedures in Slovenia are taking too long, wondering whether sanctions are still effective if conviction follows several years after the crime is first discovered.
He offered Italy as a good example of fast prosecution of corporate crime. "Remember the Parmalat financial fraud scandal? From detection of the crime (...) to conviction and confiscation of property, it took two years. The recent first-instance conviction in the Hypo case in Slovenia followed seven years after the criminal complaint."
Moreover, vehicles confiscated in Italy are made available to public services such as police or social services, while in Slovenia impounded vehicles "are kept stored until all procedures are concluded".
The NBI last year sought temporary seizure of assets as security against illegal proceeds in the amount of EUR 115 million.
Muženič also believes that there is still too little awareness in Slovenia about the damage financial crime causes to the country.
"In the US someone who willingly cheats employees and fails to pay tax is sent to prison for 40 years. In Slovenia such procedures take 10 to 15 years or may even become statute barred."
If failure to pay tax is seen as a sin abroad, it is still seen as being resourceful in Slovenia. "The problem is people's mentality."
Muženič lauded cooperation between the NBI, police crime investigation divisions and the Financial Administration, as well as other state bodies, but noted that resolving corporate crime takes time.
It is lengthy procedures in the past that may have caused the impression in public that there are people who are untouchable for the hand of justice, but he does not think this is true.
Muženič also notes the public misconception that someone who is subject to a house search, for example, must be guilty. This is why he disagrees with media presence during house searches.
"It's also true that when we opt for a house search, we are almost hundred percent sure that the person under investigation is also the perpetrator.
"When we draw up a complaint, we justify why we believe the suspect committed the crime. However, the court has the final say, deliberates whether evidence and our grounding are consistent enough to prove guilt."
Muženič, who took over at the NBI a few months ago having previously served as the head of the Office for Money Laundering Prevention, has made crack-down on money laundering and corruption one of his priorities.
"We don't have big international corporations, professional money launders as they have abroad. It's all done on a smaller scale, but still considerable considering the country's size."
Even though there is not much talk about that in public, the police are working on these crimes, he says.
When it comes to money laundering, Slovenia has a robust preventive system, legislation aligned with the EU, and financial institutions have good systems to detect deviations.
As one of its strategic priorities, the NBI also monitors developments in public investment projects. However, Muženič says that mainly prevention is important when it comes to public tenders.
"Procedures must be conducted transparently and so as to detect flaws on time and notify those in charge. It is the job of those who run public contracting and of effective legislation."