Economy Minister, Others Said to Be Subject of House Searches Over Ventilator Procurement Deal

By , 30 Jun 2020, 15:44 PM Politics
Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek

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STA, 30 June 2020 - The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) is reportedly conducting house searches at 11 locations today over suspected abuse of office in the March procurement of medical ventilators. According to the news portal, police have also visited the Economy Ministry and are investigating the EUR 8.8 million deal with Geneplanet.

The suspects reportedly include Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek and his senior aide Andreja Potočnik who was involved operationally in talks with the suppliers of medical and protective equipment.

Police are said to have also visited the Commodity Reserves Agency, which organised the procurement and one of whose senior employees, Ivan Gale, went public in April to speak about heavy political meddling. Gale highlighted Počivalšek and the favouring of Geneplanet, a Slovenian intermediary, in the purchasing of ventilators.

The suspects are reportedly suspected of abuse of office that resulted in grave damage to public finances, an offence that carries a prison sentence of one to eight years.

The criminal instigation, led by the specialised state prosecution, was launched two months ago, after a TV Slovenija Tarča current affairs show that featured Gale and an audio recording of Minister Počivalšek demanding that the Commodity Reserves Agency execute an advance payment to Geneplanet.

The Commodity Reserves Agency wrote that NBI officers visited the agency today and conducted an interview with its former head Anton Zakrajšek and the signatory of the contract with Geneplanet, Alojz Černe.

"The agency has consistently been cooperating constructively with all bodies investigating its past deals," the press release says.

The investigation prompted today the resignation of both Police Commissioner Anton Travner and Interior Minister Aleš Hojs. The latter suggested the operation showed the police were serving the deep state and not the citizens.

While Počivalšek, who is the head of the junior coalition Modern Centre Party (SMC), survived a no-confidence motion in parliament over opaque PPE and ventilator purchases earlier this month, a criminal complaint was also filed against him last week by the editorial board of the weekly Mladina.

The 220 Siriusmed R30 ventilators ordered through Geneplanet, a deal which Gale said had been described by Počivalšek at a meeting as a deal for the senior coalition Democrats (SDS), have been one of the central coronavirus procurement stories.

Critics have warned that the ventilators provided by Geneplanet had been picked even though an expert evaluation group had expressed reservations about them and put them at the very bottom of a list of ventilators deemed appropriate.

While critics also claimed they were outdated, pricey, and mostly delivered without essential additional equipment, the government has defended the purchase by pointing to the circumstances on markets and scarce access to ventilators in what had been the peak of the coronavirus crisis in mid-March.

The contract with Geneplanet was changed after the story broke and as the epidemiological situation improved, so the company ended up delivering 110 ventilators while also buying 20 back. According to the business newspaper Finance, the final price tag was EUR 3.6 million.

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