STA, 4 November 2021 - Environment Minister Andrej Vizjak stepped up his defence of a 2007 conversation with the businessman Bojan Petan after new recordings were published by POP TV. He told the press on Thursday that his goal was to protect the interests of the state in a takeover of the spa company Terme Čatež and he had a clear conscience.
The original recording, released in mid-October, implied that Vizjak was encouraging Petan to dodge taxes. Vizjak had described it as a "collage" and said today the latest leaked recording proved that was indeed the case as the original leak contained only fragments of the real conversation and those were put in a misleading context.
In the recording released yesterday, Vizjak, then the economy minister, is heard proposing to Petan a "gentleman's agreement" on how to move forward with the privatisation of Terme Čatež, offering a variety of solutions, for example a tie-up with nearby spa Terme Olimia, which was in the process of privatisation at the time.
He also told Petan that the way he was going about the privatisation of Terme Čatež was bound to end up in court, adding that the government would counter his moves with "all cannons" and that they might "squeeze a judge's nuts" to achieve their aims.
Vizjak acknowledged this latest recording was authentic - POP TV had it checked by forensics to prove its authenticity - but said it should be seen in the context of the management of state-owned assets at the time, when the state was still directly the owner of multiple companies, and efforts to protect state interests.
He said he wanted to "prevent actions damaging to the state" and protect state property. "That is my sin," he said, adding that he always had honest intentions.
Vizjak also regretted his statement about "squeezing a judge's nuts," which he said was made in an informal context and was inappropriate, adding: "Whoever is without sin should cast the first stone."
Vizjak also sticks by his original claim that "garbage lobbies" are behind these tapes since actions he is taking now as environment minister are threatening to destroy their exploitation of legal loopholes.
"These collages are designed to discredit me because of the projects we are conducting, in particular the bill on the protection of the environment," he said about legislation that the government adopted today.
Vizjak believes that the way Terme Čatež was acquired was a "criminal and stupid act". Petan and some other people involved are being tried in Koper for financial exhaustion of Terme Čatež, he said.
Petan is charged with two offences - abuse of office in managing a company before the takeover of Terme Čatež and abuse of office within the supervisory board of Terme Čatež and at Marina Portorož, Vizjak said.
Petan responded in writing, saying that the "truth always comes out", POP TV reported.
The head of the Directors' Association, Gorazd Podbevšek, rejected Vizjak's claim that the deal making had been in line with the rules and the laws of the time.
"This was not only unethical but also illegal 15 years ago as well. We had the companies act back then, which has to be systematically violated for someone to be making deals like that, and the takeovers act, which bans deals between parties before they make a takeover offer," Podbevšek told POP TV.
Having a minister make deals on behalf of a company and its shareholders also involves major corruption risks, he added.