Ljubljana related

23 Jan 2020, 16:56 PM

The news that Slovenia is #21 on Bloomberg’s 2020 Innovation Index, with its rise over the last 12 months due to strong patent performance, is a reminder that there’s a lot more to the country than tourism and cultural heritage. Perhaps to the surprise of visitors who only make it to Bled and Ljubljana Old Town, Slovenia is a modern country with a broad-based economy, its position strengthened by the  many research projects its scientists are involved in.

In case you missed them the first time round, here’s a brief review of some of the developments and discoveries we’ve noted on TSN over the last year or so.

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Source: YouTube

Renewable energy, better batteries and cleaner oceans

A Slovene team has developed a tandem solar cell that transforms solar energy into electricity in the most efficient manner seen to date, an important step towards photovoltaics becoming more competitive in power production.

The move to renewable energy will require new kinds of devices to store the power produced, and, Slovenian researchers are working on batteries that could end the need to mine certain minerals outside of Europe, as well as on aluminium batteries that have a greater capacity that current ones, and also contain less damaging and more readily available materials.

However, no matter what developments there are in terms of renewables, climate change is already having an impact on the environment. One sign of this is the proliferation of jellyfish blooms in the Adriatic and elsewhere. Such infestations are inspiring researchers to look for new ways to use an oversupply of jellyfish – as food, as fertilizer, and, in Slovene/Israeli project, as a way to remove microplastics from the oceans. To achieve this the project is developing a filter that makes use of jellyfish mucus to trap the tiny pieces of pollution.

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AI, quantum computers and a new form of matter

Of course, the future will be dominated by computers that are becoming ever faster, smaller and smarter, and here Slovenia also plays a part. For one, UNESCO is sponsoring a global AI research centre that will be based in Ljubljana. For another the Jožef Stefan Institute (JSI - Institut "Jozef Stefan”) and a team from Switzerland have confirmed the existence of two kinds of atypical anyon quasiparticles in a special kind of quantum magnet, Ruthenium(III) chloride – said to be a key step towards the creation of a topological quantum computer. The JSI is the country’s leading research centre, and last year researchers working there discovered an entirely new kind of matter based on “electron jamming”, one that as yet cannot be understood with existing physics.

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Source: Wikimedia Doc James CC-by-SA-4.0

Ketamine, stem cells and gene-editing

Turning to the life sciences, researchers at the Ljubljana Faculty of Medicine, the biomedical centre Celica and the National Institute of Chemistry, discovered a new molecular mechanism of action in ketamine that has potential for the development of fast-acting antidepressants. While a team involving Slovenians also published a ground-breaking cell differentiation paper that could help revolutionise personalised regenerative medicine and the use of stem cells. Another cutting edge cell technology is the CRISPR gene-editing technique, with researchers at the JSI working on new applications for this.

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Source: YouTube

The mysteries of the human fish, dolphin and honey bee

Another medical discovery, one that draws on one of the country’s most famous animals, is the decoding of the olm’s genome, with this creature perhaps better known as the “human fish” or proteus. Among the olm’s remarkable attributes are the ability to live up to 100 years, to survive (and thrive) for long periods without food, to overeat with damage to its organs, and regenerate lost limbs.

Moving from the karst to the coast, a team based in Piran watched the dolphins in the bay and learned that they share the area based on time, not space. Finally, the humble bumble bee, one of the world’s most important pollinators and another icon of Slovenia (in the form of the Carniolan Grey), has also attracted the attention of the Jožef Stefan Institute. A team there has applied machine learning to help understand the sounds the bees make, and the importance of temperature for their colonies.

You can find more discoveries, inventions and achievements in our section Made in Slovenia.

22 Jan 2020, 18:35 PM

The National Institute of Chemistry reported last week that it has acquired a new European project, NAIMA (Na-ion materials as essential components to manufacture robust battery cells for non-automotive applications), in which it will participate as a partner in the development of new sodium-ion batteries.

The NAIMA project aims to demonstrate the cost efficiency and robustness of sodium-ion batteries and prove them to be one of the best alternatives to the current lithium-based systems of energy storage. The new energy storage solutions would address the current problems of lithium-ion batteries, mostly produced in Asia, and allow for the localization of the entire chain of production. The main problems with lithium-ion batteries are in the scarcity of materials and sometimes safety, when flammable electrolytes are used in high energy density appliances.

The new EU-funded NAIMA project was kickstarted in Amiens, France and awarded a Horizon2020 programme grant of almost €8 million by the European Commission. The duration of the programme will be 36 months, having started December 1, 2019.

The project will test six prototypes of Na-ion batteries in three different business scenarios. These scenarios will provide concrete evidence of the technology's competitiveness in three real-world settings – renewable production, industry and households.

New carbon materials will be developed at the Department of Materials Chemistry of the National Institute of Chemistry for use in prototype anodes of Na-ion batteries.

Related: Slovenian Researchers Developing Ocean-Cleaning Microplastic Filter Based on Jellyfish Mucus (Video)

13 Jan 2020, 13:08 PM

STA, 13 January 2020 - A senior Chemistry Institute researcher has received a EUR 150,000 follow-up grant from the European Research Council (ERC) to develop applications for a novel gene-editing method that had been discovered as part of an earlier ERC grant.

Roman Jerala, the head of the Chemistry Institute's synthetic biology department, had received the prestigious EUR 2.5 million ERC advanced grant for protein research in 2018 and his team have already discovered a novel way to use the popular CRISPR gene editing technique.

The new proof of concept grant that he received now is meant to facilitate the transfer of these scientific findings into practice, for forging partnerships, and for the initial phase of commercial deployment.

Last year the Chemistry Institute submitted a patent application for the improved CRISPR method, now the researchers plan to develop technologies for biotechnical use in plants, microorganisms and mammal cells.

The new project is called CCEdit and will last 12-18 months in cooperation with researchers from Oxford University and Cambridge University, links that are expected to improve the commercial potential of the technique.

Cell and gene therapy is one of the fastest-growing areas of medicine and provides new avenues for treatment of the most difficult diseases, including cancer.

07 Oct 2019, 10:40 AM

STA, 4 October 2019 - Slovenian and Swedish researchers have developed a new concept for aluminium batteries, doubling their energy density and at the same time reducing the cost to the environment by using readily available and less damaging materials than those used at the moment.

Aluminium batteries have a number of advantages over the currently used lithium-ion batteries, among them high capacity of the aluminium metal anode, as well as tried and tested production and recycling methods.

The newly developed concept could lead to a significant reduction in battery prices and lower the battery's impact on the environment, the Chemical Institute announced the news in a press release

Lower production cost and impact on the environment "make our system incredibly interesting for energy saving in large-scale photovoltaic or wind turbine plants," according to Patrik Johansson of the Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Johansson and Robert Dominko of the Ljubljana Chemical Institute led two research teams that developed the new concept presented in late September in an article in the Energy Storage Materials journal.

Explaining the revolutionary concept, the article says that previous designs for aluminium batteries have used the aluminium anodes and graphite cathodes.

However, graphite provides too low an energy content to create battery cells with enough performance for everyday use. Now, graphite has been replaced by an organic, nanostructured cathode, made of the carbon-based molecule anthraquinone.

The anthraquinone cathode has been developed by one of article co-authors, Jan Bitenc of the Ljubljana Institute of Chemistry, while he was guest researcher at Chalmers.

According to Niklas Lindal, another co-author, the team is now working on eliminating chlorine from the electrolyte.

The researchers believe that although aluminium storage technology is a long way from commercial production, the new device will be able to compete or complement lithium-ion storage.

"So far, aluminium batteries are only half as energy dense as lithium-ion batteries but our long-term goal is to achieve the same energy density."

More details on this research can be found here

14 May 2019, 16:13 PM

Note: This is a separate case to the one covering the murder of the institute's former director. You can find stories on that in our Institute of Chemistry archive

STA, 14 May 2019 - Lebanese chemist Michel Stephan has been found guilty of soliciting to the murder of one of his former superiors at the National Institute of Chemistry, and sentenced to eight years in prison on Tuesday.

The Ljubljana District Court found that Stephan hired an Iraqi asylum seeker in 2017 to kill Janez Plavec, the head of the institute's NMR Centre.

The murder was never committed because the Iraqi named Ali alerted the police of the plot and helped them collect wiretapping evidence to arrest Stephan.

The case is separate from the murder of the institute's director Janko Jamnik in December 2014. The man charged with the murder, Milko Novič, has recently been acquitted, but the verdict is not final yet.

The prosecution had sought nine years and a half in prison for Stephan and his deportation from the country, alleging solicitation to a second-degree murder of and illicit arms trafficking.

The court found the defendant guilty on both counts, giving him seven years and 10 months in jail on the first count and four months on the second count, and sentencing him to an aggregate of eight years.

The panel of judges remanded the defendant in prison until he starts serving his sentence. However, they did not order his deportation, for want of sufficient enough reasons.

The presiding judge Sinja Božičnik said the panel found both counts had been proved beyond reasonable doubt.

She said one of the proofs was that the defendant had handed Plavec's picture to Ali, told him his home address, gave him directions to the house and told him how to get away.

The judge said that the defendant also gave Ali part of the reward money promised for the act, got him a gun, took him to the woods to practice shooting. "This has been corroborated not only by Ali's testimony, but also the evidence taken," said the judge.

In his closing arguments on Monday, Stephan's defence counsel, Gorazd Fišer, argued the possibility of a different interpretation of the events from the one presented by the prosecution.

However, the judge said today that no other version had been even presented, and that all the evidence showed everything happened the way it had been presented by the prosecution.

The court rejected Stephan's claim that the transcripts of his conversations with Ali that were intercepted by the police had been trampled with and mistranslated from Arabic.

"The verdict is what it is. It will have to be appealed," said Stephan's lawyer, but could not say yet what arguments the appeal would be based on, because he needed to get the judgement in writing first.

Prosecutor Petra Vugrinec welcomed the guilty verdict, but said she was not persuaded by the court's reasoning against deportation, suggesting she might appeal on that.

Noting that Stephan was a citizen of France, an EU country, the judge found that under EU rules the "threat against the public peace and order is not enough for deportation in this case".

Plavec's lawyer announced yesterday that in case of Stephan's conviction, he would file a damages suit against him.

Under the indictment Stephan wanted Plavec dead out of revenge because he blamed him for losing his job at the institute and for being banned from the institute's premises.

Background to the case

STA, 14 May 2019 – The prosecution was seeking nine years and a half in prison for Stephan and his deportation from the country, alleging his solicitation to the second-degree murder of Janez Plavec, the head of the institute's NMR Centre, and illicit arms trafficking.

The murder was never committed because the man allegedly hired by Stephan, an Iraqi named as Ali, alerted the police of the plot and the police then wire-tapped him to record his meetings with the defendant before collecting enough evidence to arrest Stephan.

The indictment alleges Stephan's motive was revenge because he blamed Plavec for losing his job at the institute and for being banned from the institute's premises.

Shortly before the end of the trial, prosecutor Petra Vugrinec changed the charge from solicitation to first-degree murder, which carries up to 30 years in prison, to solicitation to a second-degree murder, which carries up to 15.

In his testimony, Plavec said he did not know why Stephan would wish him dead, but he did say that in 2010 he opposed extending Stephan's employment contract, after which Stephen had to leave the institute.

"He obviously saw me as someone who prevented his return to the Chemistry Institute," Plavec told the court about the defendant in March.

Plavec expressed his opposition to extending Stephan's contract in response to an informal question put to him by the institute's boss Janko Jamnik, who was murdered in December 2014.

The man charged with Jamnik's murder, Milko Novič, has recently been acquitted in a retrial but the verdict is not yet final.

As the reason he opposed keeping Stephan, Plavec told the court about warnings about Stephan's unsuitability, including dissatisfaction expressed by the pharmaceutical company Lek as a major partner of the institute.

Plavec also alleged that Phosphoenix, a French company co-owned by Stephan and his immediate boss Barbara Mohar, got money for compounds developed by the institute's lab for the pharmaceutical company Krka.

He said the late Jamnik had tried to get information about money transfers to Phosphoenix, but the French authorities would not yield it. He expressed the hope that the case would be investigated by law enforcement.

The trial, which started with a pre-trial hearing more than a year ago, heard that Stephan took Ali to the woods in Ljubljana in October 2017 in order to see how well he could handle a weapon.

Having already started collaborating with the police, Ali was bugged. Translated transcriptions of the wiretaps read to the court suggest Stephan instructed Ali how to eliminate a "civilian".

The defendant claimed mistranslation of police recordings of his conversations with Ali in Arabic, claiming he told Ali to aim the gun at the bag rather than the head, which claim the court-appointed translator denied.

The translated transcriptions also suggest that the pair talked about Ali riding a bike to the spot where he was supposed to kill Plavec and committing the act in rain and using a silencer.

At one point Ali was heard expressing concern whether he would get paid for the job, with Stephan assuring him not to worry because this "would not be the first time". He later added that he had not done yet something like that in Slovenia.

The pair were arrested the last time they were returning from the woods. Ali later told the court via a video link that realising he was an informant, Stephen told him they would meet again, which Ali understood as a threat.

Another witness, Alen Kraljević, a fellow prisoner of Stephan while in custody, told the court in January that Stephan had been looking for a person to murder Ali, which Stephan denied as an outright lie.

In her closing arguments on Monday, prosecutor Vugrinec said the defendant's guilt resulted from the fact that he had handed Plavec's picture to Ali, told him his home address, how to reach him and how to get away.

She alleged that Stephan also got him a gun, took him to the woods to practice shooting and gave him EUR 5,000 out of the EUR 25,000 promised as the payment for the act.

The prosecutor argued that Stephan had intentionally tried to use Ali in his vulnerable position as an asylum seeker with several children and in need of money.

Stephan allegedly also knew that Ali was a former member of the Iraqi army, something that was testified by Kraljević, a fellow prisoner.

The prosecution proposes deporting Stephen, a French citizen, and imposing a five-year ban on his re-entering the country, arguing his posing a serious threat to public peace and order.

Stephan's defence counsel Gorazd Fišer argued his client's innocence, questioning the prosecution's interpretation of the evidence presented.

He suggested that Ali, having turned himself to the police, instigated Stephan to criminal acts, and that Ali's motive could be related to his asylum application, while arguing his client had no motive.

Fišer labelled Kraljević an untrustworthy witness, because he had already been convicted and was subject of another criminal procedure for fraud and false criminal complaints.

Fišer described his client as a man who dedicated his life to chemical science, arguing there was no evidence had had threatened anyone and also had never had problems breaking the law.

In his closing, Stephan said that he and Plavec got along well and that they often went out for dinner or coffee. He repeated his claim that the recordings of his conversations with Ali were mistranslated and some had been rigged.

He said it was Ali rather than himself who wanted to arrange for Plavec's killing, while he said the money he gave him was not an advance payment but rather aid for his children.

30 Apr 2019, 22:13 PM

STA, 30 April 2019 - The Ažman Computer Centre was inaugurated on Wednesday at the National Institute of Chemistry. The result of years of planning, the final upgrade to the Institute's Theoretical Section will provide support to theoretical and experimental research studies, help with personnel training, and ensure high-quality performance.

Gregor Anderluh, director of the Institute, said that such infrastructure was crucial to the work of nearly all of their departments, and that by inaugurating the centre, Slovenia was successfully keeping up with the times. He also emphasised the centre's importance in facilitating research and contributing to the Institute's international presence.

The investment was worth 150,000 euros, with various departments of the Institute and the Slovenian Research Agency helping to finance its equipment.

Anderluh added that this year they plan to acquire a cryo-electron microscope that will generate massive quantities of data, highlighting the need for such infrastructure. He believes their computing capacity will most likely need to be further expanded in the coming year or two.

The Computer Centre is part of the Pregl Research Centre, founded in 2013, that houses a specialised area with a state-of-the-art cooling system of up to 175kW.

The Pregl Centre is also suitable for the future expansion of computing capacities to 5,000 computer cores and its inclusion into the national supercomputing network.

Jernej Stare, who was responsible for the upgrade, explained that the centre was now made up of 20 servers, each containing two 24-core AMD Epyc processors.

Each of the computers has 64 GB of RAM. This in total means the Institute has 960 physical cores at its disposal, each having two virtual cores, he noted.

The computer centre was named after Andrej Ažman, Slovenian-born quantum chemistry pioneer. Despite his untimely death, Ažman published 171 research papers during his lifetime, and was the first member of the Institute to have a paper published in the journal Nature, professor Jože Koller said as he gave a presentation on the scientist's life and work.

27 Apr 2019, 10:30 AM

Mladina: Chemistry Institute murder trial needs examining

STA, 26 April 2019- The left-wing weekly Mladina suggests in the latest editorial that the judiciary should take a stand on the behaviour of the judge in the Chemical Institute boss murder retrial, finding that its hard for the media to take a stand lest any criticism should be understood as an attempt to discredit him.

Editor-in-chief Grega Repovž says that judge Zvjezdan Radonjić has been conducting the case in an odd way and has not done enough to dispel doubts about his impartiality.

He notes that Mladina has questioned his engaging as an expert witness a man who like the defendant, Milko Novič, has ties with the opposition Democratic Party (SDS).

"When things were becoming increasingly unusual, Radonjić decided to swiftly wrap up the trial and prevent most witness hearings ... What is more, in declaring the decision, in conduct that is unusual in a courtroom he alleged pressure bearing upon the entire court by the media ...

"The very same day he obviously turned into a hero of people's hearts, the judge who stood up to the establishment."

"In a situation in which he declared himself a hero standing up against the system it is hard even to write about him as being unusual - given such 'heroism' any act of drawing attention to his unusual judging would automatically be understood as an act of discrediting."

This is why the media are in a difficult situation taking a position on the case, even though a Večer reporter would not be bothered and she wrote down that the judge should have been suspended because of the show he staged in court.

Instead, Repovž says that the Radonjić case calls for a serious reflection within the judiciary at last.

"Judges decided a few years ago not to take a stand on the difficulties in their ranks. This is human but judges are people whose decisions seriously affect people's lives. So this cup can unfortunately not pass them."

Demokracija: Deep state at work in judiciary

STA, 25 April 2019 - The right-wing weekly Demokracija comments on the allegations of pressure on the judge in the Chemistry Institute boss murder retrial in the latest editorial, finding that deep state remains at work in the Slovenian judiciary.

Editor-in-chief Jože Biščak names Ljubo Bavcon and Alenka Šelih as two jurists who he says were ideologists of revolutionary law under the Communist regime, and who should have been ostracised and banned from public life, but have instead won several prizes and honours.

He says that this is part of the reason for the Slovenian judiciary being in a state as described by judge Zvezdan Radonjić, who in returning the acquittal of Milko Novič, gave a dramatic account of the pressure and covert threats he had been subject.

"That was not the 'ordinary' kind of pressure, but pressure from the deep state via his judicial colleagues and superiors.

"Everyone should have beaten the drum for that, all the alarms should have gone off. However, nothing happened. Well, almost nothing," Biščak says, referring to Radonjić's superiors finding that nothing dramatic happened in the Novič case, and saying that they would no longer communicate with the public about internal procedures in the case.

"Mind you, the case that disclosed the workings of the deep state in the judiciary and how someone from behind the scenes is trying to interfere in the judgement, is an internal matter of the court!

"Not at all, dear gentlemen in Tavčarjeva 9 [the address of Ljubljana Court], it is a matter of interest to all the citizens, so you will have to provide public and regular explanations about what is going on.

"If ever, now is the right time to sweep up in the judiciary, which due to many infamous cases and systematic violations of human rights is justifiably referred to as misjustice by part of the public.

"The Slovenian judiciary has never been cleansed, has not taken the road to Damascus (like Saul, who on the road to Damascus converted from a persecutor of Christians to become the Apostle Paul), let alone being lustrated," Biščak writes under the headline Road to Damascus.

All our posts in this series can be found here, and our stories on the Institute of Chemistry are here

18 Apr 2019, 10:20 AM

STA, 17 April 2019 - Allegations of pressure made by the judge presiding over the Chemistry Institute boss murder retrial has drawn a response from his superior, who asked the judge to provide explanations, while he denied being pressured himself as alleged by the judge. Other officials joined him in supporting judicial independence.

In announcing the acquittal of Milko Novič for the December 2014 murder of Chemistry Institute director Janko Jamnik, the presiding judge Zvjezdan Radonjić said that from the start of the retrial, the court's president, Marjan Pogačnik, had been pressured to discipline him so he would judge the way he should.

Pogačnik, who heads the Ljubljana District Court, told reporters on Wednesday that no one in the country had exerted any pressure on him personally. He did ask Radonjić to provide explanations for his comments by the end of work day on Thursday.

Only then would he be able to assess whether the judge had been subject to unlawful interference in his independence, Pogačnik said, adding that he had been asked by Supreme Court President Damijan Florjančič to look into the judge's allegations and report back to him.

All our stories on the Institute of Chemistry can be found here

This was confirmed by the Supreme Court, which said that if the judge's allegations turned out to be accurate, this would require an appropriate reaction because pressure on judges was unacceptable.

Radonjić alleged as he delivered the verdict on Tuesday that one of those who suggested his disciplining was Harij Furlan, the head of the Specialised Prosecution Service. He also said that he was subject to a smear campaign in the media.

The judge said that, because he wanted to grant a fair trial to Novič, he would never get promoted and would likely face suspension: "Novič having a fair trial hinges on my decision to ruin my career," he said.

Commenting on that, Pogačnik underscored that providing a fair trial was a major postulate for any judge and acting in this way could not result in any measures. "The fear that any judge could be subject to any sanction whatsoever because of his decision in a concrete case is completely unnecessary."

Pogačnik said that to his knowledge, Radonjić was not subject to any disciplinary or criminal procedure in connection to the Novič case. As far as he knew, Radonjić had not yet turned to the Judicial Council over the alleged pressure.

He did not know whether a criminal complaint had been filed against the judge by Miha Kunič, the lawyer of Janko Jamnik's widow. "If the information is accurate, this circumstance, even if the complaint had been filed before the judgement's announcement doesn't affect the course of the procedure in any way."

Pogačnik did say that the prosecutor in charge of the case asked for Radonjić's exclusion, which he turned down because he did not think the judge's impartiality had been compromised.

He also admitted that Furlan as the head of the Specialised Prosecution Service did write to him about "certain inappropriate actions on the part of the judge" in which he detected disciplinary violations and elements of breach of judge's ethics code.

He will decide about what to do with Furlan's letter once the Novič case is concluded, as he will about Radonjić's proposal to complain against lawyer Kunič with the Bar Association. However, Pogačnik has asked the Judicial Council's ethics commission to take a position on Furlan's allegations against the judge.

The Specialised Prosecution denied Radonjić's allegations in the strongest terms, while stating that Furlan proposed Pogačnik take action against Radonjić over his inappropriate and untruthful comments about the prosecutor in the case, Blanka Žgajnar, and Furlan.

Justice Minister Andreja Katič would not comment on the concrete case, but she said that the judiciary's impartiality and independence were essential for the rule of law, so she condemned in the strongest terms any pressure on the judges' work and decisions.

"Minister Katič is of the opinion that [commenting on the judge's statement] could lead to a risky practice - political influence on concrete decisions of independent bodies, so she will, despite requests and expectations from the public, refrain from commenting on concrete cases," the ministry said.

The ministry added in a press release that it had not been acquainted with concrete circumstances of the alleged pressure, so it could only provide a general view. It pointed to options available to a judge when his or her independence may be threatened, including appealing to the Judicial Council.

"All stakeholders in court procedures need to be aware that they may be exposed to critical opinion from the public and the judge must always act in such a away as to protect impartiality and independence of judging, and apply appropriate mechanisms in defence of these values and principles," said the ministry.

The Judges' Association has not been acquainted with the pressure alleged by Radonjić, but it did term any pressure on judges unacceptable as a matter of principle, emphasizing that judges had a commitment to act by the constitution and laws alone, and never based on expectations from the public, politicians or business.

The allegations of pressure also triggered a political response, with Janez Janša, the leader of the opposition Democrats (SDS), urging the police to look into the matter, suggesting President Borut Pahor should take a stance as well. He indicated the SDS would seek an emergency parliamentary session.

While Janša responded via his Twitter account, his party's MEP Milan Zver spoke about the Novič case in the European Parliament in Strasbourg today, calling the trial yet another judicial farce after the Patria defence corruption case.

17 Apr 2019, 09:09 AM

STA, 16 April 2019 - Milko Novič has been acquitted of murdering Chemistry Institute boss Janko Jamnik in December 2014 in a retrial after the Supreme Court quashed the original ruling sentencing him to 25 years in prison in 2017.

Our earlier coverage on this case can be found here

The verdict was reached by the judging panel of the Ljubljana District Court and announced on Tuesday after the court heard closing arguments and re-examined expert witnesses who could not make a conclusive judgement.

It also heard the minutes of the recent crime scene reconstruction which showed that Novič did not have enough time to reach the crime scene from his home in the window between his alibi and the time of the murder.

Reading the judgement, the presiding judge Zvjezdan Radonjić, said the trial proved that Novič was not a murderer, and that it was clear he could not reach the crime scene within the time at his disposal.

"Not only that there's no proof that he is guilty, but it has been fully proven that he is not the perpetrator," the judge concluded.

The prosecution, which sought a 25 year prison sentence, in accordance with the original sentence given to Novič, announced an appeal, while Novič said he was happy with the outcome.

"The case turned out the way it was based on arguments and, above all, judge Zvjezdan Radonjić's ascertaining that the prosecution has not provided a single piece of evidence," the acquitted said.

Novič, a former employee at the National Institute of Chemistry, was initially convicted of murdering his boss and sentenced to 25 years in prison in April 2017.

However, after being upheld by the Ljubljana Higher Court, the ruling was quashed by the Supreme Court in October 2018 and a retrial was ordered.

Jamnik was shot in the head twice in a parking lot in Ljubljana as the institute held its Christmas party in December 2014. He died three days later and Novič was soon arrested as the main suspect.

The minutes of the reconstruction of the events, read by judge Radonjić today, showed that it would take Novič between 11 and 14 minutes to reach the crime scene, or between 15 and 18 minutes in the pre-Christmas period when the traffic is much busier.

The judge said the time available for the defendant to commit the murder would have been 8 minutes at the most, while the Supreme Court, in quashing the case, said the time could be even shorter, that is six minutes.

"No measurement whatsoever could have put the time within six or eight minutes," the judge said before the judging panel retreated to reach a verdict, adding that the time was measured by the route that was the least favourable for the defendant.

He rejected the prosecution's assessment that the reconstruction was conducted in a "too touristy" pace. Prosecutor Blanka Žgajner had assessed that the actual events would have likely happened much faster than reconstruction had shown.

In reading the verdict later, Radonjić also cited data from mobile base stations pinged by Novič's phone at the time of the murder which he said did not indicate Novič's guilt, because he did not find it likely Novič would have responded from the crime scene to humorous text messages he was being sent.

The judge indicated that Jamnik's murder could have been linked to another case in which Lebanese chemist Michel Stephan is tried for allegedly ordering the murder of another Chemistry Institute official, Janez Plavec. He urged the prosecution to start looking into developments at the institute.

Radonjić also alleged pressure against him, saying that right from the start of the trial the court's president, Marjan Pogačnik, had been pressured to discipline him so he would judge the way he should.

He alleged that one of those who suggested his disciplining was Harij Furlan, the head of the Specialised Prosecution Service. He also said that he was subject to a smear campaign in the media.

The judge said that, because he wanted to grant a fair trial to Novič, he would never get promoted and would likely face suspension: "Novič having a fair trial hinges on my decision to ruin my career."

In her closing argument prosecutor Blanka Žgajner insisted the murder charge had been proven beyond reasonable doubt.

She alleged that Novič committed the deed out of callous revenge because he was sacked from his job at the institute and because he had unfinished business with Jamnik.

After the verdict was announced, Žgajnar announced an appeal, saying she was shocked that "half of the explanation of the acquittal concerned judge Zvjezdan Radonjić, who talked about being pressured".

Commenting on the judge's suggestion that Jamnik's murder could be linked to Stephan, Žgajnar questioned the judge's right to interfere in another judge's case.

Novič's defence counsel Jože Hribernik commented that "everyone is in a bit of shock", saying that the judge had pinpointed the essential when talking about pressure on him.

"The man who has been convicted and who has been premeditatedly intended to be convicted again is free today," Hribernik said, adding that although he knew there was pressure, he was shocked by how severe the pressure on the judge was.

He agreed with the judge that Stephan may have "done away with Jamnik", saying he believed there was plenty of evidence this was likely. Meanwhile, his client would not speculate about the possibility.

Hribernik had already argued in his closing statement that the charges against his client were not a fateful mistake but rather a wilful decision on the part of law enforcement to convict an innocent man instead of the actual murderer, who could not be found.

The German expert witnesses re-examined by the court today could neither confirm nor rule out that the traces of gunpowder on Novič's clothes and skin proved he was the murderer.

The judging panel turned down the prosecution's motion to appoint new expert witnesses for ballistics and chemistry.

The hearing today witnessed friction between the presiding judge and the lawyer of Jamnik's wife as the damaged party, Miha Kunič, whom the judge would not grant the opportunity to question one of the German expert witnesses, while restricting his questions in the case of the other.

The newspaper Delo reported earlier that Kunič had filed a criminal complaint against the judge, alleging biased, unfair and unlawful judging.

Judge Radonjić accused Kunič of destructing the evidence-taking procedure, announcing that he would file a complaint against him with the Bar Association with the proposal for his expulsion.

19 Dec 2018, 10:20 AM

STA, 18 December - The retrial in the case of the murder of Chemistry Institute director Janko Jamnik got under way as the Ljubljana District Court heard on Tuesday the testimonies by relatives of Jamnik and his alleged killer Milko Novič, a former employee of the institute.

Jamnik was gunned down in December 2014 and died three days later. Novič was soon arrested as the main suspect and sentenced to 25 years in prison last year.

The conviction, largely based on circumstantial evidence, was upheld by the Ljubljana Higher Court last December, but the Supreme Court found this year that Novič's right to defence had been violated, suspended Novič's prison sentence and ordered a retrial.

Related: Murder Mystery at the Institute of Chemistry

Novič, who spent nearly four years in detention, will now attend the court dates from his home.

Today, the panel of judges presided over by judge Zvezdan Radonjič heard the testimonies by Jamnik's wife and parents and by Novič's daughter and wife.

The witnesses mostly repeated their testimonies from the first trial, recounting Jamnik's last days and Novič's whereabouts on the night of the shooting. The testimony of Novič's wife was closed to the public.

Related: Chemistry Institute Murder Saga Continues

The panel of judges will hear forensic experts Franc Sablič, whom the defence wanted the court to exclude from the trial but failed, and Ester Ceket, as well as Miran Čeh of the Jožef Stefan Institute and a witness for the defence, Croatian ballistics and forensic expert Vojin Maštruk.

In the continuation of the retrial, the court will try to obtain location data for Novič's phone on the night of the murder from Google. Further hearings are scheduled for January and February.

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