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01 Jul 2020, 13:38 PM

STA, 1 July 2020 - Representatives of police officers are very critical of Interior Minister Aleš Hojs for claiming that the police force was being run by the deep state as he resigned on Tuesday. They have dismissed the claims as inappropriate and insulting and called on the outgoing minister to apologise.

While accepting the resignation of Police Commissioner Anton Travner and resigning himself after an investigation had been launched into ventilator procurement, Hojs said that the police were serving the deep state.

Interior Minister, Police Commissioner Resign, Move Linked to Procurement Scandal

"It will be hard to convince me that this is not a political police force," said the minister, whose resignation letter also speaks of structures that are allegedly still linked to the Communist secret service UDBA and the Communist Party.

In its response, the Association of Criminal Police Officers called on Hojs yesterday to apologise for the uttered "insults and accusations" and "completely unproven constructs".

"As professionals, we are not interested in political developments and politicking, and we will not let ourselves be turned into a playground for political games," the association added.

Its president Slavko Koroš said that certain politicians had been attacking the police for a while, in particular criminal police and specific criminal police officers.

"The attacks, insults and accusations have gained new proportions with the statements by Minister Hojs as he listed the reasons for his resignation," he added.

According to Koroš, criminal police officers have never bothered dealing with the question who will be the interior minister and which party they will come from.

"The only wish is that we are able to investigate criminal acts lawfully and without political intrigue, regardless of the status of the suspects," he said in reference to Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek being temporarily detained yesterday.

The association also dismissed the claim about the structures linked to UDBA, saying that in 30 years of independent Slovenia, the police had been completely overhauled staff-wise.

The Police Trade Union (SPS), one of the two police trade unions, labelled on Wednesday Hojs's statements as inappropriate and insulting to all police employees.

"Police officers are not guided in their work by any obscure forces, but only out objectivity and search for material truth under the principles of the profession," it added.

Regardless of whether certain groups or individuals like it or not, police officers perform their duties without bias and fairly, and enjoy an exceptionally high reputation among citizens, the SPS added.

The Police Trade Union of Slovenia (PSS) already said yesterday that the statements were completely unfounded, and detrimental for all police employees. It expects that the outgoing minister will apologise.

This was echoed by the Association of Police Chiefs, which also noted that at the recent ceremony marking Police Day, Hojs had commended the work and sacrifice made by police officers, including criminal police.

The association added that it strongly condemned Hojs's statements and that it was deeply disappointed, asking the minister to apologise for the "unfounded allegations which are detrimental for all employees in the Slovenian police."

It said that the police had made much progress in recent years in professionalising employees, raising ethical standards and strengthening personal and organisational integrity.

Speaking of this are also public opinion polls, which suggest a high level of reputation. "Public opinion therefore does not confirm the subjective and, to a certain measure, insulting statements by the outgoing minister," the statement concludes.

30 Jun 2020, 18:49 PM

STA, 30 June 2020 - Opposition parties bar the SNS spoke on Tuesday of independent police work in the investigation into ventilator procurement and called on the government to take a cue from the resignation of Interior Minister Aleš Hojs. Coalition parties were mostly reserved, an exception being PM Janez Janša, who said it is time to end "selective justice".

Commenting on today's house searches conducted over suspected abuse of office in the March procurement of medical ventilators and the resulting resignation of Hojs and Police Commissioner Anton Travner, former PM Marjan Šarec of the opposition LMŠ said the "entire government is ripe for resignation".

"Attempts to conceal things with attacks on the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the entire police force show that the independence of the prosecution authorities is a thorn in the side of those in power," tweeted Šarec, who feels an early election is the only way forward.

Tanja Fajon of the SocDems, the second largest opposition party, said Slovenia was dealing with a crime of epic proportions that seems to go all the way to the top of the government instead of focusing on the major challenges ahead.

Fajon, who suspects the government "failed to prevent the house searches", argued the conspiracy theories being peddled are merely an attempt to divert attention. The government has no political and moral clout left, she added, calling on Janša to resign.

Luka Mesec of the Left said Hojs and Travner resigned "over regret they didn't manage to discipline the police to a point where there would be no more criminal police following their own conscience and professional ethics".

Mesec, who expects PM Janez Janša will now try to appoint somebody "who will do a better party job in the police force", added the government has already turned to its known strategy - "personal discreditation and attacks on criminal police officers, which is unheard off". The Left will protect the independence of the police and wants an early election, he said.

Alenka Bratušek of SAB said Hojs's resignation showed he "had a somewhat peculiar notion" about how the police force operated. While saying she was content the police were doing their job and not shying away from investigating government officials, Bratušek argued that such probes were too often only a show for the public.

She does feel that the time is ripe for Janša "to face the mirror" as well and assume responsibility for the opaque procurement of PPE during the crisis. Bratušek spoke of the possibility of an no-confidence motion in the entire government, mentioning DeSUS as a coalition party that could be won over to secure the needed absolute majority.

The only opposition party leader to echo Hojs's reasoning that the police's operation was politically motivated was Zmago Jelinčič of the National Party (SNS).

"Certain leading staff in the police force are politically appointed and undermine the police's professional work," he said, expressing surprise over Hojs's resignation and arguing he had expected "Hojs would start cleaning up at the police force".

Meanwhile, the coalition parties were mostly reserved in their reactions today so far, with the ruling Democrats (SDS) and New Slovenia (NSi) initially refusing to comment.

SDS head and PM Janša responded later with a letter entitled Selective Justice, in which he said he would not comment on an ongoing procedure, but wanted to comment on the "double standards in the priority choices of the NBI, the prosecution, and the judiciary".

Janša wrote that it is "political sympathies and media pressure" that have been governing the choices of all three for some time as opposed to the scale of the crimes.

He said that no epilogue had been seen for other "hundreds of millions of euros" worth of crimes in the healthcare system, no house searches conducted related to a suspected EUR 1bn in money laundering for Iran at NLB bank, and no criminal complaints filed against the owners of several media outlets despite ample evidence of "harmful contracts and annexes through which these factories of rotten news are attached to taxpayers' money".

Janša argued that selective justice and the "general politicisation of a part of the repressive apparatus prevents a normal functioning of parliamentary democracy in the country".

"It is therefore our duty and it is high time that we secure a consistent honouring of the Constitution and laws and equal standards for everybody," Janša concludes.

Meanwhile, the Modern Centre Party (SMC), whose head and Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek is also being investigated, has not yet commented, while DeSUS head Aleksandra Pivec said she expected the investigation would be conducted in a fair and objective manner.

She urged the calming of political passions and also did not comment on Hojs's views. Asked how the developments will impact the coalition, she said things were still underway. "Once more will be known, I expect the coalition partners to also sit down, get familiar with the facts and then adopt decisions," she said.

All our stories on the PPE scandal can be found here

30 Jun 2020, 15:47 PM

STA, 30 June 2020 - Interior Minister Aleš Hojs told the press on Tuesday that he had tendered his resignation to PM Janez Janša and that Janša accepted it. Hojs, who suggested the investigation into ventilator procurement showed the police were serving the deep state, added he had accepted the resignation of Police Commissioner Anton Travner before that.

Hojs linked the resignation to the house searches conducted today by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) at several locations, including with Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek. Media have reported police suspect abuse of office in the March procurement of medical ventilators.

Hojs said he had been informed that the sting operation was under way by Deputy Police Commissioner Jože Senica at around 8am this morning. An hour later he was informed that Počivalšek, a protected person, had been deprived of his liberty for the duration of the house search.

Hojs believes that today's developments are politically motivated, that the procedures are political, which is why he accepts "political responsibility, as this responsibility rests with the minister". Thus he offered his resignation to the prime minister, who has already accepted it.

"As a minister I never interfered in the work of the police in the sense of whom and why to investigate. My position was always that order needs to be introduced for everybody in this country, meaning that all crimes need to be investigated," Hojs said, while defending his decision to have internal oversight conducted at the NBI.

He added that it was impossible to ignore that there were scores of shelved procedures at the prosecution and at courts and that he "cannot accept that the directing of the police is not done so much by the police commissioner or anybody else who should be doing it, meaning the entire structure within the police".

Instead, argued Hojs, the police force is directed "by the weekly Mladina, by prosecutors who have proven in the past to mostly lead procedure against politically inappropriate persons - meaning against the right".

According to Hojs, they have but one goal - "to discredit the ministers, the prime minster and achieve the much desired collapse of this coalition and preservation of all privileges that they have been afforded all these years by the centre-left coalition, the SocDems always being a part of it".

"It will be hard to convince me that this is not a political police force, change my view that the police are serving the deep state and not the citizens," said Hojs, whose resignation letter speaks of structures that are allegedly still linked to the Communist secret service UDBA and the Communist Party.

Hojs wrote that "despite that change at the top of the police force and staffing changes carried out so far by the police commissioner, I assess that the UDBA-Party-based structure of the decisive segment of the police force, in concert with the prosecution and judiciary of the same origin, is still so deeply anchored in the system as to prevent me from effectively depoliticising and changing the police force".

Security expert Miroslav Žaberl expressed concern over this statement, saying it suggested that the changes made to the police force by Hojs were political and not based on professional criteria.

The reasons Hojs gave for his resignation show he believes that the force must be rearranged in a way to make it "ours". But the police are in the service of the people and not of political parties, Žaberl said.

The police are independent in their work and no politician can affect police procedure, said Žaberl, adding that the interior minister could not be informed in advance of specific police activities.

The Police Trade Union of Slovenia (PSS) also reacted to Hojs's claims, calling them "unfounded and completely without ground". Since they are damaging to all police officers, the PSS expects an apology from the outgoing minister, the union said.

Responding to the Hojs's and Travner's resignations, Janša thanked them in a tweet for professional and dedicated work they had done in providing safety and preserving health, adding that not everybody at the Interior Ministry "had the same goal".

Hojs, who will continue running the ministry until parliament is officially notified of his resignation, was one of the more exposed ministers after the Janša government took over in March.

He was a proponent of strict lockdown restrictions, who openly criticised the public's behaviour, made headlines in the face of prompt replacements at the top of key positions in the police force, as well as with calls that police take tougher action against the protesters who have been protesting against the government each Friday for over months.

Another story involving Hojs was the Interior Ministry's decision to override a ban on a concert by Croatian nationalist singer Marko Perković Thompson. This earned him an ouster motion by the opposition, which will not be processed now.

The 58-year-old started his political career as a member of Christian democratic parties, last of New Slovenia (NSi), which expelled him in 2016 amid claims he was hurting the party's reputation. Hojs, who served as defence minister in the 2012/13 Janša government, ran on the ticket of Janša's Democrats (SDS) in 2018. He was the director of the Nova24TV media outlet before becoming minister in March.

30 Jun 2020, 15:44 PM

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 nezenzurirano.si, 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.

14 May 2020, 21:37 PM

STA, 14 May 2020 - Prime Minister Janez Janša dismissed allegations of government misconduct in the purchasing of protective personal equipment as he argued in parliament on Thursday that quick action saved dozens of lives after the government was faced with empty stockpiles of protective gear when it took office a day after the epidemic was declared.

Purchasing of protective equipment and critical medical supplies was conducted in line with legislation that allows short procedures in an epidemic, Janša said as he delivered the opening address in a parliamentary debate on a government report on PPE purchases.

But being aware of the risks, the government made sure all contracts were made public and it urged the Court of Audit to conduct a review of the procedures, with the coalition itself proposing a parliamentary inquiry into the matter.

Critics have accused the government of making the wrong choice by opting to secure equipment through intermediaries rather than directly from suppliers, but Janša dismissed the criticism.

He said providers initially demanded advance payments for the equipment and since these demands escalated the decision was made to try to purchase the equipment without advance payment.

He said many other countries opted to pay suppliers in advance but received either gear without the proper certificates or did not receive the orders at all.

"I don't know of a single European country where this did not happen. I talked to many colleagues. All had these same problems. I think Slovenia lost by far the least, if anything," he stressed.

Indeed, he said even the recent EU delivery of 30,000 surgical face masks was problematic and illustrated the general problems with supplies, as Slovenia was just today told that the equipment did not have proper certificates and should not be distributed to users.

Slovenia has so far paid about EUR 30 million for the supplies. "Everything that had been paid has also been delivered."

The government has also been criticised for picking untested intermediaries for the supplies, but Janša suggested the scandal erupted because existing suppliers, who had high margins, did not get in on the game.

Indeed, he said "those in charge who are now referred to as whistleblowers" had before that signed contracts with high margins with old suppliers, a reference to the deputy head of the Commodities Reserves Agency Ivan Gale, who accused senior officials of exerting undue pressure on the agency in the course of the purchasing.

"And now attention is of course being deflected. But every contract can be individually examined, there is no problem about that."

Janša said the events would now mean that Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek would "probably have to attend various commissions of inquiry for three years after the epidemic ends" to explain the purchasing.

"But this was a time when lives were at stake and what he did during that time, together with many colleagues ... saved dozens of lives."

The coalition parties echoed Janša's views, including Počivalšek's Modern Centre Party (SMC), which argued it had been warning former PM Marjan Šarec while still in his government that he was reacting too slowly.

The coalition shares the view that a good job had been done in unprecedented circumstances, that the responsible authorities should be allowed to do their work and that the finger-pointing should stop.

The opposition parties however did not hold back in their statements, with words like "theft", "crime" and "war profiteering" being used time and time again.

Former PM Šarec, who said the government report was not worth the paper it was printed on, rejected the accusations levelled against him, noting borders and schools had been closed, large events banned and visits to elderly homes prohibited already under his watch.

The opposition parties demand that the PPE purchases be investigate throughput, with Miha Kordiš of the Left for instance accusing Economy Minister Zdravko Polivalšek of lying when saying no advance payments were being made.

Kordiš also argued other countries had used their diplomatic network for the procurement, while Slovenia refused to do so. "You will pay back the commissions with interest," he said.

The session ended with a 50:0 vote confirming the government's report on PPE procurement, which pointed the finger at the previous government while mostly praising the current one. The vote was however boycotted by four opposition parties, which said it should not have been allowed procedurally.

All our stories on this can be found here

07 May 2020, 08:22 AM

STA, 6 May 2020 - A government report on PPE purchases, released on Wednesday, says all procurement was executed in line with protocol and amid difficult circumstances that were aggravated by the failure of former PM Marjan Šarec to react sooner. The report says all the ordered ventilators had expert backing.

Announced by PM Janez Janša after the 24 April whistleblower accusations about heavy political meddling, the report provides insight over 80-plus pages into the stock of personal protective equipment before the epidemic and the current situation, stressing the PPE available on 16 March did not suffice for even a single day of the assessed needs at the time.

Accusing Šarec of omission of duties that could qualify as misfeasance in office, the report says "the most contentious decision was not to order quarantine for potentially infected individuals returning from Italy as a hotspot, and that the border with Italy was not closed in time or controlled with health checks".

It says that the little equipment that had been ordered under Šarec had been ordered at higher average prices than under the current Janez Janša government, even though the latter had to buy at one point irrespective of the prices.

While the World Health Organisation already warned on 3 March that PPE prices and supply times were rising drastically, the Šarec government did not call on the Health Ministry to start buying until 11 March, the reports says.

Šarec responded by tweeting: "Manipulative, misleading and unworthy of the paper it is printed on. Nothing about corruption and war profiteering."

Meanwhile, elaborating on the procurement procedures, the reports says that procurement was centralised under the Commodities and Reserves Agency on 14 March, one day after the Janša government took over.

Given the agency's lack of staff and experience with such situations as well as Covid-19 cases there, the government formed on 24 March an inter-ministerial taskforce to receive, examine and evaluate bids for PPE supply. The group received 2,069 e-mails until 14 April, examining 1,081 of them.

Another coordination group was formed by the Economy Ministry on 25 March, but its members are said to have only "forwarded proposals to the Commodity Reserves Agency and coordinated activities for a quick supply of protective equipment".

"All final decisions were taken by the Commodity Reserves Agency," the report says, while explaining that the agency's deputy head Ivan Gale - who later spoke publicly about pressure by a number of influential individuals, in particular Economy Ministry Zdravko Počivalšek - had also been part of the coordination group.

Zooming into the period of the media-scrutinised orders of over 300 ventilators, the report says that the agency "signed between 16 and 24 March 21 contracts with PPE suppliers and 4 contracts with ventilator suppliers, with the Economy Ministry not being involved in negotiations and the signing of individual contracts".

"In this period the Economy Ministry got more actively involved only in the purchase of ventilators, urgently needed by hospitals to save lives," the report says, while adding the ministry did not have any decision-making powers here and that its approval needed for each contract only checked compliance with a five-year state programme for commodity reserves.

As for the choice of ventilators ordered in this period, the report says the numbers had been based on assessed potential future needs at the time and provides charts with ventilator offers, including expected supply times, and orders.

The much discussed 220 Siriusmed R30 ventilators ordered on 18 March through Geneplanet for EUR 8 million are listed among ventilators approved by experts. The reports says they got the "approval of Dr. Podbregar from the Celje General Hospital", while "the remaining three bids were approved by Dr. Noč, Dr. Gradišek and Dr. Knafelj from UKC Ljubljana".

Meanwhile, the report defends the decision to use intermediaries in the PPE purchases, saying the state could not afford to shoulder the high risks that were involved and have indeed been experienced in many countries.

It argues in favour of some much criticised domestically produced masks, including a batch made from material normally used for kitchen towels, and their high prices, saying each producer got the nod from UKC Ljubljana and that it was misleading to compare production costs at the time to current prices.

As for future steps, the report says that sufficient supplies for the short term have been secured by 10 April. The Commodity Reserves Agency, whose centralised procurement of PPE will end on 1 June, now has more space to negotiate on prices.

The government is proposing that the Court of Audit review the agency's activities in the first four months of the year and also look at all the purchases, renting and maintenance of ventilators in all Slovenian hospitals in the past five years.

It announced it would secure EUR 1 million for the start of ventilator production in Slovenia and another million for the production of FFP2 and FFP3 masks.

All our stories on the PPE scandal in Slovenia are here

05 May 2020, 11:23 AM

STA, 4 May 2020 - The Health Ministry has decided to rescind a EUR 8 million contract with company Geneplanet for the purchase of 220 ventilators Siriusmed R30. This was proposed by Geneplanet after the ventilators came under fire as being unsuitable for Covid-19 patients.

Geneplanet has already delivered 110 of these ventilators to the Commodity Reserves Agency. The ministry decided to keep 90 of them under the condition that additional equipment be delivered, which would make them suitable for the treatment of Covid-19 patients.

Twenty ventilators, which are still at the Commodity Reserves Agency storage will be returned, while the rest, 110, will not be delivered, the ministry has told the STA.

The decision was sent by Health Ministry Tomaž Gantar to the head of the Commodity Reserves Agency Tomi Rumpf upon recommendation of a medical expert group headed by infectious diseases specialist Bojana Beović.

Geneplanet has said it wanted to rescind the contract so as to clear its name following allegation of favourable treatment in the procurement of the ventilators.

Moreover, internal medicine specialist Rihard Knafelj, a member of an expert group tasked with going over the bids to the state for ventilators has told the Tarča current affairs show of public broadcaster TV Slovenija that the expert group assessed the Siriusmed R30 ventilators as the least suitable of those they gave their go-ahead for.

Meanwhile, Tomislav Mirkovič, an UKC Ljubljana doctor, who used to head the hospital's intensive care unit, said at today's government coronavirus briefing that experts were fairly united in the view that the Siriusmed R30 is suitable for use on Covid-19 patients provided a compressor and an air humidifier with heated pipes are supplied additionally.

Geneplanet said today that all of the ventilators delivered to Slovenia already have a built-in compressor and that the company offered to upgrade them with a humidifier and double-heated pipes.

It reiterated that the ventilator is being used in a number of countries, had all the necessary certifications and had been tested in real life. "For most Covid-19 patients the current version of ventilators is appropriate," the company also said.

Geneplanet also said that all of the ventilators delivered had been tested and that many are already in use at hospitals in Ljubljana, Maribor, Celje, Murska Sobota, Ptuj, Nova Gorica, Trbovlje, Slovenj Gradec, Izola and Brežice.

The company underlined that it had acted lawfully, with due diligence and in line with business practices in bidding to deliver the ventilators.

Meanwhile, Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek is facing a vote of no confidence following allegations of wrongdoing in the procurement of ventilators.

Ivan Gale, deputy director of the Commodity Reserves Agency, alleged in Tarča a week ago that Počivalšek had instructed the agency to pay a 100% prepayment to Geneplanet in this deal.

Gale also told the newsportal 24ur.com today that Prime Minister Janez Janša's spouse, Urška Bačovnik Janša, who is a medical doctor, has also interfered in the procurement of equipment.

Gale forwarded to the newsportal an email showing that Bačovnik Janša had forwarded to Počivalšek in an email the contact of Miran Blatnik, the husband of Celje Hospital infection ward head Janja Blatnik and the director of Xan-Max, with which the agency signed a EUR 9.8 million contract on 21 March.

Publicly accessible data show that the contract was later rescinded. Bačovnik Janša tweeted in response, saying she believed that thousands of other people did the same. "My conscience and my dedication to the medical profession dictated that I did what I did," she tweeted, adding that only those used to getting commissions can see such motivations in her actions.

All our stories on the PPE scandal are here

04 May 2020, 19:44 PM

STA, 4 May 2020 - The details concerning the purchase of a total of 316 ventilators for coronavirus patients continue to raise dust. Two doctors have stepped forward defending the choice, and the government and some media have questioned the credibility of a member of an expert group that had reservations about the purchase of 220 of these ventilators.

It was two doctors from the Celje general hospital who issued statements on Saturday in defence of the 220 Siriusmed R30 ventilators ordered on 18 March through Geneplanet for EUR 8 million even though an expert commission formed as part of the selection process had reportedly ranked them at the very bottom of the 13 ventilators picked among 92 as appropriate.

While a government report on PPE purchases during the coronavirus crisis is still pending, Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek and PM Janez Janša have defended what TV Slovenia said were the most expensive ventilators on the approved list. They argued lives had been at stake and that the speed of supply had been the decisive factor.

Accusations about alleged political ties and personal interests have meanwhile continued flying across the board, starting with reports hinting at potential ties between Geneplanet and the ruling Democrats (SDS).

While it has been confirmed that none of the three hospitals supplied with the Siriusmeds had used them on Covid-19 patients and that the head of the Celje hospital had served as state secretary under Počivalšek, the spotlight has shifted in recent days to internal medicine specialist Rihard Knafelj, one of the three members of an informal medical group that had evaluated offers for ventilators.

It was Knafelj who insisted for one of the two editions of TV Slovenija's Tarča current affairs shows - which featured Commodities Reserves Agency whistleblower Ivan Gale - that the Siriusmed ventilators were dangerous for use on Covid-19 patients.

While the UKC Ljubljana doctor, who specialises in artificial ventilation, initially came under fire for alleged ties to the Marjan Šarec Party (LMŠ), he was later attacked heavily for several Facebook posts, including a reference to PM Janša as Adolf Janša and a joke that those trusting God do not need ventilators.

The Medical Chamber said today its ethics committee would examine the statements, for which Knafelj has already apologised. It also condemned death threats that he received.

Another prominent accusation against him is that he pushed for the purchase of other ventilators - a day after the deal with Geneplanet, Slovenia also ordered 46 Bellavista ventilators through Gorenje and 50 Nihon Kohden ventilators through Ram2, Dnevnik reported. These three had also been on the expert group's list of 13, along with Avea and Mindray ventilators, but at least the Mindrays were no longer available at that point, the paper added.

Publishing an email sent to officials by Knafelj on 19 March, the Siol.net new portal reported on Sunday that Knafelj had pushed for the purchase of several ventilators by other makers, including the Bellavista ventilators even though they had been designated as potentially lethal by US, Canadian as well as Slovenian authorities last November.

"We did not push for any of the 13. The three mentioned in Siol's article (Avea, Bellavista and Mindray) had been offered as being available for purchase immediately, and this is what gave rise to the question of why they had not been purchased given that they had been assessed positively," Knafelj told the STA on Sunday.

As for the Bellavistas, he said certain serial numbers had been recalled in November, but that their producer Vyaire Medical had committed to upgrading the device's software by the end of the 2019 and that its recommendations for use on Covid-19 patients were in line with the recommendations by the European Society of Intensive Care Medicine.

Meanwhile, Tomislav Mirkovič, another UKC Ljubljana doctor, who used to head the hospital's intensive care unit, said at today's government coronavirus briefing that experts were fairly united in the view that the Siriusmed R30 is suitable for use on Covid-19 patients provided a compressor and an air humidifier with heated pipes are supplied additionally.

This requirement had also been stated in its opinion by the expert commission, which Mirkovič said had done a good job. He added that according to his knowledge, the Celje hospital has this additional equipment.

Mirkovič moreover argued that the start of the epidemic had been a confusing time filled with panic there would not be enough ventilators. He explained the UKC Ljubljana hospital had also ordered 104 new ventilators on its own, 50 of them very good and 54 perhaps of a little lower quality.

Data published by UKC Ljubljana show that a deal was signed on 12 March on the purchase of 50 Hamilton C6 ventilators through Framed and two days later a deal on 54 Sternmed Vento 62 ventilators through Geneplanet. Three more Lowenstein Elisa ventilators were ordered through Ram2 in mid March.

By 24 April, 13 Sternmed Vento 62 ventilators and three Lowenstein Elisa ventilators had been delivered.

Four opposition parties file motion of no confidence in economy minister

STA, 4 May 2020 - The opposition Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ), Social Democrats (SD), Left and Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB)filed a motion of no confidence in Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek on Monday over his responsibility for what they see as opaque procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE).

The move, which the LMŠ announced on 23 April, comes after a wave of accusations was levelled at Počivalšek and the government about purchasing procedures and the quality of equipment as well as about attempts to influence the Agency for Commodity Reserves to choose certain suppliers.

More than a week ago, Ivan Gale, the deputy head of the agency, came forward with accusations of strong political pressure and other potential irregularities in the procurement. The whistleblower also told the Tarča current affairs show that Počivalšek had personally intervened in favour of a ventilator contract with the company Geneplanet worth EUR 8 million.

Počivalšek denies any wrongdoing, describing the media reports on the topic as an orchestrated head hunt. He acknowledged things could have been done better, but said the situation at the start of the epidemic had been unprecedented.

He said that neither he nor his colleagues had lobbied or politically influenced decisions in any way, adding that the goal of the communication had been to speed up procedures and secure protective equipment for frontline staff at a time when it was needed the most.

Prime Minister Janez Janša said on Saturday that Počivalšek still enjoyed his trust and that a government report on the procurement would be sent to parliament this week.

Presenting the motion to the press, representatives of all four parties said the responsibility for the controversial procurement of protective equipment lied with the entire government, especially since the PM expressed support for Počivalšek, and that more measures were to follow.

LMŠ MP Robert Pavšič said a parliamentary inquiry into the procurement procedures would be launched in a few days.

He said the minister had been violating the law, which applied also in times of crisis, in conducting procurement procedures, which should have been conducted by the Agency for Medicines and Medical Devices any way. "It's about a whole range of direct and indirect breaches of the law, but mostly avoidance and misleading, and apparent cronyism and corruption," he said.

LMŠ head Marjan Šarec added on the sidelines on today's meeting of the National Security Council that there was also no clear information on what the needs for protective equipment had actually been.

Some equipment was available at the start of the epidemic, including ventilators, and the UKC Ljubljana hospital for example had EUR 30 million available for purchasing more of it, he said. Other health institutes also had permission to purchase equipment, he added.

Šarec also said the Chinese ambassador had offered assistance. The state only needed a company to import the equipment, and this could have been the Agency for Commodity Reserves or state-owned companies, for example pharma company Krka, Šarec said.

Šarec said the goal was to get to the bottom of this. The economy minister is not the only one responsible, as orders were coming from the top, he said, noting that some e-mails had apparently been written by Janša's wife.

Deputy head of the SD deputy group, Bojana Muršič, said "this government, this coalition has created a parallel world for itself, and only dishonest practices are coming out of it". She said the SD condemned cronyism in the procurement of protective equipment, noting the procedures must be investigated.

"Every time Janez Janša is in power millions in provisions are paid out," said MP of the Left Miha Kordiš, pointing to the 1990s defence scandal and the 2008 Patria scandal.

Maša Kociper of the SAB warned that determining political responsibility in the parliamentary inquiry or the no confidence vote would not bring back the millions that were possibly lost in the deals.

The SAB had demanded parliamentary oversight of all public procurement during the epidemic and a special fund, which would be used to finance all epidemic-related costs, but its proposals were rejected, she noted.

In the motion of confidence the parties allege that Počivalšek is politically responsible for financial profiteering of individuals and companies in procurement of PPE and other medical supplies and for uneconomical spending of public funds.

Blaming him for "unethical, crony and corrupt collusion in favouring companies and individuals" to buy PPE from, they say that due to his "lying and misleading of the public and media" the minister has lost trust in his integrity and work.

They note conflicting and inconsistent statements by Minister Počivalšek and Defence Minister Matej Tonin and shifting of the responsibility for PPE procurement from one body to another.

They allege that by misleading the public that the state could only buy through Slovenian intermediaries, the Economy Ministry squandered favourable bids by the Chinese state company Sinofarm and the online giant Alibaba.

They cite data showing that the Agency for Commodity Reserves paid some suppliers up to 100% of the order's value in advance, even though Počivalšek ruled out any money being paid up front.

To vote out the minister, at least 46 out of 90 deputies of the National Assembly would need to vote in favour of the motion. The four opposition parties have 37 deputies between them, while Zmago Jelinčič, the leader of another opposition party, has announced the three deputies of his National Party (SNS) will not support the motion, which he said was "without any juice and completely void".

03 May 2020, 09:48 AM

STA, 2 May 2020 - Following a series of accusations about alleged dodgy procedures in the procurement of personal protective equipment and ventilators, company Geneplanet, Slovenia's key provider of ventilators during the coronavirus epidemic, proposed to the government on Saturday to mutually agree to terminate the relevant contracts.

Related: New Details in Slovenia’s Coronavirus Equipment Scandal

The company wants to protect its reputation, according to its director Marko Bitenc, who suggested the termination of the cooperation in a letter addressed to Toni Rumpf, the acting director of the Agency for Commodity Reserves.

Bitenc explained that the company's "appearance in this negative context without any reasonable grounds is harmful to its international reputation and good repute", adding that the company had been operating in line with law and regulations.

Geneplanet proposes terminating a part of the contract that pertains to ventilators and protective masks which have not yet been delivered, as well as repurchasing ventilators that have already been supplied at the delivery price.

The company has so far delivered 110 of the 220 ordered ventilators from a Chinese supplier and must deliver the remainder by 15 May according to the contract signed with the agency.

The Tarča current affairs show, which broke the story of alleged political pressure in the procurement procedures more than a week ago, said on Thursday the contract had been botched since the ventilators were unsuitable for Covid-19 patients.

One of the three members of an informal medical group that had evaluated offers for ventilators, internal medicine specialist Rihard Knafelj, told Tarča that his group had assessed 90 offers and the one offered by Geneplanet had been assessed as the least appropriate of the 13 that were deemed acceptable. The government was acquainted with the assessment.

Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek, who was recorded prodding the agency into signing the contract with Geneplanet as soon as possible, denied accusations, adding that the government received another expert opinion and stressing that the ventilators supplied by Geneplanet were one of the few available at the time.

Bitenc also told Tarča that the ventilators were adequate for treating Covid-19 patients and denied that the company was in any way prioritised in the procedures of selecting providers.

The deputy head of the agency Ivan Gale claims that Počivalšek has personally intervened in favour of the ventilator contract with Geneplanet worth EUR 8 million.

The company was one of only two providers to receive 100% advance payment. It was also the only ventilator provider with a bank guarantee covering only 50% of the transaction, said Tarča reporters, adding that Geneplanet ventilators were also the most expensive.

On Monday, Geneplanet will present all the paper trail regarding its contracts with the agency and clarify any open issues relating to the quality and suitability of its ventilators, added the company today.

Responding to the company's proposal, Počivalšek said that the Health Ministry had been urged to issue an opinion on whether Slovenia needs the ventilators. He also described the accusations as public lynching.

Even though the minister's response implies that the government will deliberate over the option of terminating the contract, the agency told public broadcaster TV Slovenija that Geneplanet's argument for the termination did not warrant such a step. The agency thus still expects the remainder of the ventilators to be delivered by 15 May.

03 May 2020, 09:24 AM

STA, 2 May 2020 - Prime Minister Janez Janša said on Saturday that Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek was still enjoying his trust in the wake of accusations of political pressure in the purchasing of personal protective equipment and ventilators. Janša added that a government report on the procurement would be sent to parliament next week.

"Everything that could be received as soon as possible and that met at least basic standards was purchased. I'm not aware of a single EU country which would act differently. Many are still doing that. The delivery time and supply security are No. 1 factor. With every delivery, a huge weight has been lifted off of our chests," wrote the prime minister on Twitter today.

Related: New Details in Slovenia’s Coronavirus Equipment Scandal

The report on the PPE purchasing was requested by Janša after a wave of accusations was levelled at the government about dodgy procedures and faulty equipment as well as about attempts to influence the Agency for Commodity Reserves to choose certain suppliers.

More than a week ago, Ivan Gale, the deputy head of the agency, came forward with accusations of strong political pressure and other potential irregularities in the procurement. The whistleblower also told the Tarča current affairs show that Počivalšek had personally intervened in favour of a ventilator contract with the company Geneplanet worth EUR 8 million.

Pointing out that the report will be presented in parliament next week, Janša said that Počivalšek and Defence Minister Matej Tonin had wanted to present the report's key findings already during the latest Tarča show on Thursday, but "a yapping presenter did not allow them to do that".

The prime minister also highlighted that the previous government paid EUR 49,154 for the only ordered ventilator prior to 13 March, while the average price for ventilators stood at EUR 33,880 after the current government took over.

"The difference between these two price tags explains the motive of first-class suppliers and their media as well as PR branches for attacks on Počivalšek," said Janša.

Meanwhile, the opposition plans to file a no-confidence motion against Počivalšek as well as request a parliamentary inquiry. The coalition New Slovenia (NSi), led by Tonin, has said that it would back the investigation.

Počivalšek denies any wrongdoing, having said that the story was an orchestrated "hunt on my head".

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