Patria Bribery Trial to Begin

06. 09. 2011

Patria Bribery Trial to Begin

The scandal surrounding the 2006 defence deal with Finnish company Patria will enter its decisive phase in Slovenia on Monday as the bribery trial, in which ex-PM Janez Jansa is among five people indicted, will get under way.

In line with the last version of the indictment circulated, the trial will see Jansa - the PM at the time of the EUR 278m purchase of 135 armoured personnel carriers and presently a leading contender for the post of prime minister - accused of complicity in receiving a bribe.


Joze Zagozen, Jansa's close aide in the past in the Democrats (SDS), and army officer Tone Krkovic, also an associate of Jansa in the past, are accused of accepting a bribe.


Moreover, Ivan Crnkovic, the boss of Rotis, the Slovenian company selected to supply the APCs from Patria, is charged with offering bribes, while Austrian businessman of Slovenian origin Walter Wolf is suspected of helping him.



Talk of alleged irregularities in the deal started soon after the public tender, published by Jansa's government (2004-2008), saw Patria being chosen over domestic supplier Sistemska tehnika, with which the LibDems-led government preceding Jansa's had signed a letter in 2003 of intent concerning the purchase.


The case became a full-blown scandal in September 2008, when Finnish public television YLE broadcast a report saying that Jansa was on a list of recipients of bribes, amounting to EUR 21m, that secured Patria the deal in Slovenia.

The accused have rejected the accusations and Jansa's supporters have pointed out that YLE's report came in the middle of the campaign for the general election, which later saw the SDS narrowly losing against the SocDems.


But the case has led to extensive criminal investigations in Slovenia, Finland and Austria. The first probe was launched in Finland, whose investigators have visited Slovenia on several occasions in the past few years.


In line with statements by chief Finnish investigator Kaj Erik Bjoerqkvist, the conclusion of the investigation in Finland, first announced for the spring of 2009, is expected within a few weeks and involves 13 Finnish citizens as well as foreign citizens.


The pre-trial phase in Austria is already completed, with the Vienna State Prosecution filing in June an indictment against eight suspects, which include Wolf as well as Patria middleman Wolfgang Riedl.


In Slovenia, the list of key evidence against the accused allegedly includes a plan which was found on Crnkovic's computer and which envisages the formula for how the money transfered from Patria to Rotis would be distributed among him, Zagozen, Krkovic and "the party".


Other evidence allegedly include a series of entries in Zagozen's appointment book, which also suggest meetings with Jansa on key dates of correspondence with Patria's middlemen.


Meanwhile, the case has already seen a related trial in Slovenia, in which former Defence Minister Karl Erjavec and former army Chief-of-Staff Albin Gutman were acquitted of misfeasance charges related to the contract with Patria.

In the case, which centred around 25 unequipped APCs ordered as part of the deal, the Ljubljana Local Court cited a lack of evidence that the pair had caused damage to the national budget with the purchase.


The Erjavec and Gutman case was handled by prosecutor Branka Zobec Hrastar, who was also the author of the original indictment against Jansa and the four other accused.


Zobec Hrastar, however resigned in the face of accusations by Jansa that she had fabricated a key piece of evidence against him, for which he also bought criminal charges against her, which were later turned down by prosecutors.


Zobec Hrastar, whose case was later reassigned to Andrej Ferlinc, said she did not wish to "work in such an office in a country that won't or cannot protect its officials", citing a lack of concrete support from top prosecution officials.


In another related case, the SDS successfully sued the daily Delo over accusations that money from the Patria deal was channelled to the party and Jansa has also taken legal action against several individuals accusing him of involvement in bribery, including the author of the YLE report, Finnish reporter Magnus Berglund.


Insisting that the case is a political conspiracy, SDS supporters have maintained that former Slovenian President Milan Kucan played a role in it, but also that the case was "exported" as a fabrication to Finland by former anti-corruption commission boss Drago Kos.


Ahead of the start of the trial, the SDS released a statement quoting an alleged police document in which it said that the police probe in Slovenia failed to find any evidence that Patria money had made it to the accounts of the SDS. It said this corroborated its own internal audit from 2009.