Abuse suspected in wide-reaching investigation of bank accounts
A wide-reaching review of bank accounts, including of the bosses of some of Slovenia's main media outlets, has raised speculation about potential political abuse of the Office for Money Laundering Prevention under the previous government. This was after two of the media involved reported that the office's former boss was being investigated for abuse of office in connection to an alleged deal between Slovenia's former prime minister and Serbia's president.
The news portals N1 and Necenzurirano have reported that Damjan Žugelj, who served as director of the Office for Money Laundering Prevention under the previous government, was being investigated for triggering one of the most extensive reviews ever performed by the office.
Based on a brief anonymous letter, the office sent 238 requests to banks to look into 195 accounts of 107 individuals and companies. "I've never heard of such an extensive investigation by this office, especially based on an anonymous letter," Klaudijo Stroligo, the office's first director, told the news portal.
A while ago, Necenzurirano reported that Janez Janša, at the time Slovenia's prime minister, had struck a deal with Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić before the 2022 general election. Janša was allegedly interested in his main rival Robert Golob, now Slovenia's prime minister, and the business dealings of Gen-I, the company that Golob ran for a long time, in the Balkans.
Meanwhile, Vučić was allegedly interested in the transactions of Dragan Đilas, a Serbian opposition leader, and Dragan Šolak, the Serbian co-owner of United Group, the parent company of N1 and the telecommunications company Telemach, among others.
Janša calls allegations absurd
Janša has rejected the report as absurd insinuations. "We see this as an obvious attempt by some Balkan and Slovenian oligarchs and powerful individuals to divert attention from suspected criminal acts to politics after incriminating evidence was found of non-transparent and extremely suspicious money transfers and withdrawals of huge amounts of money," Janša said.
According to N1, the Office for Money Laundering Prevention looked into the bank accounts of Šolak, his immediate and distant family, the accounts of his companies in Slovenia and the private bank accounts of all managers in these companies.
The office also looked into the bank account of Branko Čakarmiš, now director general of the media company Pro Plus, the owner of the broadcasters POP TV and Kanal A, who was the broadcasters' programme director at the time.
Žugelj, who headed the Office for Money Laundering Prevention from March 2021 to June 2022, said the investigation in no way targetted media owners. He described the allegations as a smear campaign against him, suggesting the investigation had been triggered by the media.
He told N1 that the anonymous letter was "rather extensive and specific, and could be described as wistleblowing".
N1 says one of the key leads investigated by Žugelj was the cash flow of €80 million that Telemach received between 2007 and 2021. This turned out to be the proceeds of cash payments by subscribers who settle their bills at Telemach offices commission-free.
Concerns law open to abuse
"It is unbelievable and alarming that such primitive abuse was even possible in an EU member state in 2022," United group and its co-owner Šolak said in a written statement.
"As someone who loves Slovenia and whose immediate family members are Slovenian, I sincerely hope that the state systems will show that the rule of law exists in Slovenia and that those responsible will be appropriately sanctioned," Šolak added.
The United group called on the relevant institutions to investigate whether "illegal methods unbecoming of a democracy have been used against us, and to find who is responsible".
The media group also expects the relevant institutions to let it know whether data about its companies and its employees had been abused, where the documents are stored and whether all data has been appropriately protected. The group also wants to know whether the investigation entailed political abuse of institutions.
The report has triggered political reactions with Borut Sajovic of the ruling coalition party, the Freedom Movement, commenting that the Prevention of Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Act had been passed just before the end of the term of Janša's government "obviously for a reason".
Matej Tašner of the Left, another coalition party, said it had been pretty obvious that all "takeovers of the main bodies and institutions in the country" under the previous government had been intended for political settling of scores.
Social Democrat Jani Prednik hinted at the possibility of opening a parliamentary inquiry into the matter but said "the police and prosecution must do their job".
The opposition New Slovenia (NSi) finds that the credibility of the Office for Money Laundering Prevention is on the line. It called for a in-depth professional and independent investigation.
Information Commissioner Mojca Prelesnik noted that she had asked the Constitutional Court to review the Prevention of Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Act, which she believes is open to abuse.
"Alarms went off, mainly because of anonymous reports, anonymous accusations, where in fact the office is able to obtain a large amount of personal data. Bank data, and last but not least tax data, can tell everything about your life," she told POP TV on 15 May.