The Slovenia Times

Having served prison, ex-CEO wins part of his case against state

Politics
Igor Bavčar, an independence-era interior minister who went to become one of Slovenia's most powerful business executives before ending up in prison, has won part of his case against the state at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

The court found that Slovenia violated Bavčar's right to presumption of innocence in a case where he was sentenced to five years in prison in 2016 for money laundering linked to an unsuccessful attempt at a management buyout of the Istrabenz conglomerate which he ran between 2002 and 2009.

In its judgement released on 7 September, the Strasbourg court ordered Slovenia to pay Bavčar €16,000, of which €10,000 in damages and €6,000 in litigation costs.

The case concerned appeal proceedings during which the then Justice Minister Goran Klemenčič said in a TV interview in 2016 that "if the Bavčar case becomes time-barred, a lot of people will have to answer [for that]". He famously exclaimed that "heads will roll".

The Strasbourg court found in particular that the minister's statements had implied Bavčar was guilty and had caused a reaction in the courts and the government. This had violated the presumption of innocence in the case.

Meanwhile, the ECHR found that Slovenian courts did not violate the principle of no punishment without law, which entails that no one may be convicted of any act committed by an act or omission not established as a crime under national or international law at the time it i was committed.

The ECHR said Slovenian courts had provided satisfactory reasoning, which included "extensive reference to and explanations of Slovenian law, the Slovenian case-law, the constitution, international and EU law, and the ECHR's case-law".

Bavčar began serving his prison sentence in September 2017 and was released early in May 2022. He had been due to go to prison in October 2014, but, citing ill health, he asked for a deferral of his sentence. In the meantime, his conviction was overturned and he was sentenced to five instead of seven years in prison in a retrial in 2016.

While also subject to other trials, Bavčar appealed in this case to the ECHR, claiming that his right to a fair trial had been violated. He claimed procedural as well as substantive violations and demanded €1.4 million from the state.

Responding to the ECHR decision, which can be appealed by both sides, Bavčar told the newspaper Delo that he was "satisfied, since we claimed from the very start that a fair trial is a precondition for a legal trial".

Arguing the ECHR had "confirmed the trial was not fair and thus not legal", Bavčar said he would decide on further steps once studying the decision in detail.

Bavčar, 67, took over as Istrabenz chairman in 2002 after serving as minister in several governments, including as Slovenia's first interior minister. He resigned as Istrabenz chairman in 2009 as the conglomerate declared insolvency.

The police investigation in what was one of the most infamous pre-crisis management buyouts in the country, involving Istrabenz and brewer Pivovarna Laško started in 2008, and the prosecution filed charges in 2010 with first court proceedings beginning in March 2013.

The trial revolved around a series of transactions involving Istrabenz stock in 2007 that effectively constituted a covert management buyout orchestrated by Bavčar and former Laško boss Boško Šrot at the expense of Laško. Šrot was also sent to prison.

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