Former anti-money laundering czar faces abuse of office charges
The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has pressed preliminary charges against a former director of the Office for Money Laundering Prevention and his closest associates on suspicion of abuse of office in one of the biggest investigations of bank accounts in Slovenia.
Without revealing the names of the suspects or the name of the institution involved, the NBI confirmed on 13 October that several officials are being prosecuted for unlawfully looking into 224 bank accounts.
This was after media reported that one of the persons involved was Damjan Žugelj, who served as director of the Office for Money Laundering Prevention under the previous government.
Damjan Petrič, the head of crime investigators at the General Police Administration, said the suspects had started the investigation of bank accounts based on an anonymous letter.
"From November 2021 to February 2022, they obtained data on transactions for 224 bank accounts of 62 individuals and 32 legal entities, for the period since the accounts were opened," he said.
They obtained the data on local and foreign individuals, and legal entities without an adequate legal basis, based merely on requests for data on suspicious transactions.
"The suspected officials knowingly acted in violation of several laws and provisions on personal data protection, which is a fundamental human right," Petrič said. The criminal act of abuse of office carries up to three years in prison.
The NBI started the criminal investigation at the beginning of October 2022, as part of which extensive paperwork and more than ten electronic devices have been seized and more than a hundred interviews conducted.
The pre-trial investigation has been steered by the Specialised State Prosecutor's Office.
Media allege political abuse
Some media have reported that the bank investigation had been an attempt to crackdown on opponents of former Prime Minister Janez Janša.
The portal Necenzuriano reported that, while in office, Janša struck a deal with Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić ahead of the 2022 general election.
While he is said to have been interested in his then-rival and now Prime Minister Robert Golob and the business of the company Golob ran at the time, Gen-I, in the Balkans. Vučić was allegedly interested in the dealings of Serbian opposition leader Dragan Đilas and Dragan Šolak, the Serbian owner of N1's parent company United and telecoms operator Telemach.
Both Janša and Žugelj have denied the reports with Janša calling them "absurd insinuations".
However, asked about potential involvement of foreign countries and cross-border espionage, police official Petrič said that no other criminal act except for abuse of office had been detected during the criminal investigation.
There have been reports about the persons whose accounts may have been looked into, including lawyer Nataša Vrečar Zorčič, the wife of the former president of the National Assembly, Igor Zorčič, according to the portals Necenzurirano and N1.
Reportedly, her account was looked into when Zorčič was under pressure to resign after the change of government in the spring 2020.
"This is outright appalling. Because of characters like Damjan Žugelj, people no longer trust even the highest state institutions," Vrečar Zorčič has told N1.
"I will take appropriate action, because it is a severe violation of human rights. I will certainly file a criminal complaint against Žugelj myself for criminal acts of abuse of office to my detriment," she added.
Petrič said that all affected parties had been informed about the criminal complaint filed.
"The proceedings at the Specialised State Prosecutor's Office continue, and the affected parties also have the opportunity to exercise their claims in civil proceedings," he added.