Report alleges corruption at motorway company
Slovenia's state-owned motorway company DARS has been exposed for alleged widespread corruption, kickbacks, blackmail, the favouring of selected suppliers and rigged public tenders in a report run by the commercial broadcaster POP TV which implicates members of the country's political establishment.
The broadcaster showed a video on 22 October allegedly showing notorious tax adviser Rok Snežič receiving kickbacks in exchange for arranging deals with DARS.
A whistleblower whose identity has been concealed told POP TV he paid Snežič, a tax adviser who was the cellmate of Democrat (SDS) leader Janez Janša and describes himself as a close friend of Janša's, a total of €90,000 in kickbacks. A video apparently taken from a ceiling camera showed Snežič receiving €5,000 in cash.
The whistleblower said he was told by Snežič that he had "complete control" at DARS through three people: chairman Valentin Hajdinjak, who is a former vice-president of New Slovenia (NSi), the director of maintenance Damijan Jaklin, a state secretary at the Defence Ministry under NSi president Matej Tonin, and Anton Travner, a former police commissioner.
Jaklin and Travner left DARS at the start of this year at the request of one of the board members, according to POP TV.
The whistleblower said kickbacks were necessary if one wanted to work for DARS. "Rok Snežič canvassed Slovenia looking for combinations to get money for the party." Asked if the party in question was the SDS, he said it was.
Those implicated deny allegations
The SDS said on the social network X that Snežič had never raised funds for the party. "If the journalist wanted to verify that, she would have received a reply," it said.
Snežič, a registered lobbyist who has also been involved in arranging a loan for the SDS from Bosnia-Herzegovina several years ago, told POP TV he had never received kickbacks.
"If I accept [money], I accept payment for work done," he said. He acknowledged he often demands advance payment, which he returns if he cannot arrange a deal. If he is successful, he invoices his clients.
Snežič denied ever lobbying for DARS and did not recall ever getting advance payment for that. He said he was not a member of the SDS but was a supporter of the party.
Hajdinjak told POP TV he did not know Snežič. "We've never seen each other, spoken or written to each other," he said. But he acknowledged that several individuals had called him, including from various ministries, pressuring him into meeting with Snežič. "There were a few calls recommending me that it would be good if I met with Mr. Snežič. I ignored them."
Hajdinjak said one such call had come from an employee of the Infrastructure Ministry at a time when it was led by his party colleague Jernej Vrtovec. He claims he immediately notified Vrtovec of the call.
Jaklin told POP TV he did not know Snežič either.
POP TV said it also had a tape of Snežič saying about Travner, the former police commissioner, that he "is not completely ours." Travner denied knowing or ever being in contact with Snežič.
Snežič this year commissioned billboards with his picture and the text "Rok Snežič opens all doors". The state-owned companies DARS, SiDG, Luka Koper and Slovenian Sovereign Holding are named on the billboard as the companies whose doors he opens.
POP TV also looked at allegations of rigged tenders for lorry towing services on the motorway. It alleged Jaklin and Travner played some of the key roles in the tender as DARS made sure that the deal was divided among selected towing companies, quoting unnamed legal experts as saying that this was a cartel deal conducted with DARS's blessing.
In another connection with the NSi, POP TV said DARS had commissioned from the law firm of Nina Zidar Klemenčič amendments to a law that would benefit a specific company owned by a Žalec-based businessman called Enes Draganović. The latter owns multiple businesses, including a hotel where the NSi council held a session in June this year.
Police inquiries ongoing
Commenting on the revelations, NSi leader Matej Tonin said it was up to the police to investigate the allegations, along with the anti-corruption watchdog and the Slovenian Sovereign Holding as the manager of the state stake in DARS.
Calls for the authorities in charge to look into the matter have also come from ruling coalition parties.
Police paid a visit to POP TV on 23 October, asking the media outlet to hand over the documents and recordings alleging the wrongdoings.
The affiliated portal 24ur.com reported that the police also inquired about the identity of the whistleblower, which the media company said it would not disclose because it was protecting its source. "But we will hand over all documents of interest to the public to the police," wrote the portal.
Tonin suggested the whistleblower was "an entrepreneur who attempted to bribe DARS employees but he obviously failed to win the deal and has now gone public."
He said his party would contribute to getting to the bottom of the allegations by having the matter discussed on the parliamentary Commission for the Oversight of Public Finances.
Meanwhile, the Sovereign Holding summoned DARS management and supervisory boards to meetings on 24 October to "obtain all the relevant facts and information on the case that will serve as a basis for further measures".
The state asset custodian pledged to apply all the available means at its disposal to prevent potential corruptive acts in the future and investigate and punish such potential acts that may have been committed.
DARS repeated its denial of the allegations, declaring it would take "appropriate legal means" to protect the company's reputation and ascertain potential wrongdoing, with action already taken.
The company reiterated that board members did not know Rok Snežič and had never met or talked with him, let alone discuss deals with him.