The Slovenia Times

PM faces accusation he delayed Russian spies' arrest

Prime Minister Robert Golob. Photo: Nebojša Tejić/STA

Prime Minister Robert Golob has been accused, allegedly by the former interior minister, of having intervened to change the date of the arrest of two suspected Russian spies last year, a claim he has dismissed as "hallucination". The allegation has also been denied by SOVA, Slovenia's intelligence agency.

Several media have reported the claim was made by Tatjana Bobnar, the former interior minister, when she testified at a parliamentary inquiry behind closed doors on 23 October.

According to these reports, the arrests were supposed to be made on 28 November 2022, the day after a triple referendum, and Golob allegedly did not want that news to overshadow his government's referendum victory.

The alleged spies were arrested a week later, but news of their arrest was not made public until several weeks later.

Denying the allegation, SOVA said it had planned its activities in conjunction with the National Bureau of Investigation, with the possible dates of the arrest proposed by the agency's director "based on operational and tactical reasons, and most certainly not at the request of the prime minister or anyone else."

"This means that the allegations circulating in the public are not true. Up until the arrest of the suspects the agency carried out all activities aimed at providing national security, while the house searches were carried out in the time frame determined in the court order issued by the competent court," the agency said In a written statement on 26 October.

Asked about the allegation on a late-night news show on TV Slovenija the day before, Golob said: "Please, this is yet another hallucination that is utterly untrue and completely beyond my reach."

"No prime minister has the power to achieve that, let alone demand that. But there is another issue, namely that Bobnar as minister should not have been included in this process, and if she has information that I don't, where did she get the information?" he wondered.

In the portion of the parliamentary inquiry session open to the public, both Bobnar and her police commissioner at the time, Boštjan Lindav, accused Golob of exerting undue pressure on the police regarding staffing, which she said eventually led to her resignation in December 2022.

Golob reiterated for the Odmevi news show his earlier assertions that they were both lying. "They both lied to the inquiry. I have witnesses, not just documents, and I will be glad to present both witnesses and documents to the inquiry," he said.

Deal to "purge police of Janšists"

Golob said the only conversation he and Bobnar had about his expectations was before she took office in May 2022, when he said the common goal was to "purge Slovenia of Janšism," a reference to the policies of Janez Janša, the former prime minister.

In an earlier comment he said the only truth that Bobnar told the inquiry was that they had a deal her single task was of "purging the police of Janšists".

In response an MP for Janša's Democratic Party (SDS) asked the government for explanations and to name the people Golob labelled as Janšists. Meanwhile, the party's MEP Milan Zver asked the European Commission to defend the rule of law in Slovenia.

Golob told the commercial broadcaster POP TV in another late-night show on 25 October that "purging the police of Janšism" meant reversing all unlawful appointments.

"We promised voters we'd do that, not just in the police but also at RTV Slovenija and other institutions, and we've received the mandate from voters to do that," he said.

Indeed, Golob said he asked Bobnar and Lindav at that May 2022 meeting whether they could realise the pledge to voters and "they both said they could and offered to achieve this goal".

If a minister believes a prime minister demands that they break the law, they have the duty to inform the government of that. Bobnar did not do that, not until she started spreading these claims after she resigned, Golob said.

Asked whether he would resign if the police or the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption determine that he had broken the law, Golob said this was tantamount to asking him under what conditions he was willing to betray voters.

He is convinced that all his actions were in line with the law and nobody lost their job in the police force over their political convictions.

Police investigation under way

Bobnar's statements at the inquiry have not only caused a political storm, they also appear to have led the police to start inquiring.

The Ljubljana Police District told the Slovenian Press Agency on 25 October that a preliminary investigation has been launched based on Bobnar's statements.

"We came across alleged irregularities allegedly revealed at the closed session [of the inquiry commission] from media reports and will monitor the detected information," the police said.

They did not reveal which specific persons the inquiry is focused on.

The allegations against Golob are also being looked into by the opposition-led parliamentary Commission for the Oversight of Intelligence and Security Services.

After interviewing officials concerned, including the SOVA director on 26 October, the commission's chair, New Slovenia MP Janez Žakelj, said they found the information about the arrest of Russian spies was inconsistent, so they will continue to investigate to determine whether the date of the arrest was determined based on expert or political arguments .

They found that under the investigating judge's decision the time frame for the arrest was between 28 November and 10 December last year.

According to Žakelj, the arrest date was set on 5 December at the proposal of the SOVA director due to the potential impact of the arrest on the triple referendum and the second round of local elections even though police were ready for the arrest as early as 28 November 2022.


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