Justice minister agrees to resign after throwing coalition into turmoil
Slovenia's ruling coalition appear to have found a way to resolve their biggest internal political crisis yet after a minister embroiled in a scandal over the costly purchase of a dilapidated building meant to provide premises for courts agreed to step down and the prime minister said he will accept her resignation.
The coalition were thrown into turmoil after Justice Minister Dominika Švarc Pipan refused to heed her party's call to step down for signing the controversial €7.7 million deal, instead pointing her finger back at the party, the Social Democrats (SD).
What followed was the washing of dirty linen in public as the minister accused several officials at the ministry and SD members of colluding to buy the run-down building in a less salubrious part of Ljubljana while keeping key bits of information concealed from her.
Accusing her of lying, the party immediately disavowed the minister and asked Prime Minister Robert Golob to sack her, but in a development rarely seen in Slovenia's coalition governments Golob declined to act on the party's call, insisting on getting a clearer picture of the situation before taking a decision.
Wedge driven between PM and FM
Golob's response prompted SD leader, Foreign Minister Tanja Fajon to "strongly advise" him in her appearance on TV to respect her party's position, or else "we may find ourselves in a serious situation and the coalition will have to have a serious talk about how to proceed".
On 6 February, a week after the SD urged Švarc Pipan to resign, Golob announced that he will accept the resignation the minister offered to him in a meeting the day before.
However, his office also said that the two of them agreed that the minister would present her findings regarding the controversial deal within a week. The talks on her successor should start next week.
"The minister pledged that, in the meantime, she would make sure the ministry would continue its work uninterrupted and fully participate in any procedures that might take place," the PM's office said.
Švarc Pipan said she decided to offer her resignation because of accusations that she herself was involved in the controversial deal and wanted to destroy evidence, which she rejected in the strongest terms.
She told TV Slovenija she was glad Golob has given her "the time and the opportunity to check suspicions of irregularity and disclose them to the public."
"I regret it very much that the leadership of my own party has not given me that opportunity, I wonder why, even though I proposed that myself," she said.
SD secretary general steps down
Golob's office issued a statement saying he was going to accept Švarc Pipan's resignation after SD secretary general Klemen Žibert, whom the minister implicated in the scandal, stepped down.
In explaining his decision, Žibert said his resignation should relieve the party of the criticism he and his family have been the targets of in recent days.
Švarc Pipan accused him of pushing for the deal and her claims were backed by a text he sent from his vacation in Thailand in mid-December to the minister's chief of staff, Žiga Čepe, another SD member.
After Žibert was singled out in the scandal, media started reporting about his parents' wealth, alleging they purchased several luxury properties in recent years while wondering how they paid for them.
"These days, accusations about my role in the purchase of the Litijska Road building and my family's assets by those who, on the basis of their one-sided truths, are spreading them in public, are becoming fuel for a public lynching of the SD and all its members, which I find unacceptable," Žibert wrote in his resignation letter.
He said he was confident that truth would come out in the end and hinted that Švarc Pipan was insulted and thus revengeful and was trying to cover up her own role in the matter.
Švarc Pipan welcomed his resignation by saying she hoped "this is the SD's first and not last step towards actively and decisively dealing with systemic corruption regardless of political colour and preferences".
Referring to a motion of no-confidence in her filed by the opposition Democrats (SDS), she told TV Slovenija the night before that the SD and the SDS were working towards the same goal "virtually for the first time in history", which was to "close this story as soon as possible, to clear up as little as possible".
The contentious €7.7 million transaction of the building on Litijska Road in east Ljubljana, which was to be renovated to house several Ljubljana-based court departments, is also being investigated by police. In 2019, the now empty building was purchased by a businessman for only €1.9 million from a bankruptcy estate.