The Slovenia Times

Government official fired over ill-fated court building

The building in Litijska Road that the Justice Ministry bought for EUR 7.7 million to house three courts. Photo: Bor Slana/STA

A government official who used to serve as Slovenia's chief auditor and then member of the European Parliament has lost his job as the reckoning continues over the controversial purchase of a run-down Ljubljana building meant to house several court departments.

Following hot on the heels of the news that Justice Minister Dominika Švarc Pipan's resignation over the scandal was finally referred to parliament, the government announced on 15 February it had dismissed one of her aides, State Secretary Igor Šoltes over his role in the deal at the minister's proposal.

Švarc Pipan initially defended the €7.7 million deal but then, when her party, the Social Democrats (SD), urged her to resign amid ever worse allegations, she changed tack, saying she had grounds to suspect the purchase had been orchestrated by several senior ministry officials and SD members.

Uroš Gojkovič, the ministry's secretary general, was the first to be dismissed, while SD secretary general Klemen Žibert resigned a few days later due to the same accusations.

In the meantime, there was growing discontent among SD members not just over the scandal but also due to Prime Minister Robert Golob's failure to heed the party's call to dismiss Švarc Pipan, instead letting her drag the party through the mud.

Discussing several scenarios, including quitting the ruling coalition, the SD decided to hold an election congress in mid-April, half-way into the current leadership's term. Foreign Minister Tanja Fajon, the party's present leader, has not said whether she will seek re-election.

In the wake of the scandal the party's rating tanked from 7.5% to a historic low 2.6% in a poll run by the newspaper Delo on 12 February as the government saw its voter approval fall to the lowest this term yet, with over 55% of those polled unhappy with its job.

Švarc Pipan, who has since quit the SD, conducted her own investigation into the matter, handing her findings to Golob as they agreed she would do when she offered her resignation to him. Only then did Golob make her resignation final by formally notifying parliament of it.

Justice Ministry State Secretary Igor Šoltes. Photo: Bor Slana/STA

Šoltes was one of those the minister has been pointing her finger at in the media, alleging he was one of the people at the ministry who suspiciously changed phones at roughly the same time, just as the scandal was unfolding. She indicated Šoltes had been involved in the talks regarding the purchase of the building.

Šoltes served as the president of the Court of Audit between 2004 and 2013, and then successfully ran for member of the European Parliament in 2014 with his own list, serving one term. In the 2022 general election he ran for MP on the SD ticket but was not elected and ended up being named state secretary.

While there was no response to Šoltes's dismissal, the three coalition parties welcomed Švarc Pipan's resignation being referred to parliament. SD deputy group leader Jani Prednik was "satisfied that we will no longer be dealing with this single person but focus on tangible issues affecting citizens".

Matej T. Vatovec of the Left feels the process "perhaps dragged on for a little too long", as there are law enforcement authorities in charge of investigating the matter. "Announced, expected and necessary. Accountability must be accepted and the story must be investigated," commented Borut Sajovic of the PM's Freedom Movement.

Švarc Pipan came into the spotlight in early January after it transpired the Justice Ministry paid €7.7 million for the building on Litijska Road in east Ljubljana to a businessman, who bought it for only €1.9 million from a bankruptcy estate in 2019. The deal has also been scrutinised by police and the anti-graft watchdog.

The building, now empty and in bad state of repair, was to be renovated to serve as premises for several court departments, but court officials have said the building is not suitable to serve as court premises.

After media initially reported that the building was smaller than stated in the sale agreement, an independent surveyor hired by the State Attorney's Office has found that it is in fact larger.


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