The Slovenia Times

Police search Telekom Slovenije, Nova24TV

Logo of Nova24TV media outlet. Photo: Aljoša Rehar/STA

Police searched the premises of the state-owned telecommunications company Telekom Slovenije and Nova24TV, a media company with links to the opposition Democrats (SDS), on 29 May, unofficially in connection with suspicious transactions between the two companies under the previous, SDS-led government.

Without naming the companies or the suspects under investigation, police said that more than 20 house and personal searches were conducted and eight Slovenian citizens aged 40-55 were the suspects.

Mitja Bartolme, the head of the white-collar crime department at the Criminal Police Directorate, said the suspects had various roles in the affected company and in 2020-2021 concluded a detrimental contract worth over €6 million. They are believed to have gained over €3 million in unlawful proceeds.

The police official said no person had been detained and the suspects had no previous criminal record.

Telekom Slovenije told the Slovenian Press Agency it was "not the subject of the proceedings", and would make the required documents available to the investigators.

The web portal Nova24TV reported that Nova24TV headquarters and the office and home of director Boris Tomašič were being searched, as well as the premises of Telekom Slovenije and the homes of eleven former members of the telco's management and some other suspects.

In a press statement, Nova24TV lawyer Janez Stušek said neither the company nor anyone working for the TV channel was among the suspects.

Accusations investigation politically motivated

Communicating on X, Tomašič said the investigation had been initiated based on a report from a parliamentary inquiry that was "abused for political purposes". He said his phone and computer would be seized.

He was referring to the parliamentary inquiry into allegedly unlawful financing of political parties, which is chaired by a member of the Freedom Movement, the largest party in the ruling coalition.

Tomašič said it was no coincidence the searches were taking place only ten days ahead of the EU election. The same was raised by SDS leader Janez Janša in his response on X.

But the head of the Criminal Police Directorate, Damjan Petrič, rejected the allegation that the investigation was orchestrated by politicians.

Suspicions raised by parliamentary inquiry

In its interim report released in November 2023, the parliamentary inquiry said that certain companies, including Nova24TV, functioned as bypass accounts for the SDS in a financing model that also involved Hungarian capital.

Mojca Šetinc Pašek, the former head of the inquiry, said she believed the investigation was related to the suspicion of abuse of office and unlawful conduct in relation to financing from Hungary, and in relation to "detrimental Telekom contracts".

She said the inquiry had obtained several incriminating documents that suggested suspicious financing of Nova24TV through the Hungarian media system.

Tamara Vonta, the current chair of the inquiry, said it was unacceptable that "party newsletters, i.e. the SDS's instrument for spreading its own propaganda" were financed with public money.

She added that even if the investigation did not lead to criminal convictions, "we can certainly talk about political responsibility". Like Pašek she rejected Janša's allegation that the investigation was politically motivated.

Focus on transactions between Telekom and Nova24TV

According to the news portal Necenzurirano, the investigation is focusing on transactions during the term of the third Janša government (2020-2022), when Telekom Slovenije was headed by Tomaž Seljak and later by Cveto Sršen, a former mayoral candidate of the SDS.

The portal says that at the time, Telekom Slovenije started paying Nova24TV disproportionately high amounts for broadcasting its programmes relevant to the viewership criteria.

In a year and a half, Telekom Slovenije transferred almost €1.5 million to the media company, and even after Sršen left the telco, channel 1 of Nova24TV remains high up on the TV channel schedule of Telekom Slovenije, according to Necenzurirano.

An NGO called Legal Network for Protection of Democracy filed a complaint with the European Commission in spring 2022 alleging that the price Telekom Slovenije was paying for the Nova24TV programmes was disproportionately high in relation to the viewing ratings, and thus constituted unlawful state aid.


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