Committee urges Court of Audit boss to step down

Photo. STA

Ljubljana – The parliamentary Home Affairs Committee discussed on Monday integrity at the Court of Audit and the conduct by its president Tomaž Vesel in the wake of alleged conflict of interest caused by his work at FIFA. The session was boycotted by four opposition parties and ended with two proposals, one of them being for Vesel to resign.

Concluding the session, Branko Grims of the ruling Democrats (SDS), the chair of the committee, said that the discussion as well as everything that had been brought forward during it showed that the allegations were well founded.

The MPs of the Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ), SocDems (SD), Left and Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB) walked out of the session, saying their move was based on the opinion by the parliamentary legal service which shows that the committee was not the competent authority to discuss the matter.

Tina Heferle of the LMŠ said that if the discussion continued, the committee would be acting unlawfully and in violation of the National Assembly rules of procedure.

The issue was put on the session’s agenda by the SDS, New Slovenia (NSi) and Modern Centre Party (SMC) with Grims saying that the legal service’s opinion was not binding. He disagreed with it and continued the session.

Vesel, who has been facing allegations about conflict of interest regarding his Court of Audit top post and the position of the chairman of the FIFA Audit and Compliance Committee, said that he had not taken away a single cent from Slovenian taxpayers and the court.

He has been dedicating all of the required time to the court’s work, which has been going well. The court even received a state decoration last year for its work, he added.

Vesel announced that he would submit all the necessary documents and explanations to the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption (KPK), which has launched the preliminary inquiry into the matter.

He also highlighted that he had been informing the KPK of its FIFA work regularly in line with law and so far “this issue has never been discussed or found contentious”.

However, when the court launches one of its review procedures, the matter emerges incidentally, he noted.

KPK head Robert Šumi said the procedure was ongoing. Vesel previously said he had received KPK clearance, but the anti-graft watchdog has so far failed to find records of giving him the green light.

The head of the KPK at the time when this reportedly transpired, Boris Štefanec, said earlier he remembered the KPK having prepared an opinion in writing and that he had personally signed the document.

Besides calling on Vesel to step down as the boss of the Court of Audit, the committee also endorsed another proposal, urging the KPK to launch a procedure based on Article 13 of the integrity and prevention of corruption act.

The procedure would investigate Vesel’s decision to strip one of his two deputies, Jorg K. Petrovič, of the authority to sign off on a draft report on the purchasing of protective personal equipment during the epidemic and to give the case file to the second deputy.

Vesel said today that the reasons for such a move were plenty and that the step had to be done if he “wanted to maintain the authority of the Court of Audit president”.

He declined to comment further as he finds it indecent to settle the court’s internal matters in parliament. If the KPK launches the procedure, he will submit all the relevant documents, he added.

At the time Vesel said he had decided to do that because Petrovič stonewalled him, refusing to come clear as to when he might sign off on the report and even refusing to answer his calls.

Petrovič said today that reviews released in the past two years were on average coordinated in three rounds. In this specific case, he received two parts of the review in advance and the draft report less than two days before it first made the headlines that he was allegedly delaying the process.

At a subsequent meeting with Vesel he stressed that the court should not bow down to any pressure, including media pressure, he said, adding that Vesel did not want to accept the fact that he merely took the necessary time to do his work.

Robert Polnar, a Pensioners’ Party (DeSUS) MP, believes that the court has been “directly involved in the current political struggles”, referring to the claims that the report has been rushed to affect the political situation.

According to Vesel, the PPE review is far from being very demanding in terms of its content, however the circumstances under which it is conducted indicate that there has been special efforts in this case to make it harder for the court to do its work as much as possible.

He also told the press that the court had been waiting for the continuation of talks with the government during which the latter has the chance to provide explanations as an audited party.

The government and other reviewed parties had hired a lawyer, he said, adding that the court had received a request to exclude the supreme state auditor. According to Vesel, this request, the first of its kind addressed to the court, is baseless.