Ljubljana – The Court of Audit has completed a draft report on the purchasing of protective personal equipment (PPE) during the coronavirus epidemic. The report will not be made public until the audited institutions and individuals have given their comments, but court president Tomaž Vesel said that suspicion of criminal conduct had been detected.
The court has sent the police a document in which suspicions of criminal conduct have been detailed for 13 of the 100-odd contracts reviewed as part of the audit, Vesel told the press on Wednesday.
While he did not disclose which contracts were singled out, he said some were “in addition to what has already been exposed in the media”.
The audited institutions include the government, the ministries of defence, health and economy and the Agency for Commodity Reserves.
They received the 250-page draft today and Vesel expects the first feedback within eight days, which will be followed by meetings at which the audited institutions will get the chance to provide explanations.
The decision to audit the transactions came in May, after a series of media reports detailed suspected irregularities in the procurement of protective equipment during the earliest stages of the epidemic.
The purchases are already the subject of a police investigation, an investigation by the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption and of a recently launched parliamentary inquiry.
Vesel has become the subject of criticism in some media in recent weeks, accused of rushing the report to influence the current political situation, in particular in the ranks of Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek’s Modern Centre Party (SMC).
He rejected this notion today and said he saw no reason why there was such an upset about a draft version of the report. He said Počivalšek would have the chance to have his say. “He should explain the reasons for his conduct, this is the best chance he’ll have.”
Počivalšek has been singled out in multiple media investigations of the PPE purchases. He has repeatedly said the government was doing everything it could to procure equipment at a time when there were severe shortages on the global PPE market.
In his response, Počivalšek said he would provide arguments and documents regarding the PPE procurement and added that a quick look at the draft report showed it contained nothing of what some media had been reporting about.
“I want this story to be fully investigated and completed, especially regarding my role in it. I would like to once and for all reject the allegations presented in the media and I want my good name back,” reads his written statement.
Vesel also decided to strip one of his two deputies, Jorg Kristijan Petrovič, of the authority to sign off on the draft report, giving the case file to the second deputy. This move also raised questions about whether he wanted to rush the report.
According to Vesel, he 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.
He said his job was to ensure the efficiency of the Court of Audit, and because Petrovič was “inactive”, he reassigned the report to his second deputy.
“When I demanded explanations about the dynamics of the sign-off, I was told that this depended on his good will and judgement,” Vesel said.
Počivalšek condemned as “unacceptable” what he termed “the political stories and the instrumentalisation of the investigation related to the vote of no-confidence” to topple the government.
Although he believes all institutions will carry out their investigations without being under political pressure, he finds it unusual for Vesel to present the draft report at a news conference, since it is “an intermediate and confidential document” to which the audited persons have yet to respond.
“The fact that this is happening when the government is being toppled and juts a few hours before a session of our party’s council puts the entire procedure into a strange perspective,” said the SMC leader.
In anticipation of the report, some media have also questioned Vesel’s work at FIFA, where he has served as the chair of the Audit and Compliance Committee since 2016.
Most notably, questions were raised about whether he, as an office holder, had been given the green light by the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption, and whether he may be in a conflict of interest.
Vesel said today he saw no conflict of interest. “Nobody is influencing me … I pay taxes in Slovenia and Switzerland, there is no damage to public finances.”
He also had received clearance, but the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption has said it does not have records of giving him the green light.
Both Vesel and the chair of the Commission at the time, Boris Štefanec, said today they were surprised there is no such record.
Štefanec told the STA he remembered the Commission having prepared an opinion in writing and that he had personally signed the document.
The Commission said today it had launched a preliminary procedure based on a report concerning Vesel and would collect information to determine the facts of the matter and any possible violations under its purview.
Commenting on these media revelations overall, Vesel said he will “survive all the pressure”. “I view this discreditation as a unique test of the independence of the Court of Audit.”