Koper – Robert Časar, ex-chairman of port operator Luka Koper, and Milan Pučko, former executive director at the company, were acquitted in a retrial at the Koper District Court on Monday after they were found guilty of abuse of office in defrauding Luka Koper when planning a logistical centre in Beltinci, north-eastern Slovenia.
The June 2018 guilty verdicts were, however, annulled by the Higher Court in Koper in late 2019 and the case was returned to the first-instance court for retrial.
Časar, who served as chairman in 2005-2009, and Pučko were charged with agreeing with Inženiring Graj boss Robert Graj that his company would charge Luka too high prices for its services, while Luka would not check whether the work had been done.
Inženiring Graj was accused of issuing overblown invoices or invoices for the services that had already been paid or had not been provided. Pučko was accused of having approved the payment of the invoices without checking. The crimes were said to have resulted in over EUR 1 million in illegal gain.
Today, judge Matej Štros said the whole project seemed to be a fraud but the problem was how to prove it. He doubts that Luka Koper could have acquired all the necessary land for the logistical centre in the first place.
Prosecutor Barbara Milič Rožman announced an appeal. She said: “I’m surprised at the court’s arguments being based on completely different grounds than in the original trial”.
In her closing arguments, she said the prices Luka had paid to Inženering Graj were three to four times higher than set down by rules on such work which allow a 4% commission fee.
She said that Inženiring Graj had apparently repaid for receiving the deal from Luka by doing some work on Časar and Pučko’s private real estate.
The persecutor had proposed three years and six months in prison for Časar and one month fewer for Pučko.
This is more than the pair received when found guilty in 2018 – Časar received two years and three months, and Pučko, who was also charged with complicity, two years.
Commenting on the acquittal, Časar said the retrial “finally proved the crime was not committed”, adding the court had not established any damage or unlawful acts.
The judge referred Luka Koper to a civil lawsuit, while the costs of the retrial will be paid from the national budget.
The other three defendants, including Robert Graj, had pleaded guilty in the original first-instance trial.