Fmr STA director off the hook over contract with Dnevnik

Slovenska tiskovna agencija (STA).

Ljubljana – The prosecution has dismissed a report against former Slovenian Press Agency (STA) director Bojan Veselinovič over alleged abuse of office related to a compensation contract with the newspaper publisher Dnevnik, filed by STA supervisory board member Radovan Cerjak.

The Specialised State Prosecutor’s Office said in the decision that suspicion of a criminal act had not been sufficiently argued, and that Veselinovič could not be reproached of business disloyalty to the STA, either.

The decision, obtained by the STA on Wednesday, notes that Cerjak reported suspicion that Veselinovič, who resigned as the STA director at the end of September, committed the criminal act of abuse of position or trust in business activity.

According to Cerjak, who was appointed one of the five supervisors of the STA in September 2020, Veselinovič abused office by concluding a compensation contract with Dnevnik in February 2012.

The contract enables Dnevnik to use photographs produced by the STA, with the majority of the payment for the photographs being compensated with publication of advertisements for the STA in printed and online editions of Dnevnik.

Annexes were also signed to the contact, and Cerjak claimed that the value of what he labelled as unjustified compensation climbed to EUR 216,000 over the years.

He accused Veselinovič of providing an unreasonable discount to Dnevnik, thus causing material damage to STA and a benefit to Dnevnik.

The prosecution treated the report as a criminal complaint, which has now been dismissed on the basis of an August report from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).

The decision notes that two contracts between the STA and Dnevnik had been reviewed, to establish that they fell within the scope of the STA’s marketing activity and that advertising costs had been covered by the agency’s commercial revenue and not income received for its performance of public service.

It was found that Veselinovič did not charge a disproportionate discount, with Dnevnik’s obligations being compensated with advertisements.

The prosecution also noted that the STA had advertising contracts with other print and radio media, and that advertising was very important for the agency’s commercial activity, which generated about half of its total revenue.

The STA is also being advertised in order to boost its public presence in relation to applying for funds in European tenders, the decision says, noting that the investigators established this based on interviews and reviewed documentation.

It was established that STA ads were indeed published by Dnevnik and that this service had been compensated under the contract, and that the STA as a company had a constitutionally guaranteed right to freely choose business partners.

“Choosing a particular business partner does not necessarily mean favouring that partner”, which is what Cerjak reproached Veselinovič of, and “even less so the abuse of position in the company”, says the decision dated end-October.

It adds that the compensation contract was a “legitimate business decision by the accused Veselinovič”, and rejects Cerjak’s claims that the STA did not have any benefit from the ads in Dnevnik, instead finding the online advertising to be efficient.

There has been no financial flow from the STA towards Dnevnik, either, while there has been financial flow in the opposite direction, as payment for commercial services – expanded news items and photographs.

NBI investigators visited Dnevnik in May, and the STA in June, when STA representatives were told that they were collecting information based on two reports.

The first report was that by Cerjak, while the other, anonymous report, accused Cerjak of taking a copy of the contract with Dnevnik, labelled as business secret, with himself after a session of the STA supervisory board without authorisation.

Veselinovič said he had expected the report to be dismissed as “of course there was no criminal act”, adding that this was just another slap in the face for those who had been alleging his misconduct in managing the STA in the past decade.

Veselinovič, who resigned over the impasse in public service agreement talks with the Government Communication Office (UKOM), pointed the finger at Cerjak, noting that he, as well as other supervisors, had insight in all contracts and documentation.

He added in a statement for the STA that he also expected a response from the competent bodies of the Bar Association as for “whether the conduct of its member, Mr Cerjak, is in accordance with the professional code”.