Počivalšek will cooperate with anti-graft watchdog, wants to clear his name

Ljubljana – Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek said he would cooperate fairly with the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption, which has named him as one of eight persons under investigation over purchases of personal protective equipment in the first wave of the coronavirus epidemic.

“I’ve always been mindful of integrity and therefore reject the accusations. I want to clear up this story for good,” he told the STA on Tuesday, adding that he wanted to clear his name.

“The commission … exercises its powers in line with the law, which I respect of course, and I will cooperate fairly with them. I want all the circumstances and facts cleared up as soon as possible.”

The commission today announced it had launched multiple probes into purchases of personal protective equipment in spring. Eight persons are under investigation, including Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek and Aleš Cantarutti, his former state secretary.

Počivalšek, who has said numerous times that the prime objective at the time was to save lives, said today the purchases had been done “in crazy circumstances, when fear reigned in Slovenia because the health system was not prepared and equipped as a war for equipment raged in the world.”

He acknowledged there had been a lot of confusion at the time but stressed that he and his colleagues at the ministry had done everything they could to provide the equipment as soon as possible. “We accepted all the bids that promised equipment with a short delivery date.

Other persons targeted by the anti-graft probe include Ivan Gale, the former Commodity Reserves Agency employee who first made allegations of irregularities, his former boss Anton Zakrajšek, the current director Tomi Rumpf, and two more employees, Alojzij Černe and Marko Naraločnik.

Rumpf also gave a statement for the press, welcoming the news from the corruption watchdog that an investigation had been launched. He vowed to do everything he can for relevant procedures to take place and examine the PPE purchases.

He also said that the purchases had been taking place in extraordinary circumstances, but this did not justify potential irregularities caused by individuals. He said that he uncovered a number of irregularities when he took over the agency earlier this year.

Health Minister Tomaž Gantar also commented, telling the press at the daily Covid-19 briefing that “practically any purchase is in this country is considered a crime”. But he admitted that irregularities do happen sometimes, some even intentionally.

Some of the purchases are subject to a separate police investigation as part of which Počivalšek was briefly detained in July for the duration of house searches.