Ljubljana – The commercial broadcaster POP TV released a recording on Monday evening of Andrej Vizjak, the then economy minister, urging businessman Bojan Petan to avoid paying taxes in relation to spa Terme Čatež during the first Janez Janša government. Vizjak also offered Petan the support of the state and the supervisory board if he agreed to his terms.
The recording dates back to 2007, a time of a battle for privatisation of spa operator Terme Čatež, according to news portal 24ur.com. On the one side, there was the tourism and media group DZS owned by Petan, who held a 22% stake in the spa at the time, and the companies supporting him, and on the other, there was the state with a 20% share and Vizjak.
Vizjak, now the environment minister, spoke to Petan, a powerful tycoon at the time and a member of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDS), in his capacity as the economy minister.
At that time, the term tycoons was just starting to be used for managers who were taking out loans and privatising Slovenian companies. Various centres of power started to be formed around the country. Janša as prime minister publicly declared war on such practices.
He said the government would step up the battle against the connections between politicians and tycoons, who were illegally “spreading their tentacles all over the national tissue and getting filthy rich”.
Petan was from the opposite political pole, a long-term member of the LDS, which ruled before Janša. Vizjak told the newspaper Finance at the time that what was happening with Terme Čatež was a crime.
The public and politicians were eager to know even back then why Vizjak was getting involved with Terme Čatež and whether he had exceeded his powers. But he asserted at the time he was not interfering in any way and that as minister he was interested in all state-owned companies.
In the recording, Vizjak told Petan it was “stupid” for the company to pay tax to the state. He promised him cooperation by the state in the supervisory board and with staffing at Terme Čatež if Petan followed Vizjak’s instruction. “I give you my word. Cooperativeness makes shareholders’ meetings. My people will act as we agree.”
At the secret meeting Vizjak also offered Petan a truce or an agreement on how to avoid paying over EUR 30 million in taxes, according to the portal.
“I don’t know why you would throw money away for such a stupid thing. You tell me. I find it totally illogical. To give this money from Terme Čatež, I don’t know how many millions, for taxes. I told Kučiš once, but it’s like he doesn’t hear me,” Vizjak says in the recording.
He was referring to the Terme Čatež CEO at the time, Mladen Kučiš. He was asked at the time whether the minister had been informed of developments, but he denied, saying it was not his task to inform him.
Rajko Pirnat from the Faculty of Law commented on the matter in last night’s show 24UR ZVEČER, saying that “you probably don’t need to be a legal expert to know that is definitely not ok”. This is not the way for a public official to do their job, he said, adding that if personal interests were involved the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption should be informed.
He said he was shocked. “A minister can in no way encourage someone to avoid paying taxes even if this were legal,” he said.
He thinks Vizjak will have to explain very well his role and whether he was working in public interest, or resign.
Irena Prijovič, the head of the Supervisors’ Association, said the recording showed it was a form of political pressure for closing of some deals other than would be in the interest of the company.
“It’s corruption – a promise of a certain favour. But it is not completely clear from the report what mister Petan would have to do,” she said, adding that an economy minister should definitely not go into such operative deals.