Ljubljana – Defence Minister Matej Tonin was invited to the Aviano air base in Italy in November, and flew aboard an F16 fighter aircraft from there to Poček, Slovenia’s main military training area, to briefly take part in a military exercise, the 24ur.com news portal reported on Friday. Two opposition parties are rather critical of his move.
Tonin was hosted by General Jason Bailey, the commander of the US air base in Aviano in northern Italy, who also piloted the multi-role fighter aircraft.
Tonin and Bailey flew from Aviano across the Gulf of Trieste to Poček, where, following instructions from Slovenian joint terminal attack controllers and accompanied by Pilatus planes, they shot down a few targets and returned to Aviano, reported 24ur.com.
The Defence Ministry confirmed the news portal’s story for the STA.
“The minister was invited to Aviano, on which occasion he got a chance to fly to Poček together with commander Bailey,” Aleš Sila from the ministry’s PR service said.
Two centre-left position parties, the Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ) and the Left, criticised Tonin’s actions.
“This is literally the defence minister going on an adventure,” the Left’s leader, Luka Mesec, said at a news conference on topical political developments.
Mesec said this “is an expensive entertainment, which the minister received as a present for buying a military transport air plane worth EUR 72 million”.
A few days before Tonin went to Aviano, Slovenia signed with Italy a contract to buy a C-27J Spartan for EUR 72 million.
Mesec hopes that Slovenian voters will notice before the general election what the minister is doing.
“When food and energy are getting more expensive, he is wasting the taxpayer money, and he gets a flight with a military plane in exchange.”
LMŠ leader Marjan Šarec commented by saying: “In a plane he will at least not smear his shirt.” This was a reference to another instance when Tonin joined Slovenian soldiers for a military exercise and ended up with a dirty shirt.