It’s been a while since pengovsky wrote up anything substantial on the Patria Affair, so a quick recap is in order. Not that there was nothing to write about, but with the family code, early elections brouhaha, the ruling coalition acting like a leper and literally falling apart, the Slovenian political landscape is in daily upheaval and it is hard to keep you posted on everything at the same time. Add to that the noticeable drop in frequency of pengovsky’s posts (things to see and people to do) and you can see the backlog just piling up.
Photoshop by yours truly. With appologies to Gene Hackman
But be that as it may, the Patria Affair is once again front-and-centre of the agenda. That leader of the opposition Janez Janša was indicted in front of Slovenian court along with four others is of course hardly news. What is news that several related cases are running paralel to that and since Janša trial is yet to begin, those cases are often interpreted as tell- tale signs.
The first Patria-connected case to have seen a verdict was the trial of Karl ‘Teflon’ Erjavec. Leader of DeSUS and defence minister in Janša’s government was together with general Albin Gutman (then Chief of General Staff) accused of dereliction of duty for signing the defence contract with Finnish Patria where bribes were allegedly paid off. The prosecution case was argued by Branka Zobec Hrastar who also leads the case against Janša so the verdict in the Erjavec/Gutman trial was of double interest. As you probably know, the prosecution lost and both Erjavec and Gutman were acquitted. This was seen as a major blow to the case against Janša. If the two were to be found guilty, then – goes the conventional wisdom – winning against Janša should be a walk in the park.
Technically, it’s not all that easy, but still. It looked like back to square one and then some for Higher State Prosecutor Branka Zobec Hrastar. As far back as October 2010 Zobec Hrastar was a subject of internal oversight ordered by (now former) General State Prosecutor Barbara Brezigar. Then, a couple of months after she lost the Erjavec/Gutman case, Janez Janša filed criminal charges against Zobec Hrastar, accusing her of falsifying key evidence in the Patria case. Some saw this as a desperate move (along the lines of counter-suit) but in the light of the Erjavec/Gutman verdict, it spelled bad news for the prosecution. A month after that (July 2011) Janša won a civil suit against Delo newspaper and got EUR 10,000 in damages. And two days later, Zobec Hrastar announced she is quitting her post. It looked like “point Janša”.
However, things are not all that rosy for the presumptive successor to PM Borut Pahor. He may have won a suit against Delo, but the paper is appealing so that story is far from over. The Erjavec/Gutman case is also not over yet, since Zober Hrastar appealed that particular verdict. But the fun was only benning.
The Austrian Connection
Days ago, the Austrian State Prosecution indicted several people with regard to their end of the Patria Case. Notably, among the accused are Walter Wolf and Wolfgang Riedl, whom Slovenian prosecution believes to have played middlemen between Patria and Janez Janša and his party (with several more people in between). Among witnesses whose testimony Austrian prosecutors will seek are also Janša and Jože Zagožen (thought to be Janša’s right hand man at the time), both of whom stand accused by Slovenian prosecution in front of Slovenian court.
The Austrian indictment is interesting because is fills in the blanks from its Slovenian counterpart (while the prosecution in Finland still has to file charges). Namely, Slovenian prosecutors claim Janša and the rest of the accused demanded and accepted bribes in various forms in return for a favourable result on the defence contract for APCs. What remained unclear was where, when and how the alleged bribes were paid. Janša and his SDS exploited this over and over, saying that prosecution’s claims of bribes being paid “on an unidentified date, in an unidentified manner on an unidentified place” didn’t amount to basically anything.
However, the Austrian prosecution now claims that monies (EUR 900,000 to be exact) were handed over in cash to Jože Zagožen by Wolfgang Riedl. Which, if proven to be true, could present a huge problem for Janša, both legally as well as politically. 900 big ones being accepted by a man from Janša’s inner circle is bad news no matter how you look at it and the illustrious SDS leader could very well be forced to feed Zagožen to the prosecution. If allegations turn out to be true, of course.
Hot long summer
Details of the Austrian indictment are being serialised by Delo newspaper (with a certain gusto, one might add). But other than fighting their own fight against Janša, these articles are purely for entertainment purposes as they can neither be used as evidence nor can it influence the final outcome of the trial. Truth be told, it can influence the “court of public opinion” but it seems the public opinion is long divided and cannot be budget either way. So, everyone and his brother is eagerly awaiting beginning of September when the trial against Janez Janša is set to begin.
Now, lets pause here for a second. Janša will be tried in Slovenia. He will be asked to give evidence in Austria. He will also be increasingly getting ready for the elections the polls suggest he will win. This is an explosive combination, no matter how you look at it. A presumptive PM on trial spells big fat headlines at home and abroad. In this case the timing of the whole thing is incredibly important. If the elections are held before the verdict is pronounced in his trial, then Slovenia will be faced with a unique situation of having elected a PM while he will still be tried. Temptations for all kinds of Berlusconi-like tricks to win the “get-out-of-jail-free-card” will probably be coming in fast and furious.
On the other hand, if the trial were to conclude before the elections, the possibility of Janša being convicted is the element of unknown which can turn everything around. Obviously there’s no way to say how the trial will end (and the presumption of innocence stands, mind you), but if you want an outlandish conspiracy theory, then one could argue that the only reason the incumbent PM Borut Pahor is bending over backwards to prevent early elections is to see the Patria trial conclude first and hope for Janša to get convicted.
There are a number of loose ends in this theory (not in the least that it doesn’t explain why Janša doesn’t want early elections and that the losing side in the trial will most likely appeal the verdict, extending the trial way beyond elections), but it is an entertaining thought. What is even more entertaining is the fact that rumours have it that prosecutor Branka Zobec Hrastar might reconsider her resignation. Pengovsky has it on good authority that she had made up her mind to quit late last year, when the onslaught by Barbara Brezigar against her was reportedly in full swing, but only days ago the prosecution threw out Janša’s charges against Zober Hrastar.
Anyhoo. Given the information available, pengovsky has a feeling the case against Janša is rather flimsy. However, there’s always a chance of someone blowing the whistle. And provided there’s something to blow whistle about, Zagožen seems a likely candidate…
Saturday, July 30th, 2011