Trouble In Paradise

Ljubljana has been dubbed the most beautiful city in the world as well as the fifth most desirable place to live in Europe. It has even been declared the most honest city in the world, but there’s trouble in paradise.


Dnevnik daily ran a story yesterday (followed up today) claiming that Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković was indicted on fraud charges dating back to 2004 while he was still at the helm of Mercator retail chain. The article says that he or a member of his board signed a ficticious contract in with a security firm, owned by a CEO of Maximarket, a retail company Mercator took over that year. The contract, worth about 800k euros was supposedly a reward to management of Maximarket for being cooperative in the takeover bid, which was hotly contested by Tuš retail chain, the smallest but at the time the fastest developing of the big three retailors in Slovenia (the third being Swiss-owned Spar).

The problem is that – according to the article – SAS Group (the security firm in question) was a) unlicensed and b) didn’t hold up to its end of the bargain, but still kept the money, which no one seemed to mind. Problems obviously arose when balance sheets didn’t add up, at which point investigators became interested. Mayor Janković’s initial response to Dnevnik didn’t help either, as he first said that as far as he knows the money had been returned (a fact that was apparently confirmed by the current management of Mercator), but later added that he knows nothing about the whole thing.

There are many rough edges to this story, however. First and foremost is the nature of the deal. Ficticious (ghost) contracts are a national sport over here, especially when tax evasion and money laundering is concerned. From what I understand it usually involves at least three players which perform overpriced services for one another, thus balancing each other’s sheets. If you just sign a contract, hand over the cash and the other guy does nothing, it becomes too obvious too soon and the Tax Admin gets interested. But It seems unlikely that a top-level player like Janković would make such an obvious mistake. OK, so maybe the guy is not as cunning as he seems to be, but – if he really did what he is accused of – I’m pretty much certain that he knew to cover his tracks better.

Which brings us to the next problem. If pengovsky read the articles correctly, the cops and the Tax Admin got interested in this in 2007, just before the three-year limitation period (another curious habit of the local law enforcement). But in October 2006, as it became obvious that Zoran Janković will probably win the municipal elections in Ljubljana, Laško Brewery the then-new owner of Mercator (yes, it’s Boško Šrot again), in tow with government of then-PM Janez Janša, while Boško and Janez were still buddies, ran a smear campaing against Janković, trying to dig up dirt on him during his Mercator years – and all they could come up with was a dubiously paid bill for the wedding of Janković’s eldest son, and even that turned out to be a dud. So the question is, how come this didn’t come up earlier, when Janković was at total odds with just about everyone who ran the country in 2006?

And finally, could it be that after a string of investigation fiascos which include but are not limited to Operation Clean Shovel, Slovene law enforcement agencies (especially the prosecution) suddenly became über-efficient and dug up dirt on Zoran Janković which lay there unnoticed for at least three years?

This has the potential to get extremely interesting. After all, current General Prosecutor Barbara Brezigar is not exactly popular with the new government and if this blows into her face, her career might face a premature demise.

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Agent provocateur and an occasional scribe.