Reporters Without Borders condemns the defamation actions which former Prime Minister Janez Jansa and the Slovenian state have brought against Finnish journalist Magnus Berglund in connection the bribery allegations he made during a programme broadcast on Finnish TV station YLE on 1 September 2008.
Berglund accused Jansa, other senior officials and high ranking military officers of collecting around 20 million euros in illegal commissions in a contract with Finnish arms manufacturer Patria for the purchase of armoured vehicles worth 275 million euros.
In a civil suit before a district court in the Slovenian town of Novo Mesto, Jansa is demanding 1.5 million euros in damages, while a criminal action brought by the Slovenian state prosecutors before a district court in the capital, Ljubljana, is requesting a maximum six-month jail sentence for Berglund.
“These actions are utterly surreal,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Like any person who considers he has been defamed by a media report, Jansa could have used his right of reply before thinking of suing for such an enormous sum. The prison term requested by the Slovenian state prosecutors is completely unacceptable, especially coming from a European Union member country.
“A procurement contract for the purchase of armoured vehicles should be conducted with the utmost transparency. If Berglund’s TV programme, Truth about Patria, really was defamatory, it should be easy for the Slovenian authorities and the former prime minister to prove this by, for example, allowing the press to see all the financial records. If not, the programme was in the public interest and should therefore not be the subject of any legal action.
“Jansa brought legal actions against at least 10 reporters, columnists, other indviduals and media since the September 2008 parliamentary election. Curiously assisted by the Slovenian state, the former prime minister now seems to want to extend his control over the international press.”
The Novo Mesto district court declared itself competent to hear the civil suit although it concerns a programme made by a Finnish TV station that was broadcast in Finland.
As regards the criminal case, a justice ministry investigation into its legal basis concluded that case was taken-over from the first attorney general in charge Katarina Bergant, who wished to drop the case against Berglund. The head of the Ljubljana District Prosecutors Office Tamara Gregorcic personally take the prosecution against Berglund and push the case forward.
The head of the Novo Mesto district court, Milojka Gutman, happens to be the wife of Lt. Gen. Albin Gutman, one of military officers involved in Patria purchase, so she logically requested that the case be transferred to another district court. But the Slovenian supreme court refused on the grounds that it was too early for such a decision and that the transfer had not yet been requested by the defendants.
“Regardless of the legal inconsistencies, the decision to bring these cases before Slovenian courts is surprising and tendentious,” Reporters Without Borders added. “Both Jansa and the Slovenia authorities are aware that Finland has courts that can handle such defamation actions. Jansa is free to act as he will, but the Slovenian state should show more respect for European law.”