11.02.2010 15:06
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Ministry Releases Report as Dog Mauling Case Gains Attention

Ljubljana, 11 February (STA) - The Agriculture Ministry released a report Wednesday on the course of events that led to the return of three Bullmastiffs to their owner after they attacked a passer-by three years earlier. The report was requested by PM Borut Pahor after he was urged to dismiss Minister Milan Pogacnik over supposedly biased handling of the case.

Pahor was urged to dismiss Pogacnik over allegations that the ministry decided to return the dogs to their owner Sasa Baricevic, on whom they turned and killed on 2 February, because of his influential connections.

In the police intervention of the 2006 attack one of the then four dogs was killed, while the remaining three were taken from their owner Zora Roter (who passed away in October 2008) and her partner Baricevic for evaluation of their aggressiveness.

The first, less dangerous Bullmastiff, was returned to the owner in spring 2008, while the other two followed in summer 2009. The 2006 attack was not the only incident, as media reported of at least two other attacks on dogs and two attacks on humans.

While several media outlets have reported that three commissions were evaluating whether the three dogs should be returned to the owners, the ministry explained that only one commission was set up by the ministry.

The ministry's commission assessed the behaviour of the two more dangerous dogs (Atlas and Joy), and eventually approved their return under strict conditions.

The other two commissions were set up earlier by the Veterinary Administration (VURS) to discuss the return of Atos, the dog that was assessed not to be dangerous when separated from the other two. Atos was returned to his owner in spring 2008.

What is more, Atlas and Joy - the superior members of the pack - were ordered to be put down by VURS for the first time in February 2008. However, Baricevic and his partner Zora Roter requested a stay in the implementation of that decision.

The ministry denied the request, but the owners went to court to review administrative steps taken by VURS. In turn, the Administrative Court annulled VURS's decision after it established that it was based on a law that entered force after the 2006 attack.

VURS issued several decisions to put down the two dogs between February 2008 and February 2009. However all were dismissed by the ministry as VURS failed to respect the decision of the Administrative Court.

After a series of proceedings, the ministry decided on 22 June 2009 to return the dogs under strict conditions, including that the dogs have to be physically separated and must wear muzzles when in public.

The report rebuffs claims that the decree which returned the last two dogs to Baricevic was signed by Minister Pogacnik personally, stating the document was signed by the ministry official who was in charge of the proceeding and the head of the ministry's legal service.

Following the return of the dogs, the local VURS office carried out several inspections between 2 July 2009 and 5 January 2010 to see whether the owner was following the ministry's orders, the report, which the government might discuss today, says.

VURS is expected to reveal the dogs' autopsy report today. The report is expected to reveal whether allegations that the dogs were sexually abused were true.

The report has, however, failed to prevent the case from continuing to spiral towards a major political scandal. Indeed, several media outlets openly challenged the Agriculture Ministry's findings that there was no irregularities and wrongdoing in the process of returning the dogs to their owner.

Daily Dnevnik writes on Thursday that it has obtained documents proving that there was political meddling in the decision to return the dogs instead of put them down. It says the most obvious proof is that the decision to return Atlas and Joy was issued by a ministry official instead of a veterinary inspector as demanded by regulations.

Moreover, media have reported that the State Solicitor General's Office had wanted to challenge the ministry's decision to return the dogs, only to be stonewalled by the government when it asked to be granted clearance to pursue the case in court.

Daily Dnevnik reported on Wednesday that in issuing its opinion on the office's request, the Justice Ministry asked the Agriculture Ministry for its opinion.

The Agriculture Ministry has since defended itself by saying that only courts are called upon to issue verdicts on whether a decision is illegal. And while it has said that the State Soliciter General's Office has a right to its opinion on the matter, media reports said that the office received calls from the ministry demanding that it reverse its opinion.

The opposition People's Party (SLS) said on Tuesday it would launch an interpellation motion to oust Pogacnik. The largest opposition party, the Democrats, announced today they would back the motion.

11.02.2010 15:06

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