10.03.2010 13:45
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Pogacnik, Jelincic Suspected of Bribery (background)

Ljubljana, 10 March (STA) - Official information about why Agriculture Minister Milan Pogacnik and National Party (SNS) leader Zmago Jelincic were brought into custody Tuesday is scarce, but media reports suggest the SNS had promised the minister votes on a key law and support in the upcoming no-confidence vote in exchange for arranging rezoning of land in eastern Slovenia.

Pogacnik, who resigned as minister today, and Jelincic were apprehended as part of a corruption sting after police accidentally learnt from a wiretap of an SNS lawmaker that they were talking about an exchange of services that police deemed unlawful.

Media reports suggest the pair had started collaborating late last year, when parliament passed in December controversial changes to the act on the National Farmland and Forest Fund.

The amendments stipulate that large chunks of undeveloped building land currently managed by the state-run fund would be given to municipalities for free, which triggered revolt from experts and even coalition MPs.

The amendments were vetoed by the National Council, and, faced with lack of support from the coalition ranks, Pogacnik reportedly secured the votes of the opposition National Party (SNS), which was previously against the law.

Daily Dnevnik reports today that in exchange the SNS leader wanted the minister to arrange rezoning of land near a small airstrip in the city of Murska Sobota so that he could build an aviation museum there.

The SNS's support for the law came as a surprise to parliament watchers and the amendments squeezed through with the thinnest majority (46 votes) in a revote that requires the absolute majority of all MPs.

Indeed, Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) president Karl Erjavec said today it was "very odd" that the SNS backed a piece of legislation that it had previously opposed.

The second exchange of services, according to Dnevnik, came when Pogacnik was seeking support ahead of the no-confidence vote.

Pogacnik faces an interpellation motion over his role in the return of two dogs which had attacked a passer-by in 2006 and subsequently mauled to death their owner, famous Ljubljana doctor Saso Baricevic.

In this case, too, Jelincic is reported to have sought rezoning of land for the aviation museum, a project that he has been trying to carry out for years.

Jelincic's lawyer Aleksander Ceferin yesterday confirmed that his client was indeed suspected of offering votes in exchange for rezoning, but he insists that this is not unlawful.

Another person appearing in this role is Murska Sobota Mayor Anton Stihec, who left the opposition Democrats (SDS) in October. He was also questioned by police yesterday but says he is not a suspect.

He confirmed for public broadcaster TV Slovenija late yesterday that he was talking to investigators in his official capacity as mayor and handed over documents related to the disputed plot of land.

10.03.2010 13:45

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