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The Court Of Audit Confirms: Several Rules Were Violated In The Purchase Of The Court Building On Litijska!

On Monday, the Court of Audit issued a draft report on the audit of the 2023 state budget accounts, which also examined the regularity of the purchase of the building on Litijska Street. The auditees, as well as the former persons in charge, now have eight days to object to the audit disclosures, the Court of Audit told the Slovenian Press Agency (STA).         

This year, the Court of Audit received an initiative from the competent working body of the National Assembly of the Republic of Slovenia to check the correctness of the purchase of additional office premises for the judicial authorities, the President of the Court of Audit, Jana Ahčin, told the Slovenian Press Agency. “As the audit of the 2023 budget accounts was already underway, we have extended this audit to this sample,” she said.

After receiving objections to the draft report, the Court of Audit has to take a decision on them, and the final report is expected to be issued at the end of August or early September, according to Ahčin.

Breach of the Public Finance Act

However, according to the draft audit report unofficially obtained by the Slovenian Press Agency, the Court of Audit found that the Ministry of Justice did not plan the purchase of the building when preparing the 2023 budget, did not have the funds and investment documentation for it, but nevertheless started to carry out activities related to the purchase.

The Court noted that the Ministry did not plan for the funds in the first rebalancing in May 2023 or in the second rebalancing in August 2023 either, despite the fact that an amendment to the Administrative Dispute Act was adopted at the end of April, which would require new premises for the Administrative Court and the Supreme Court.

The Ministry thus acted contrary to the Public Finance Act, which stipulates that budget users must include in the draft financial plan a presentation of the objectives, strategies and programmes in each area, their consistency with long-term development planning documents, and the baselines and indicators on which the calculations and estimates of the resources needed are based. There was therefore no justification for the transfer of 6,5 million euros from the budgetary reserve, as the purpose in question was not one that could not have been foreseen when the budget was drawn up. However, at the end of December, the government adopted a decision to reallocate the resources for a project that was not included in the development programme plan at the time of the decision, the Court of Audit notes in its draft audit. On the same day, the Ministry of Justice sent a request to the Ministry of Finance for an exception to the budgeting of a new project, contrary to the law, which stipulates that such an application must be sent at least 20 days before the government meeting at which the material is expected to be discussed.

The responsibility for this unlawful conduct goes to the very top of the government – Prime Minister Robert Golob.

Rules for Implementing the Budget were violated

Furthermore, the Court of Audit’s findings also pertain to the Ministry of Finance, which gave a positive opinion on such an application, despite the fact that the conditions for this were not met, as major changes to the development plan are only allowed until the 17th of October of the current year. The Ministry of Finance has thus breached several articles of the Rules for Implementing the Budget, according to the draft audit report.

The Court of Audit recalled that it had previously audited the efficiency of the Ministry of Justice in the implementation of the new court building project in the period 2006-2020, in which the Ministry’s operations were assessed as inefficient. Thus, it would be expected that the Ministry of Justice would take into account the warnings and recommendations of the Court of Audit and approach the project systematically and carefully, the draft audit report said. However, the Ministry of Justice approached the project “without previously securing funding, without a full inspection of the premises from the tenders, without taking into account the urgently needed renovation and without seeking the opinion of the intended users of the premises,” the audit notes.

Confusion in the coalition

Complications also arose in the process of clarification of the circumstances surrounding the internal audit report on the purchase, which Prime Minister Robert Golob called on Justice Minister Andreja Katič to do last week. According to the media, the report, which was obtained unofficially, incriminates, among others, former Justice Minister Dominika Švarc Pipan, Finance Minister Klemen Boštjančič, and Prime Minister Golob. The Ministry of Justice, they claim, has only the announcement of the internal audit, while the internal audit order cannot be found in the Ministry.

Last December, the government provided 7.7 million euros for the purchase of what was to be the judicial building on Litijska Street in Ljubljana, including 6.5 million euros from the general budget reserve. The Ministry of Justice did not have the price of the building checked before the purchase, but accepted the valuation commissioned by the seller, Sebastjan Vežnaver. The latter had paid 1.7 million euros for the building in 2020, while the building was valued at 2.9 million euros by a forensic valuer of the building and real estate profession before Vežnaver bought it. The valuation of the building, commissioned by the State Attorney’s Office, showed in April that the estimated market value of the building on the date of the conclusion of the sale and purchase agreement was 6 million euros.

The purchase of the building on Litijska Street is being investigated by the National Bureau of Investigation (NPU), which carried out searches in business and private premises as well as on the premises of one of the state bodies in March. At the time, 13 people were suspected of abuse of position in the transaction, and, according to the National Bureau of Investigation’s statements at the time, the unlawful financial gain resulting from the commission of the offence amounted to at least 3.4 million euros. In May, investigators carried out four additional house searches, increasing the number of suspects under investigation. No further information has been provided so far, in order to protect the interests of the pre-trial proceedings.

C. Š.

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