Slovenian government intends to sue YLE management over Patria bribery claims
Prime Minister cited as beneficiary in personnel carrier deal
The Slovenian government has announced it intends to take those responsible for a recent Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE) current affairs programme to court for defamation.
The government in Ljubljana decided on Wednesday on launching legal proceedings with the purpose of “protecting reputations”.
This expression is taken to mean principally the good name of the Prime Minister Janez Janša, who was accused in the investigative journalism programme MOT of having taken bribes in connection with the sale to Slovenia of 8x8 armoured modular vehicles and 120mm mortars by the Finnish defence equipment manufacturer Patria.
According to the brief communique, posted on the government website, the Slovenian government communications director Anze Logar had contacted the YLE Director-General Mikael Jungner on Tuesday, after the Monday-evening show had gone out on TV1.
Logar’s mail had requested Jungner provide concrete evidence to support the bribery claims made in the MOT programme, or to offer a formal apology.
When no reply came, the Slovenian government decided to take “the necessary proceedings against responsible persons at the Finnish Broadcasting Company”.
In a programme entitled Totuus Patriasta (“The Truth about Patria”), MOT alleged that Janša and other, unnamed Slovenian politicians and civil servants had received millions in bribes from Patria for the vehicles and weapons deal.
The programme also claims to have evidence to back the charges, which was not disclosed on air in order to protect sources.
On Wednesday, Director-General Jungner said that the news of legal action had not reached him. He reported that the company had received an e-mail from the Slovenian government that had been replied to by the TV1 Director Riitta Pihlajamäki.
According to Jungner, she had noted that the company adhered to the normal quality criteria and journalistic principles. These include the careful consideration and vetting of programme material, but not the withdrawal of stories the moment somebody happened to complain about them.
This was apparently not sufficient for Prime Minister Janša, for whom the bribery accusations come at a particularly awkward time, just ahead of parliamentary elections to be held a couple of weeks from now.
He has charged that the allegations are part of a smear campaign orchestrated from within Slovenia itself.
Janša has vehemently denied the claims and has stated that the AMV deal would be cancelled immediately if there was reliable evidence of bribery and corruption having taken place.
The MOT producer Matti Virtanen said on Wednesday that the Patria piece had been made as carefully as all the other MOT programmes.
“We have information from several sources - in Slovenia, in Finland, and within Patria”, noted Virtanen.
As we have reported earlier, Finland’s central criminal police arm, the National Bureau of Investigation, are examining the Slovenian deal and a further sale by Patria of howitzers to Egypt, in connection with possible bribery charges.
The deal with the Slovenian armed forces for 135 armoured personnel carriers and 120mm mortars was worth some 280 million euros and was signed in December 2006.
In August, the Patria CEO Jorma Wiitakorpi announced he would be resigning his position over police investigations into the two contracts. Wiitakorpi denied any wrongdoing over the cases.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Patria CEO resigns amid ongoing NBI probes into bribery allegations (19.8.2008)
Central Criminal Police arrest four Patria employees suspected of bribery (4.6.2008)
Finland´s central criminal police to investigate Patria deals in Slovenia and Egypt (15.5.2008)
Police report former Patria CEO is still under investigation (20.8.2008)
Office of the Prime Minister of Slovenia
Slovenian Government Communication Office press release, 3.9.2008