Guilty verdict in Ljubljana bribery case

By Gorazd Jukovic10 April 2012

The former bosses of three of the largest construction companies in Slovenia are facing jail terms for allegedly trying to bribe a civil servant in a bid to obtain a lucrative public construction contract in 2007.

The Ljubljana District Court found Ivan Zidar of SCT, Dusan Crnigoj of Primorje, and Hilda Tovsak of Vegrad guilty of attempting to buy the €20 million contract for the construction of a new air traffic control tower at Ljubljana international airport.

It sentenced the three to 17 months in jail and fines ranging from €10,000 to €11,000 on 30 March.

The ruling was the culmination of a much publicised trial lasting nearly 30 months, in which the key piece of evidence for the prosecution were recordings of telephone conversations involving the three bosses and Tomaz Zibert, the public servant heading the tender commission for the air traffic control tower.

With the help of the recordings, the prosecution was able to prove that Mr Zibert, who was sentenced to 30 months in jail, had been promising the contract to both the consortium of SCT and Primorje on one hand and Vegrad on the other in return for a subcontracting role for one of his relatives and other favours.

However, the latest ruling is not final and the defence has announced an appeal at the Higher Court, where it is expected to focus on challenging the admissibility of the telephone recordings.

Regardless of the final outcome, the ruling is the latest blow to Mr Zidar, Mr Crnigoj and Ms Tovsak, who have seen a rapid fall from grace in Slovenia since the construction bubble burst in 2008, in which time the country's construction sector has contracted by more than 50%.

Heavily leveraged from management buyouts and struggling to find new contracts, Vegrad and SCT were forced into receivership in 2010 and 2011 respectively, whereas Primorje is currently fighting to stave off the same fate.

The decline in Slovenia's construction sector is expected to halt this year but output is forecast to stay subdued until 2013.

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