LJUBLJANA (Reuters) - Slovenia’s opposition leader and former prime minister was sentenced to two years in jail on Wednesday for bribery in a 2006 arms purchase, one of several scandals that have fuelled public anger over the country’s financial crisis.
Janez Jansa had denied taking money in the aborted purchase of 135 armored vehicles from Finnish defense group Patria while he was prime minister and will appeal. Two co-defendants were also found guilty and jailed for 22 months.
High-level corruption allegations have stirred public anger over a financial crisis that has exposed a culture of cronyism in the ex-Yugoslav republic, and could see it become the latest euro zone country to seek an international bailout.
Jansa said the verdict was politically motivated and that he would use “all legal and political tools” to fight against it.
Analysts said the verdict showed Slovenia was starting to clamp down on corruption.
“If upheld, I guess this sends a message that the courts are acting to address these issues (of elite corruption) that seem to have run deep through the ruling establishment in Slovenia,” said Timothy Ash, an analyst at Standard Bank.
Several hundred people protested outside the court to express support for Jansa. Borut Hocevar, a political analyst at Finance daily, said the verdict could divide Slovenia.
“The verdict will make Jansa’s Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) more homogeneous and it will back Jansa as there is no other alternative leader in sight,” Hocevar said.
“It is even possible that the popular support for the party would rise,” he added.
The SDS enjoys the highest support among Slovenian political parties with 14.7 percent, according to an opinion poll published by daily Vecer on May 30.
The Supreme State Prosecution welcomed the verdict in a statement, saying it would “continue to work professionally despite pressure... to increase efficiency of the judicial system and confidence in the rule of law”.
Six people in Finland are being prosecuted over the same deal and an Austrian court has already convicted an Austrian citizen of corruption. The 278 million euro ($363 million) contract was scrapped in 2012 after the allegations surfaced.
The Finnish government owns around 73 percent of Patria while European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS) holds some 27 percent.
Jansa championed Slovenia’s drive to secede from Yugoslavia in 1991 and was prime minister from 2004 to 2008 and again for a year until March 2013.
His center-right government fell after an anti-corruption commission said Jansa was unable to explain the origins of a significant part of his income over the past several years. ($1 = 0.7650 euros)
Editing by Zoran Radosavljevic and Raissa Kasolowsky