Mario Draghi sends letters protesting seizure of ECB material
Slovenia’s raid of central bank breaches EU laws, ECB says
European Central Bank President Mario Draghi warned of potential legal steps after Slovenian police raided the country’s central bank in connection with a probe into a 2013 bank bailout.
Wednesday’s search of the bank’s premises and the seizure of ECB information stored on the Bank of Slovenia’s internal network and hardware used by its staff “infringes the Protocol on the Privileges and Immunities of the European Union,” Draghi wrote in letters to Slovenia’s prosecutor general and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
“I formally protest against such unlawful seizure of ECB information and call upon the Slovenian authorities to remedy this infringement,” Draghi wrote. “In addition, the ECB will also explore possible appropriate legal remedies under Slovenian law.”
Nova Ljubljanska Banka d.d. and other state-owned lenders pushed Slovenia to the brink of an international bailout in 2013 before the government and the central bank spent 3.2 billion euros ($3.5 billion) to rescue them.
Slovenia’s Prosecutor General Zvonko Fiser said the investigation was conducted in line with the law, state news service STA reported. The searches were necessary because the Bank of Slovenia hadn’t submitted all documents requested, the prosecutor’s office said, according to the news wire.
A Slovenian association of small shareholders, representing owners of about 600 million-euro worth of subordinated bonds the banks scrapped as part of the bailout, criticized Draghi’s comments in their own letter to European Commission chief Juncker. They accused the ECB president of interfering “with the independence of Slovenian authorities, prosecution and courts.”
Earlier, the police said that legal entities, including Bank of Slovenia and its staff “are not protected from investigations” in pre-trial proceedings. The police, whose investigators came to central bank premises to question some of its employees, said the suspects had not acted on behalf of the European Union, rather as officials of Slovenian institutions.
Police said on Wednesday they had “well-founded reasons to suspect” that some legal entities abused their office in valuing equity at a bank rescued by the state. Central bank employees were questioned for the first time in a probe of this kind, Bojana Leskovar, a spokeswoman for the Bank of Slovenia, said. She declined to elaborate when asked about the ECB response on Thursday.
Slovenian authorities were made aware that the seized equipment contains ECB information and was protected under EU law, Draghi wrote in the letter. The equipment included Governor Bostjan Jazbec’s computer.
“Therefore, the ECB deplores that there was no attempt to find a solution reconciling the conduct of the pre-criminal investigations with the ECB’s privilege on inviolability of its archives,” he said.“In this context, the ECB affirms its consistent stance not to interfere with national (pre-) criminal investigations.”