The Slovenian Association of Judges has expressed protest after Prime Minister Janez Janša accused the court, that ordered him to pay damages in a defamation suit brought by the opposition Social Democrats (SD), of political bias.
The Velenje Local Court earlier ordered Prime Minister Janez Janša to pay EUR 10,000 in damages and apologise to the opposition Social Democrats (SD) for claiming the party operated from a “stolen Jewish villa”. The judgement, in which the court fully upheld the party’s damages claim, is not yet final.
The decision, which was announced by the party on Wednesday, comes in response to a lawsuit filed in early July by the SD, which argued Janša “deliberately propagated a malicious lie” about the ownership of the Ljubljana villa housing the party’s headquarters although it can be proven he knew the ownership was not disputable.
According to the SD, the court has now issued a judgement saying Janša should post within 15 days an apology on Twitter for his “untruthful Twitter posts about the SD operating from a stolen Jewish villa in Levstikova 15, Ljubljana”.
Apart from paying the damages, Janša was also ordered to cover the litigation costs of just over EUR 800.
“The villa has not been stolen and the SD acquired the ownership of it in a lawful way,” the party said in a press release.
They say the court issued a judgement because Janša failed to pick up mail from the court and consequently failed to respond to the lawsuit within 30 days. Janša still has 30 days to appeal against the judgement.
The court held that while political parties need to show a higher degree of tolerance of criticism, Janša crossed the line of respect for the rights of others by knowingly and deliberately writing down untruthful insulting claims.
Janša commented on the judgement for the STA by suggesting the court was biased. “This is the practice of the Velenje court, which is packed with a cronyism line of members or supporters of the Social Democrats and hands out judgements without hearings and without affording the option of defence,” he wrote.
“To make the farce complete, the court in this concrete case judged a lawsuit brought by the Social Democrats. This is something that even courts-martial in the former Yugoslavia did not do,” he added.
SD leader and secretary-general Dejan Levanič noted the significance of the judgement for holding Janša accountable for untruthful claims.
“The court has ascertained that Janša knew about the deceitful content of his claims, but still would he maliciously post them. By failing to pick up writs from the court, Janša demonstrates his contempt for the state and the rule of law,” Levanič wrote.
He announced that the party would donate the whole amount received in damages to charity.
The claims made by Janša had a strong effect as the European Jewish Association subsequently called on the party to right a historic injustice and return the villa to the Slovenian Jewish community. It alleged the property had been sold “under questionable conditions, nationalized, and then used by high-level communist party organizations during the Yugoslav era.”
However, the SD said at the time the villa had been owned by the state before the party took ownership in exchange for another building that the party had owned before.
The villa used to be owned by Jewish merchant Felix Moskovic, who was killed in a German concentration camp. A woman who bought it from an heir of the family sold it to the state in 1961.